Yes, it is because it was a plantation that was put in, in the late 70s, early 80s, when the government was throwing money at the landowners to blanket forest Scotland and a lot of it is very, very poor quality. It was planted there because they got the money to plant it there, not because it’s good ground. Some of it’s good. There are areas that are good within it but the economics of removing what, at best, is a mediocre wood crop from Eigg, unless things change drastically, it’s never going to work. It’s never going to be worth it. So we’re looking on it as an internal commodity, an internal use thing, and we have just started up ... Up until now we have done a lot of environmental felling which has been funded often by the Forestry Commission but through other funding bodies as well because, when they did plant it up, they planted right down to the burns and through all the bogs and dammed the bogs or drained the bogs and, you know, we’re doing the opposite. They got money to do that and we’re getting money to do the opposite. But what we’ve just started this year is trying to deal with it as a firewood resource because, in reality, that’s what most of it would be. There are some bits that are maybe too good for that and we’ll try and get a different ... you know, building or whatever and we’re looking into Wood-Mizer sawmills (portable sawmills) and things like that, but what we’re concentrating on at the moment is actually a firewood resource. So we’ve had a feasibility study of the whole ... you know, from what trees we’ve got to how many people, to what they’re burning, to how they’re burning it, to heating systems and ... the whole lot. We’ve just had a feasibility study, we’ve had a draft of it through recently. We read it and made notes and sent it back to them so they can come up with a final copy. And we went away, myself and Alistair and Dean and Bernie, went away and visited a few places down Ardnamurchan and places like that who were doing it. There are very, very few places. In fact, they did say that Eigg was going to be the only place they could think of in Scotland where people were going in and harvesting wood with chainsaws because it just doesn’t happen anymore. The big harvester comes in and ... and, actually, I haven’t been in there for a couple of weeks, I can see why it’s a killer! (laughs) But it’s the way ... We did look at every option. Are we better sitting on it for twenty years and doing almost nothing and then getting a harvester in? But then you get no local employment and ... you know, so all these things. Hopefully this is going to pay for itself and you will get a local resource. You will get local employment. Very few, well, not food miles but transport ... And more people will start burning wood because what we need is a reliable source and we’ve got plenty of it there, but we need a system that works. That’s the stage we’re at. We’re trying to find that out at the moment. I think that one is a definite goer. What it needs to do is pay enough money for people like myself who are in there working because it’s ... you know, you’re self-employed, you’ve got all your gear, you’ve got your breakdowns, you’ve got all your fuel ... and when we’ve done it before on a much more ad hoc basis, it hasn’t really paid for itself. If we charged people what we felt we needed to cover our costs and make a wage, they wouldn’t have bought their wood because coal was more expensive but you got a lot more heat out of it. But that was one of the reasons for this feasibility study, to come up with systems of extraction, which has been one of our biggest problems, is accessing extraction, and so this ... you know, we’ve been to the experts. This is what they’ve come up with. We’re trying it now. We’ll sell that wood next year in the autumn and that’ll tell us if it’s going to work or not, and I really hope it does because it’s a perfect example of a community ... like a communal, community, local business supplying local needs and being greener and more environmentally friendly and so it just sounds great and I hope the costs do figure themselves out.

  • Neil Robertson
Thursday 4th February 2010