The technology helping us modernise forestry
Forestry is evolving. We're using more and more modern technology to help us work in tricky and hard-to-reach areas, though we do still fell trees with a chainsaw and plant by hand.
From zip-lining massive logs, to using satellites to herd cows and laser beams to map archaeological sites, we are testing and developing new technology every year to help us do our job better and more efficiently.
Skylining is relatively niche in Scotland, but it’s proven to be a good fit – especially in the Highlands.
We’re currently using Skylining along the A82, near Loch Ness, to safely remove Douglas firs from the steep hillside. Our skilled contractors fell the trees using only a chainsaw and wedge. They then section the tree before hauling it off the hillside using the massive Skylining system, which looks like a giant industrial zip-line.
These Douglas first were planted around 80-years-ago, however, they're now getting too big for the habitat, so we're removing them to help prevent landslips.
The land will return to native oak woodland through natural regeneration.
Seed planting drones
Planting trees on steep hillsides can be tricky. This year we trialled the use of drones to help us plant seeds along the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful. In just two days, the drones planted six hectares of the steep hillside with native broadleaf trees.
The goal of this partner-led project is to stabilise the slopes next to the road to prevent further landslips. Though this is quite common in other parts of the world, it's new to Scotland.
This year’s test focused on calibrating the equipment and on the flight patterns across the slope to see how far, fast and just how high we needed to fly the drone to disperse the seed into exposed mineral areas of the core instability.
We will be monitoring the site until next spring to see how many seedlings emerge before starting the second round of tests.
Thermal imaging drones
We are also trialing the use of drones to help capture thermal images of deer. This will help us track deer numbers around an enclosed conservation woodland at Loch Katrine.
Deer populations are thought to have doubled in the past 30 years and can have negative impacts on our forests and land. The ability to get a better sense of number of deer and monitor the population living in and around Loch Katrine will help us manage the deer in this area in a more sustainable way.
We’re currently looking to renew the land management plan around Loch Katrine, aiming to create 2000 hectares of new woodland with less fencing.
GPS collared cows
Cows have long been used for ‘conservation grazing’, as a management tool for a number of projects such as helping to create habitats for rare butterflies in forests like Mabie.
The issue is that some of our sites requiring conservation grazing are remote and often in areas where we can’t build or maintain physical fences. This is where virtual fence collars may be able to help.
This project is a first for us. It uses GPS collars connected to a satellite, which then creates a digital fence line. If the cow wanders too close to the boundary, it's given a series of audio warnings prompting it to stay within the boundary. The system will allow the cattle to graze safety over large distances without the need for physical fencing, which will allow them to keep being effective tools for broadleaf regeneration and other conservation management regimes.
Logging laser beams
Terrestrial laser scanning and airborne Lidar use a laser beam pulsed from a sensor many thousands of times per second. The sensor records the echoes of the beam as it bounces back from the surface being scanned.
This creates a digital 3D model. Our Archaeologist can use these 3D models to create detailed records of ancient ruins and historic landscapes, identifying and recording past settlement patterns and land use.
Techniques such as airborne Lidar can also be used to inform our harvesting operations. When the laser beams reflect both the forest canopy and the forest floor, the canopy can be removed to reveal the hidden details. This gives us some insight on the area before we start work – including details such as the ramparts of the hillfort of Whitecastle Knowe in Dumfriesshire.