Held over from 2020, the Timber Transport Forum’s conference took place on March 25 at the North Lakes Hotel, Penrith, bringing more than 100 delegates together for a wide-ranging series of presentations, looking at the industry’s present and future.

NEARLY 20 years old, the Timber Transport Forum is a partnership organisation with the purpose of facilitating the transport of timber from forests to the mills and plants, while minimising disruption to the general public, maintaining and improving minor roads and, where possible, moving timber by other modes of transport. It comprises representatives of the forestry and timber industries, timber hauliers, local authorities, national government agencies and chairs and administrators of the regional timber transport groups.

The forum has created agreed road route maps, publishes good practice guides, and arranges meetings for regional groups to deal with any timber transport issues in their areas. It employs a full-time project officer in Paul Boobyer and has 11 regional groups, four of which employ part-time project officers: Ian Catterwell in Argyll, James England in Dumfries and Galloway, Claire Glaster in Grampian, Tayside and Fife, and Simon Stuart in Ayrshire and North Lanarkshire, all of whom were at the 2022 conference, hosted by Confor.

The conference was very well attended by over 100 delegates, with nine speakers. Volvo Trucks sponsored the event, which kicked off with dinner on the evening of Thursday, 24 March. TTF chairman Alistair Speedie was once again the chair for the conference and did a very good job introducing the speakers and keeping to time.

Forestry Journal: The conference had a packed house. The conference had a packed house.

The first speaker was the deputy leader of Northumberland County Council, who outlined the scope and purpose of the Great Northumberland Forest Project, launched in 2019.

The project is really an all-encompassing banner for any tree-planting taking place in the county and a way of promoting more tree-planting through general awareness of all the existing grant schemes already available, education and publicity. However, the council does have its own free tree scheme for community and public tree planting. The project has a large range of stakeholders within the Northumberland Woodland Creation Project with the aim of creating 100,000 ha of new woodland to provide the multiple range of benefits we can all list in our sleep, including carbon offsetting, addressing the climate and biodiversity crisis, world timber supply, rural employment, recreation and reaching net zero. The council also wants to look into its own woodland holding of 1,200 ha to improve management where possible.

Keith Jones from Forestry Commission England gave an overview of woodland cover in the North of England, currently at 14.5 per cent with a target of 17.5 per cent. He highlighted the new Cumbria Coastal Community Forest and the large amount of funding now available in England for woodland creation. The aim is to plant 420,000 ha over the coming years.

From Forestry England, Kevin May, forest management director for North Forest District, reminded us all that Kielder Forest is in his patch producing a lot of timber and revenue. The key is sustainable forest management at the 1,500 forests nationwide, covering 250,000 ha, that FE manages. In the north of England lies 86,000 ha of this, producing 550,000 m3 annually. 90 per cent of this comes from clearfells and 50 per cent is sold through standing sales, the balance either by in-house harvesting teams or contractors.

Forestry Journal: Conference host Alistair M. Speedie.Conference host Alistair M. Speedie.

Annually, 800 ha is restocked with 3 million trees. The main issues to the forests are tree diseases and storms, and he stressed the importance of managing the forest to the UK Forest Standard, taking on board all the biodiversity (e.g. reintroductions) and public engagement (e.g. health and wellbeing) opportunities. New woodland creation is also very much on the agenda for them. Also important are trainee programmes to get more people choosing forestry as a career, and the use of natural capital accounts to show the value of forestry to society.

John Comer from Volvo gave us a very interesting review of Volvo’s work in creating net-zero carbon vehicles. It is a vast and complex issue. Volvo will be producing 44-tonne electric HGVs later this year, which should have a 300 km range but cost perhaps three times the price of a diesel truck. Weight is a big issue, as batteries are very heavy. Volvo will be building diesel engines for many years to come and it was interesting to see the reduction in pollutants over the years now in the EURO6 version. A EURO7 is in the pipeline in the EU. The government target is to gradually phase out diesel trucks by 2040. He noted that one litre of diesel produces 2.3 kg of CO2. The new biodiesel, HVO (hydrogenated vegetable oil) was discussed, as was the concept of ‘well to wheel’.

Forestry Journal: John Comer, product manager at Volvo Truck.John Comer, product manager at Volvo Truck.

The view from the Road Haulage Association (presented by Chris Ashley) is that it supports net zero, but feels the time frame should be extended by five years. Chris outlined some issues that will slow the conversion to electric vehicles, such as supply problems, Brexit and the impact of war in Ukraine.

Neil Stoddart from Creel Consulting gave a refreshingly clear presentation covering many of the above topics. He now runs his Citroen van on HVO, which requires installing a tank as you cannot buy it retail. It cost about 5 per cent more than white diesel, but with 90 per cent less CO2, 30 per cent less NOX , and 86 per cent less other pollutants.

Transport in Scotland accounts for 36 per cent of greenhouse emissions and net-zero is set for 2045, so a big change is needed. There are 690 timber trucks in the UK and alternative fuels include HVO, LNG, BEV, fuel cells and hydrogen.
Dustbin lorries seem well suited to BEV and a trial of 50 is working well. Each alternative fuel has its own range of issues. Also, electric chargers for trucks cost about £120,000. If you were charging 10 trucks you could easily use up all the available current and cause a blackout locally. So... plenty of challenges. 

READ MORE: Red diesel rules change today: What's different? Who's affected?

Nicol Sinclair from Forest Research outlined its windblow assessments which finally showed 8,000 ha in Scotland and 3,000 ha in England blown down by Storm Arwen. Murray Clark from Clark Engineering showed some videos about automatic timber-tensioning straps.

Covering training of drivers, Sandra Borland from Bensile Training reviewed the ongoing HGV driver training, the Certificate of Professional Competence. A version relevant to forestry and timber truck drivers, the + F, has now been introduced. This compulsory seven-hour training features eight newly produced videos, which we got to see – very worthwhile! She also mentioned the Timber Haulage Academy and its efforts to attract drivers into forestry transport.

Forestry Journal: Neil Stoddart speaking about decarbonising timber haulage.Neil Stoddart speaking about decarbonising timber haulage.

Last but not least was Mick Bottomley from Forestry and Land Scotland, who ran through useful points on managing in-forest infrastructure, which included key principles such as planning, space for vehicles and welfare, regulation and water (managing run-off and slurry issues), forwarders and roads, stacking areas and forwarder ramps.

Alistair Speedie brought proceedings to a close with mention of the Strategic Timber Transport Fund, the latest round of which saw £7 m available. Closing dates for bids was March 21, and he is keen we continue bidding for funds to keep the funding pot available in the future.

All in all, it was a very useful day with a nice mixture of topics.