Blue and her owner Chris Wadsworth. Pic © Tony Bartholomew

Traditional methods are being used for the first time in twenty years to breathe new life into a North York Moors forest.

An 11-year-old heavy horse called Blue and her owner Chris Wadsworth, have been recruited by the Forestry Commission to undertake horse logging in the 360 hectare Guisborough Forest and Walkway.

The project will see about 200 tonnes of sycamore removed to open up part of the scenic North York Moors woodland to allow other native tree species like oak to grow and improve recreational access to the forest’s keep-fit trim trail.

Horse logging dates back many centuries and was once the way all timber was removed from woodlands before the advent of tractors and caterpillar-tracked forwarders.

But it still has major future, as horses are more manoeuvrable than any machine and also tread lightly on sensitive and steep terrain.

Chris Wadsworth is one of the UK’s top loggers and is harnessing all his 21 years’ experience to teach Blue the ropes.

“She has a very nice temperament and to say this is the first job she has done as a logger she is doing remarkably well,” he says. “It takes some time to train a horse, but I’ve got high hopes Blue will cut the mustard as a first class logger.”

Blue’s previous career has been variously spent hauling scrap carts, pulling a traditional Gypsy caravan and in a riding school. Her logging career could easy extend for another ten years.

Guisborough Forest and Walkway is managed by the Forestry Commission and Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council and is one of the North’s most popular woods.

The logging is proving a big attraction for visitors, but it has a serous purpose, explained the Forestry Commission’s Ian Blair, “Access to this part of the forest is quite difficult and we have a power line running over the forest canopy all of which points to the use of a horse rather than machine.  Timber harvested will be used for firewood to help meet the soaring local demand for green energy. It’s a delight to see a logging horse back in the wood – the partnership between man and beast is thrilling to see.”

With demand for timber increasing – especially firewood – and the fact that forest chiefs say fifty per cent of local woodlands could be under managed – horse logging could have a bright future. To ensure there’s a new generation of loggers to take advantage and keep the old skills alive, Chris Wadsworth has been helping train an apprentice under a ground-breaking three year scheme with the British Horse Loggers Trust.

Work at Guisborough will continue until the New Year and the Trim Trail will be off limits until the project is completed.

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