Mark Bonnar reveals the hidden world of Galloway Forest, the country’s largest afforested area. Join the amazing men and women who live and work in the place known as Scotland’s ‘Highlands in the Lowlands’, where 600,000 tonnes of timber is produced every year.
The Forestry Commission’s recreation team, lead by Archie McNeillie, is tasked with rebuilding steps on a well-worn pathway at Fairy Knowe. The trouble is, the steps are up a 330-foot hill. Getting hunks of granite rock to the remote location is one problem and digging them in by hand is another – for labourer John ‘Cool’ Coughtrie at least.
A team of specialist contractors from Wales arrive in Galloway Forest to harvest timber from the most inaccessible areas using a massive system of cables and winches called the skyline. Conservationists Bill and Christine have a very unusual occupation deep in the forest. They breed and hand-rear hyacinth macaws, the world’s largest flying parrot.
And on a remote peatbog the size of 32 football pitches, Graeme Little operates his own customised mulching machine in a conservation project to restore the natural habitat.
James Jones sawmill in Lockerbie to the east of the forest powers through 20,000 logs a day. But when a six-tonne machine called a crosscut stacker breaks down, a dedicated engineering team must save the day. A decline in salmon numbers in the River Cree near Newton Stewart has led to a tireless effort to restock the river by the Cree Hatchery and Habitat Trust. Archie McNeillie and John ‘Cool’ Coughtrie from the Forestry Commission’s Recreation Department deal with a rat infestation in a public area caused by an overzealous bird feeder. And at Balloch O’Dee campsite, owner James gets ready to stage a comedy night, with hilarious consequences.
Forestry Commission recreation boss Archie McNeillie has a task for his team. Mountain Bothy volunteer enthusiasts renovate a remote bothy on Forestry Commission land. They need help getting building materials and a new wood-burning stove to the bothy – so it’s Cool to the rescue.
The best way for planning and environment forester Bill Fisher to survey the vast forest and check the health of the cash crop is in a helicopter. The bird’s-eye view allows him to better spot any pockets of larch disease. Down on the ground, on the front line of the disease, the Forestry Commission fell infected trees and make great headway.
The Forestry Commission works hard to balance the needs of the public and the needs of the timber industry. When a popular path meanders through a harvesting site, Archie spray-paints some trees as a marker to the harvesters to save them from the chop, so the public can still enjoy the scenic views.
And back at home Archie shares his other great passion – pigeon fancying – with his little granddaughter Katie.
Chef Ed and his sister Karen are planning to open a new restaurant in Castle Douglas in an old bank using local produce – including the fruits of Galloway forest – in his dishes.
In a specially designated area of conservation, environment forester Gareth Ventress is turning back the clock. He’s hired some traditional horse loggers to carry out a method called horse rolling in an area of dense bracken. Crushing the bracken using a horse is less damaging to the soil and allows light and space for oak saplings and native herbs and flowers to flourish.
Navigating 1,200km of forest roads are a fleet of highly skilled truckers whose job it is to track down the timber stacks, load them using cranes and ferry the valuable cargo to mills north and south of the border. Inside the cabs of Jimmy, Norman and Eric we see what life is like for the kings of the forest roads. With new harvesting sites a constant in Galloway Forest, the Forestry Commission must find 500,000 tonnes of stone to build and maintain roads every year. An explosion is planned at a forest quarry to produce rock for a new road masterminded by forestry engineer Elaine McClymont. But before it can be given the go-ahead environment officer Gareth Ventress needs to check for any pine marten activity in the area. Thankfully for Elaine, specially set-up cameras reveal no activity and the quarry explosion can go ahead. Gareth also goes to a secret location deep within the forest to check a golden eagle feeding station. At the Balloch O’Dee campsite, owner James has double-booked an old byre that he’s frantically converting in time for the start of the summer season.
When two fishing huts are discovered on remote Forestry Commission harvesting sites, community liaison forester Lyndy Renwick must investigate. With worrying signs of fire damage around the first hut she visits plus concern that the huts are in the line of danger from harvesting machines, she puts up notices for the owners to get in touch before the huts are demolished. But the second hut she visits is very well made with a jetty. Can it get a stay of execution?
Chainsaw operators need to be expertly trained and highly skilled. Specialist contractor Dewi Williams regularly comes to Galloway to fell trees in the forest’s most inaccessible areas. It’s all good training for the UK Logging Competition, where the best precision chainsaw operator in the country is crowned. Former champion Dewi is taking part this year, but so is his employee Gethin. Can the underdog beat the top dog?
Because so few people live in Galloway Forest, the area has some of the darkest skies in Europe. And it has become the continent’s first gold tier Dark Sky Park. The observatory near Dalmellington houses two huge telescopes to give the public an open-air, hands-on observing experience. At a Wednesday evening stargazing event, all they need is clear skies for a perfect view of Saturn.
At Balloch O’Dee campsite, owner James organises an impromptu pony show for the younger campers.
The Galloway Hills Rally draws crowds of visitors to the Forest Park. To make sure spectators have the best and safest view, John ‘Cool’ Coughtrie and his Recreation Team boss Archie McNeillie spend the days leading up to the race preparing safe places for them to stand along the route. Reigning champion and local legend Jock Armstrong hopes to defend his title. On the day of the rally, a troop of the event’s safety marshalls are on duty and Archie too keeps a watchful eye over proceedings. Jock, meanwhile, thinks of nothing but the finish line.
At Penninghame, tree planter Alastair Livingstone restocks a recently felled site with sycamore and oak. The Forestry Commission plant 4.5 million trees a year and Alastair has single-handedly planted over a million, proudly offsetting his carbon footprint many times over. Wildlife ranger Grant Carson is on a stalk. Trees are the Forestry Commission’s valuable asset, and his task is to manage the numbers of thousands of deer that roam the Forest Park in an effort to stop them from damaging the recently planted trees. Having worked for 43 years as a forester, Jim Burns has sophisticated tree-felling machines operating in the forest.