Forecasts that Scotland’s timber harvest will double during the next 15 years have multiplied concerns over the impact of additional lorry movements on rural communities, the environment, road congestion and ‘lightly-constructed’ country roads.

In recognition of these worries, the Scottish Executive announced late last year that the budget for its Freight Facilities Grant (FFG) scheme would be doubled to £36m for the period to March 2004. These grants are to help transport operators such as shipping, port and rail companies to develop infrastructure projects that allow freight to be transferred from the roads to other, more sustainable modes of transport.

At the same time, the Scottish Executive announced its commitment to ‘removing 18 million lorry miles from Scotland’s roads each year from 2002’. Timber is one industry sector offering huge scope for freight transfer initiatives given that, according to latest best estimates, 95% of all timber movements in Scotland are by road, compared with 3% for rail and 2% for sea.

The importance attached by government to timber in terms of realising its freight transfer goals was seen last year by the award of a £4.4m FFG to assist Associated British Ports (ABP) in developing the so-called ‘Timberlink’ shipping service across the Firth of Clyde separating Argyll and Ayr. The project, the first to attract an Inland Waterways FFG from the Scottish Executive, involved the construction at the Port of Ayr of a 2ha timber-handling terminal – including specialist cranes and timber stacking facilities – and the introduction of a freight shipping service. The Scottish Executive suggests that one return sea journey of 66 miles from Campbeltown in the south of Kintyre to Ayr ‘eliminates the need for more than 40 return lorry journeys of 340 miles each’.

Shipments to Ayr

According to Stuart Cresswell, ABP’s business development manager for Ayr and Troon, around 100,000 tonnes of timber has already been shipped into Ayr since early last year, mostly from Argyll and the Cowal peninsula. ABP has been ‘operating with most of the large end users in the area’ – including the Wilsons sawmill at Troon Harbour, UPM-Kymmene at Irvine, Egger UK at Auchinleck and even Sonae on the Mersey. ABP is liaising with major customers on the possibility of setting up a system of quarterly forecasting so the shipping needs of the major timber industry players can be better gauged and accommodated.

‘We are offering them a cost-effective solution and volumes moved by ship that would be difficult to move by lorry from these locations,’ said Mr Cresswell. The project has already proved ‘more successful than we thought’, prompting ABP to put on a second vessel in early February that will be used according to demand.

The next step for ABP is to work with rail freight providers on setting up links to major end users. At present, Mr Cresswell said, some lorry journeys were still required to move timber from port to processor.

Among the well-known timber industry names to take advantage of the government’s FFG scheme is Iggesund. The Swedish-based company recently received a £700,000 award from the Scottish Executive, of which £266,000 is to assist in renovating the old west pier at Lochaline and improving the local road infrastructure. The remaining £434,000 is intended to help meet ship leasing costs over a 10-year period to transport timber between Lochaline, which is located on the Sound of Mull, and ports on the west coast of Britain.

‘This will eliminate use of 64 miles of single track road between Lochaline and Fort William,’ said Steve Bradley, Iggesund Forestry UK’s forest manager for the west of Scotland. ‘We will be starting construction work in March and should complete it in June.’ According to initial projections, this sea route will carry around 30,000 tonnes of timber per year in the early years, building to a total of around 500,000 tonnes in the first 15 years.

Iggesund has been moving timber by sea around Scotland since the mid-1980s and has been in the vanguard of innovation. Towards the end of last year the company trialled a self-loading ship, shifting 10,000 tonnes of 3m pulp wood round timber in just 12 days via the small ports of Scrabster, Corpach, Portavadie, Ardrishaig and Campbeltown. The Scandinavian charter vessel was equipped with its own excavator eliminating loading and discharge costs usually paid to a shore-based third party.

Mr Bradley underlined that, while Iggesund’s policy was to keep timber off the roads wherever possible, financial considerations could not be ignored. Introduction of the FFG scheme demonstrated a political will to minimise the impact of freight movements on Scotland’s road infrastructure, ‘but there is a tremendous amount of bureaucracy and delay in them being awarded,’ he said. ‘In the meantime, lorries are still going on the roads.’

Positive headlines

While the larger FFG secured positive headlines for the government, added Mr Bradley, more could be achieved if the grant money pot was shared more widely. In many cases, relatively small sums of money could help divert sizeable volumes of freight to other modes of transport, he said.

