TACKLING the most challenging terrain in Scotland's hill land can be quite a feat for any contractor, but Langholm lad, Simon Richardson, takes it in his stride - and he's now an award-winning tractor driver to boot.

Simon has been a forestry contractor since 2003 and has worked all over the Scottish mainland and islands making ground ready for tree planting. Opening new land for planting trees is not easy but thanks to a specially designed plough and the power of his John Deere tractors, he can take on any job anywhere.

Together with a fleet of eight excavators, Simon runs a 2014 John Deere 6210R and a 2013 John Deere 6150R, both featuring 50km/hour transmissions, cab suspension and front linkage. He operates a three-year exchange policy when he upgrades his tractors to the latest model available, but only if it suits his business.

He said: "I have run John Deeres since 2008 that have all served me well in that time. Each of my tractors puts up 50 to 60 hours each week, which is a lot of work in the forests.

"We open up the ground for tree planting as well as carrying out drainage and tree shearing work. The ground can be a real challenge and I choose John Deere because it is a full frame tractor with plenty of clearance underneath.

"That is a major advantage to us in the forests. Also, the fuel economy is favourable from Deeres for our type of slow and heavy work. Plus, they are relatively easy to drive."

Local dealers, Johnston Tractors Dumfries, service the tractors on a regular basis which adds to the value of the tractor it's being traded in. Robin Vevers, of Johnston Tractors, said: "Simon knows his machinery inside out and knows exactly what he is looking his tractors to do. If every customer was like Simon, who knows exactly what he wants in a tractor, our job would be a lot easier."

Recently, Simon finished second in the finals of a European Union tractor driving championship. The challenge, held in France, was the first joint venture between John Deere and Michelin.

Simon was short-listed to represent the UK from hundreds of applicants and was accompanied by Robin Vevers to the event, where he competed against drivers from Germany, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands and France.

The driving challenge took place in Michelin's testing centre in Ladoux, central France, and tested drivers' mental ability as well as driving skills. It is one of the world's largest vehicle test centres, featuring 19 test tracks with a combined length of 41km (25.5 miles).

Each participant had to drive a John Deere 6215R AutoPowr tractor, hauling a 25-tonne Joskin twin-axle trailer around a course, tackling a number of obstacles. These included road driving, hill climbing, soft ground driving, rough terrain driving, reversing and speed driving.

The tractors were all equipped with Michelin MachXBib tyres, with the trailers on Michelin CargoXBib High Flotation tyres - but the challenge was not to see who could finish the fastest.

It was designed to challenge the drivers to set up their tractor and trailer beforehand bearing in mind each of the driving obstacles and to set the correct tyre pressures. Drivers had around one hour to discuss strategy with their dealer and complete a practice lap of the course to familiarise themselves with it.

Points were awarded for lowest fuel consumption, least ground compaction on the soft soil and driving safety - all components of being an efficient contractor.

Following some strategic decisions and selecting AutoPowr for his transmission and resetting both the tractor and tyre pressures, Simon was ready for the challenge.

As he had previously drawn tractor No 1 and was, therefore, the first to set off on the gruelling 30-minute run. This went well, albeit for a small hiccough on soft ground which cost him a few minutes.

However, when all the results were totted up, the Scot's driving was praised by both the John Deere and Michelin teams.

Simon said: "Firstly, it was a great honour to be chosen as the UK representative in this challenge. I have a JD 6210R and a 6150R so the JD 6215R selected for the challenge was familiar to me.

"Having inspected the test track on a trial run and having discussions with Robin, I decided to use the automatic transmission instead of manual and to reset the tyre pressures - bearing in mind I was going to be on the road most of the course."

Team UK chose to run all four tractor tyres on 2.4 bar pressure and the trailer tyres on 3.0 bar, taking into consideration the high percentage of road travelling on the course. The decision paid off as Simon's fuel consumption was the lowest on these parts of the course.

The winner was French contractor, Sebastien Mahaut, and in third place was Dutch contractor and farmer, Edwin Dekkor.