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Russ gets the keys to a lovely little runner - a giant timber harvester!

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View from the cab of a Ponsse harvester

A trip to the Alps left 28 year old Russ Ackroyd with more than just found memories – it inspired him to go out and buy a giant timber harvester!

The Barnsley-based forestry contractor was one of a ten-strong delegation from South Yorkshire which spent a week in Austria learning how they are forging ahead using woodfuel to heat schools, factories, offices and homes.

The fact-finding mission, backed by the Forestry Commission, was funded by the European Union through a pioneering project called Activating Forest Owners. 

Russ Ackroyd explained:

“The trip opened my eyes and confirmed for me that it’s time to invest in our woods here at home.  I’ve been involved in forestry work since leaving school, but now I’ve pushed the boat out and bought a state-of-the-art computer controlled harvester.  These machines can cut and process up to 100 trees each day, making harvesting more economical for owners.  It’s an amazing bit of kit. With timber prices strengthening we have a good order book for our services from across South Yorkshire.”

South Yorkshire has 15,000 hectares (37,500 acres) of woodland – 9.7% of land area – but much of this remains an untapped resource say the Forestry Commission and is often neglected.  Yet demand for woodfuel is soaring – the price has risen by approximately 20% in one year - kindled by escalating gas and oil prices, along with eco-concerns over global warming. The EU project aims to clear a major bottle-neck by getting more local private woods producing timber.

Rudie Humphrey, from the Forestry Commission, said:

“Having local contractors on hand with harvesting equipment means landowners don’t need to look far to buy in the expertise to manage their woods.  We are starting out down the woodfuel road, but countries like Austria, which has over 8,000 biomass boilers, are well ahead of us and operating on a much bigger scale. The potential in areas like South Yorkshire is enormous.  That’s why the EU choose this area alone in the UK to invest 200,000 Euros through the scheme.” 

Besides forestry contractors, woodlands owners and woodfuel suppliers were amongst those visiting Austria where they saw district heating schemes, watched machinery demonstrations and paid a call on one of Europe's biggest sawmill.

In another boost, the Forestry Commission has unveiled a new grant scheme to help landowners build tracks and create better access into woods so timber can be more easily harvested, including for woodfuel. 

Rudie Humphrey  added:

"Some private woods are not managed because they were planted on difficult terrain making harvesting tough and uneconomic.  But with woodfuel prices surging and this new grant on the table it becomes much more viable.”

To find out more contact the Forestry Commission on 01904 448778 or go to


Notes to Editor

  1. Yorkshire and Humber produces about 300,000 tonnes of timber each year.  Estimates suggest this has the potential to rise to 340,000 tonnes. The Forestry Commission harvests 110,000 tonnes - a sustainable level where new trees are planted to replace those felled.  So to expand timber output, it’s vital more private sector woods are brought into management.

  2. The UK is one of four countries awarded cash under the EU funded Activating Forest Owners project together with France, Slovenia and Latvia.  The EU wants 20% of Europe’s renewable energy production achieved through wood fuel combustion by 2020.  For more visit

  3. Forestry Commission England runs the English Woodland Grant Scheme (EWGS) to protect, improve and expand our forests, as set out in the government's Natural Environment White Paper EWGS is a part of the Rural Development Plan for England (RDPE). Further information about these schemes can be found at

  4. Woodfuel Woodland Improvement grant key features This new grant supports the sustainable production of woodfuel and other timber products and runs to the end of the 2013/14 financial year. Work will need to meet the UK Forestry Standard.  The grant offers 60% towards the cost of work, and doesn’t take account of the timber income that results. To apply for a Woodfuel WIG, applicants must have an approved, up to date Woodland Management Plan, and work must be completed and claimed for by 28 February 2014.The following main operations are supported:
    *    Roads, tracks and other infrastructure to assist the extraction of timber from woodland. Support will be based on 3 quotes and grant paid on the production of receipted invoices.
    *   Woodland inventory and costs associated with managing harvesting contracts. Support for this work is based on standard costs.

  5. Forestry Commission England is the government department responsible in England for protecting, expanding and promoting the sustainable management of woods and forests and increasing their value to society and the environment. Forestry makes a real contribution to sustainable development, providing social and environmental benefits arising from planting and managing attractive, as well as productive, woodlands.

  6. Media calls: Richard Darn on 0113 346 6085.  Mobile: 0775 367 0038.