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Following last year’s exceptional storm events, Forestry and Land Scotland is helping to boost resilience and winter preparedness levels by hosting (26 Nov) a Community Off-road Transport Action Group (COTAG 4x4 Response) in Aultmore Forest.

A registered Scottish Charity, the group consists of around 44 community-minded men and women from across northeast Scotland, who as unpaid volunteers work across the Grampian region to support emergency services, NHS and local communities in times of need.

COTAG Chairperson Les Forbes said;

“As we saw last winter, extreme events are becoming more frequent and can have a major impact on our communities and businesses. These conditions can place a significant challenge for emergency services and partner agencies.

“COTAG provide logistical support primarily to Category one responders and other agencies such as NHSG.  

“The team is committed to providing that support at any time of the year, at any time of day, which is why we need to operate to the highest standards of organisational management, personnel and equipment.”

Although COTAG has its own 250 acre, dedicated off-road driver training site, Aultmore is of particular benefit to the COTAG team because of the purpose built Deep Water Wading Pool that has been established within the forest. Driving through flooded roads, can present the untrained with a high degree of risk to their vehicle and to themselves.

Les added;

“COTAG volunteers learn how to carry out this activity safely, in a controlled environment within the forest, while at the same time brushing up on navigation skills.

“Although all members possess GPS type navigation aids, there is no substitute for a paper map and compass and the road networks within the FLS forests are ideal for honing these skills.

“COTAG greatly appreciate FLS’ help with these important elements of our training”.

COTAG volunteers also undertake regular training in on-road driving, first aid, VHF/UHF and digital radio operation. Winter survival and navigation training is also undertaken and is delivered by ex-military personnel.  

The team is on-hand to help in a wide range of scenarios that can involve anything from transporting people and materials moving patients to or from remote locations, or delivering medicines, food and fuel. The social care network within the Grampian area often benefits from COTAG’s assistance when conditions can affect the ability of Professional Carer’s to attend their patients in remote and rural areas.

The team are also trained to provide route condition reconnaissance and vehicle recovery. Also if called upon, they can  establish and maintain radio communication rebroadcast networks if required, thus maintaining a means of external communication to remote communities.

FLS Harvesting Supervisor and COTAG volunteer, Sean Donaghy, said;

"Last winter’s storms and snow presented huge challenges to communities and agencies tasked with dealing with the aftermath. 

“Being able to use FLS land to train and practice off road and night driving really helps COTAG to develop and respond to a multitude of events.

“Through these permissions COTAG can simulate a coordinated response to ensure our high standard of ability is maintained to the level that the emergency services expect."

COTAG volunteers operate a variety of capable 4x4 vehicles, all of which are owned by the volunteers.

The team provide PPE and some specialised communications equipment, however, everything else is provided by the individual team member.

The group is heavily dependent on funding from the local community, businesses and Lottery grants and is extremely grateful for financial the assistance they have received over the years from these sources.


Notes to editors

  1. Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) manages forests and land owned by Scottish Ministers in a way that supports and enables economically sustainable forestry; conserves and enhances the environment; delivers benefits for people and nature; and supports Scottish Ministers in their stewardship of Scotland's national forests and land.
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  3. Media enquiries to Paul Munro, Media Manager, Forestry and Land Scotland Media Office 07785 527590 or