“Early morning the Sun peeks through the trees after the first big snowfall in the Highlands where smoke rises above the canopy, as thinnings from a birch wood and rhododendron clearance are being burned. I am on-site with a contractor by a hydro dam and low-lying cloud that is idly drifting about the river basin. No harvesting machines are to be seen, only chainsaws and workers abseiling down rocky outcrops to clear those tricky, hard to reach areas. I visit the site and talk to the contractor about the culture in Scotland, main issues and barriers facing both new and established businesses – this is what I do at the moment, speak to contractors and trying to gauge the pulse of the sector.”
Euan Bowditch from Inverness-UHI leads the project work in Scotland – a country where forestry will be raising business in the near future. The FOBIA project was launched six months ago. One of the main tasks was to put together a national steering group that would serve as guides and advisors to the project in Scotland. This group is steadily taking form and should be an effective way to access a diverse range of contractors and increase the impact of the project.
Valuable knowledge from forestry contractors to develop e-learning
The core activity at the moment is meeting and speaking with forestry contractors from one-person operations to large companies. It will continue throughout the project. We are also learning about entrepreneurship from region experts and ways in which different people think, reflect and evaluate their businesses. That feeds into how individuals approach learning and developing new skills.
One of the core ideas of the project is to provide contractors with an easy access to training, for example in a form of e-learning. We are collecting and collating amps that detail the coverage and effectiveness of mobile and broadband coverage in the Scottish NPA regions (Highlands and Islands/Dumfries and Galloway). We are trying to build a comprehensive picture of the digital landscape and infrastructure, which can identify hot and cold spots.
Many activities still to come
FOBIA is a three-year project. We will be collecting information and data for report on the status of forestry contracting in NPA Scotland and focus on communication with the stakeholders. It will include a set up for social media presence for contractors to use, potential workshop, mind-mapping and forest day with a mixed range of contractors and the first meeting of National steering group. And we must not forget the project meeting in Inverness at the beginning of 2018 – three days of FOBIA focused work and project development, including a talk by a Scottish forestry contractor, on-site operations visit that demonstrates conditions and challenges in Scotland, as well as haggis, whisky and lots of rain!
Euan Bowditch, IC-UHI