The National Trust estate in Minnowburn “saddled up” with a Belfast-based tree felling company recently to address their timber workload by use of force.
To the delight of residents, visitors, and National Trust staff alike, striding along Terrace Hill estate pulling heavy logs, were Samson and Goliath – not the cranes, but rather, two huge Jutland horses sharing the same names and equally iconic in stature.
Replacing noisy tractors and |heavy-duty machinery with work |horses you would only find commonplace over a century ago, is the venture of Noel and Stephen Donaghy in their |father and son tree-felling business, A Total Tree Care Company.
Speaking as the horses’ first work day came to an end, Lynn Cassells, careership warden at the National Trust said: “The use of vehicles and mechanical |equipment to extract timber has |completely taken over province-wide in our woods and forests. Therefore what happened today at our Minnowburn property was truly historic.
“The benefits of horse logging are |obvious. As well as a beautiful sight it is an efficient and cost-effective method of extracting timber. The disturbance to the woodland floor is minimal, reducing potential damage to flora and fauna.
“Horse logging is a part of our |history and therefore it is crucial that this traditional skill is kept alive. With the |rising cost of fuel and increasing |concerns about the environment it is the obvious way forward to revert to our old skills where horse-power |literally does mean horse-power.”
Noel Donaghy is the first horse-logger to ply his trade in Northern Ireland in years. He bought the two Jutland |horses from Denmark and the rig they need to drag trees. The horses Noel and Stephen command were once famous for pulling the old Carlsberg carts.
Typically, the horses can work a six-seven-hour day, removing eight-10 tonnes of timber. By contrast “heavy machinery disturbs drainage and flora, compacts the soil and can damage trees.”
Lynn added: “Noel and Stephen were natural leaders with Samson. Through the use of just six simple commands such as left, right, back and easy they were able to steer Samson through the woods to the felled timber.
“The equipment used was basic but |effective. With a click of his teeth, Noel would give the command for Samson to move forward and the log was dragged down to the roadside where it would later be removed.”
Though it’s many years since horses have dragged logs in Northern Ireland, the traditional and eco-friendly practice is growing in popularity again in England, Scotland and Wales.