IN RECENT years, the Scottish forestry sector has become a major contributor to the economy and is expected to continue to grow in value over the next decade.

However, forestry remains an untapped and even neglected enterprise on some Scottish estates, with landowners often not recognising the earning potential of a stand of trees, whether they be hard or soft wood.

However Fasque Estate, at Fettercairn, in Aberdeenshire, has been pioneering in its approach to the 1500 to 1600 acres of forestry on its 8500 acres. Not only has it been active in thinning, harvesting and adding value to the woodland through its own timber processing enterprise, it has set up Fasque Forestry to deliver a quality, complete service to other land-owners.

Fasque is one of two estates owned by oil magnate, Bill Dunnett, who lives at the 12,000-acre Morphie Estate, near Montrose. They are managed together by John Harrison and Nick Canning, who have responsibility for farming, forestry, properties and shooting.

The estate recently invested in a John Deere harvester and two forwarders which can cut and stack 150 tonnes of wood per day, plus two dedicated timber lorries to transport the wood to the marketplace. There are five staff on the forestry side; the machine and lorry drivers and a forestry manager, who is responsible for the felling and replanting planning.

Daisy Dunnett, daughter of the owner, said: “We encountered difficulties when we engaged with forestry contractors previously and felt alienated from the process altogether. We felt that the system was not in favour of the landowner, so we wanted to change that. John and Nick have found that they can offer more flexibility, which gives them an edge over contractors.”

The new equipment boasts the very latest technology and Nick explained: “We can get the most value out of every tree by maximising the saw log over the chip log. With up to £20 per tonne difference between saw and chip, it is important to be able to cut the tree into appropriate lengths and not just divide it into equal lengths.”

He continued: “Yield can vary depending on the management of the wood and whether trees are on the outside or inside. The trees in the middle of a wood can yield up to 80% saw log while those on the outside can often be 80% chip.”

The harvester's computer sends the information on work rate, yield and percentage saw/chip to the 'cloud' so Nick can see at a glance what product is available to sell. Once a market has been secured, the wood is usually transported off site within two weeks, meaning minimal loss of weight through drying out. Timber lying at roadside for a year or more can lose more than 30% of its weight.

This business model of harvesting, production and transport is what Fasque had recently rolled out to other estates on a contracting basis and has the scope to do more. The team plans in a way that best benefits the landowner by addressing every aspect of the work to be undertaken such as collecting data, conducting stem counts, species type, application to Scottish Forestry, construction of roads and individual concerns.

Nick said: “We can tailor a contract to suit each individual customer and, right from the start, the sensitivities of the owner are handled. This can range from handling shooting constraints and building infrastructure as well as managing the process in accordance with the weather.

"Working alongside the estate staff allows us to build forestry felling plans that work for all involved. The process starts with the felling licenses or long-term forestry plans. Gaining all the information will lead to a schedule that will work for both parties.

"This is the time when we can plan the extraction of the timber by building roads, landing sites and any other infrastructure required or requested by the customer. By using the most up-to-date forestry equipment, the machinery progress can be monitored in real-time," he added.

"This shows the various wood qualities and quantities that have been harvested to the forest floor. The timber is then tracked by the software to roadside ensuring the customer receives complete accuracy of the felling process. Once the timber is removed, then any repairs to the road system will be made by our own equipment.”

They already have two or three ongoing contracts which range from hand-felling hardwoods to thinning, or clear felling of commercial woodlands. The neighbouring Glendye Estate was their first customer, but they are also currently working with multiple estates in Aberdeenshire and Angus.

Sir Charles Gladstone, owner of Glen Dye, said: “Fasque Forestry work in our 3000-ha woodland as contractors on an exclusive basis. Last year, the team worked on Glen Dye almost every day and this year we expect the same. The standards that Fasque Forestry apply are absolutely exceptional – work is timeous, tidiness is remarkable and all financial dealings are transparent and beautifully organised.”

Fasque's team have markets for all types of timber to secure the best return. Nick pointed out: “In some circumstances we have been asked to process the hardwoods and return as a slab to the customer for furniture to be built to encompass the beauty of the trees within the property.

“Our style of contract hands control back to the landowners – we build a project around their needs and communicate with them throughout. They also have access to all the harvesting data from the machines so they can see exactly how their woodland is yielding and what income to expect.”

In 2018, the UK imported 49m cubic metres of sawn wood, which was 80% of usage. With only 20% of the timber used in the UK home-grown, there is no shortage of markets and Fasque tries, wherever possible, to sell the wood locally to keep haulage costs down.

Nick explained: “Haulage is the biggest cost when harvesting timber, it can be up to 25% of the cost per tonne.”

The machinery required to start this venture represents a large investment but Nick and John are confident that it can pay for itself due to the way the business is structured, keeping all costs in house and offering a bespoke service to landowners.

In a bid to become more sustainable in the new decade, along with rolling out energy efficiency schemes and investing in renewables, Fasque has launched a woodland creation plan to reduce the estate’s carbon footprint.

This long-term environmental commitment and carbon capture plan meant there was a sudden requirement for a large volume of trees, which led to the acquisition of Christie Elite, in Forres – the only British forestry nursery to produce cell and bare-root saplings.

The company has been in tree production for more than 200 years with an annual output of over 10m saplings. The skilled team takes harvests from its forty genetically superior clones of Sitka Spruce. This is a massive step in the estate’s mission towards becoming carbon negative by 2025 and Fasque Forestry will be able to supply saplings grown in Forres for re-stocking.

Nick’s vision is, once the saplings are planted, to start an apprentice scheme and encourage young people in the area to become involved in planting and growing trees and also on the production and processing side. Fasque estate is already one of the biggest employers in the area and the recent addition of a timber processing plant has created yet more jobs.

The estate has recently undergone a joint project with Whyte and MacKay Whisky to cut oak for whisky barrels. Their barrels will be made from oak trees on the estate.

Another benefit of recent felling was to open up a small loch on the estate, around which they have created a path and invited children from local primary schools to use as an outdoor space. The estate is now working to identify traditional native species that would have grown around the loch and to replant them.

Nick saw this as an opportunity for the schoolchildren to get involved and grow trees in a greenhouse before planting and caring for them. He said: “We have a responsibility to operate the estate in harmony with the environment and local community and I can see many opportunities through our forestry enterprises to achieve this.”