Among other developments, public company Clydeport has formed a joint venture with Fort William-based haulier Boyd Brothers aimed at securing a ‘multi-million pound’ FFG to help upgrade Boyd’s Annet Point pier at Corpach, near Fort William. The aim is to create a facility capable of shipping 200,000 tonnes of timber from Corpach to Rochester in Kent and eliminate two million miles of lorry journeys per year.

According to Clydeport’s commercial director Peter Lawwell, the initiative will provide an environmentally friendly and competitive option for several large com-panies using Corpach, such as BSW Timber and Arjo Wiggins. Success at Corpach could result in similar ventures along Scotland’s west coast, he added.

£1.5m Grangemouth terminal

As recently as mid-February, Scotland’s largest distribution firm – Grampian Holdings’ subsidiary the Malcolm Group – opened a £1.5m rail freight terminal at Grangemouth which it hailed as a major step in its drive towards moving freight from road to rail. A spokesperson confirmed that the group was in talks with potential customers and that the new facility was ideally suited to timber.

The country’s largest rail freight provider, EWS, has also focused on increasing its timber capability and now boasts 235 OTA wagons with stanchions for carrying timber, as well as 15 MBAs for carrying up to 35 tonnes of transverse 2m timber. These join an EWS infrastructure comprising a network of rail terminals as well as new Class 66 locomotives. Overall, EWS expects to move approximately 250,000 tonnes of timber in the 2001-2002 financial year although, for the moment at least, the company claims that it is making no money on these movements.

Given the small and ‘geographically compromised’ nature of many of the company’s terminals in Scotland, timber loads generally go through the relatively expensive process of aggregation and have to be taken down to the major marshalling yard at Mossend in central Scotland, explained David Murray, EWS’ commercial manager – forest products. The company is working with bodies such as the Strategic Rail Authority in a bid to secure funding for the upgrading of some of the terminals and for ‘closing the competitive gap with door-to-door movement of timber by road’. He emphasised: ‘The long-term investment required in the terminals is the biggest sticking point.’

Targeting investment

EWS is also working with the government and forest industry representatives in a bid to establish likely timber flows over the next 15 years so that the rail freight provider can arrive at a better understanding of where future investment should be targeted.

Although increased movement of timber by sea and rail can serve to lighten the load on Scotland’s road infrastructure, road haulage will by force remain a key factor. For this reason, the eight regional Timber Transport Groups (TTGs) established in Scotland – representing partnerships between the forestry and transport industries, government departments and local authorities – have been working on a voluntary system of ‘agreed routes’ in a bid to ensure that timber is carried on roads best able to take the strain and that limited local authority resources are targeted on improving roads in line with timber extraction forecasts.

Agreed routes

The Grampian TTG has already produced its final map of ‘agreed routes’ while those for Stirling, Scottish Borders and the Highlands are close to completion. Maps for the other four TTG regions – Argyll, Tayside, Ayrshire and Dumfries & Galloway – are expected to be finished by the end of the summer. All maps will be heavily advertised among those organisations involved in the transport of timber.

According to Mike Alexander, Timber Growers Association’s director for Scotland: ‘These groups have overcome the sense of confrontation and got us to a situation where we can now work much better with local authorities.’

The TTGs are at the forefront of a number of bold bids designed to cushion the impact of timber freight movement on Scotland’s roads. For example, the Argyll Timber Transport Group (ATTG) is co-ordinating an application for more than £3m of European funding to assist in the construction of haul routes that would relieve the impact on 160km of the region’s minor roads.

ATTG’s Catherine Cantrill believed that the EU’s Highlands and Islands Special Programme 2000-2006 was possibly the only source of funding for such a project and that, should the application fail, ‘there are no alternatives to remove timber from minor and unclassified roads’. Despite the stalemate in winning match funding from the Scottish enterprise agency network, she said EU funding would be requested.

Discussion forum

At a national level, the Timber Transport Forum (TTF) provides an arena for industry, government and local authorities to discuss matters of mutual concern relating to timber transport; membership includes the Forestry Commission, Forest Enterprise, Timber Growers Association, Forestry Contracting Association and the UK Forest Products Association. A chairman with practical experience of timber haulage issues is expected to be named shortly and a logistics project manager is likely to be appointed in the spring, provided a funding package, including contributions from industry, can be finalised.