Good Woods advisor uses heavy horses to transform sensitive woodland sites

posted on September 5, 2013

One of the B&Q Good Woods project advisors, Matt Waller, explains how heavy horses can help in managing sensitive woodland sites.

Matt Waller working a heavy horse in woodland

Matt Waller of Hawthorn Heavy Horses working a heavy horse in woodland, here extracting a small log.

As a woodland advisor for Good Woods, Matt is helping woodland owners to develop an initial vision for their woodland and advise how this can be achieved through the development of a woodland management plan. He’s an experienced forester, who understands the need for good woodland management in helping woods to provide us with clean air and water, good habitat for plants and wildlife, and beautiful spaces for exercise and relaxation.

To do these jobs, modern foresters typically use heavy machinery—such as tractors or forwarders. Under certain circumstances, however, these types of machines can be inappropriate. Matt Waller has faced such circumstances in the past when managing a woodland on behalf of Harlow Council in Essex, which was designated as an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). He needed to cut down and extract a large oak tree as part of the woodland’s management programme but heavy machinery was banned from the site as it could put ruts in the forest floor or contaminate the area with harmful pollutants. The oak was too heavy to move by hand, so Matt began searching for alternatives.

Stacking logs rideside, extracted from woodland by a heavy horse

Stacking logs rideside, extracted from woodland by a heavy horse

After considering options as unusual as ‘an Egyptian log-rolling technique,’ he eventually settled on one of Britain’s oldest logging methods—using heavy horses. They offer a great solution that is both environmentally sound and sympathetic to local users and wildlife. Matt tracked down one of the few remaining horse-logging operators in the country and hired him for the job. As he watched the horse removing the oak while standing with his wife, Claudia—who had experience with heavy horses—he realised there was nothing stopping them from starting a horse-logging company of their own. As Matt puts it, “I knew about cutting down trees and she knew about horses.”

The Wallers began undergoing additional training in horse logging, including experience working with a professional horse logger in Finland. In 2008, they were able to start their business, Hawthorne Heavy Horses, with the help of their first major contract, the Hylands Heavy Horses Project.

A joint venture between Chelmsford City Council and Chelmsford’s Writtle Agricultural College—the Heavy Horses Project was looking to return working horses to Hylands House, a 574-acre heritage estate located on the outskirts of the Essex town. Hawthorn Heavy Horses entered an agreement to provide the project with technical expertise in exchange for stable facilities, and the first horses—two Suffolk Punches — arrived at the estate in June 2008.

Though initially the horses were used primarily as a visitor attraction, providing demonstrations and carriage rides, over the past few years they have been increasingly used for grass cutting, harrowing and timber extraction in the estate’s 70 acres of woodland. Today, timber from the estate is used for firewood or charcoal sold locally. This has a triple benefit—providing the estate with additional revenue, the Wallers with employment, and local wildlife with a better habitat. Since coppicing and felling activities began on the estate three years ago forest floors that were once overgrown with brush and shadowed by the forest canopy are now covered with thistles and bluebells.

With the help of skilled forestry professionals, like Matt Waller, Good Woods is focussing on reaching out to owners of under-managed woodlands, starting in the South East and East of England. The project is promoting the benefits of woodland management planning; help to strengthen links between communities and woodlands; build forestry skills, and develop markets for woodland products.

For more information on Hawthorn Heavy Horses visit their website

If you are a woodland owner in the southeast or east England, and would like to be considered for a free visit, please contact us (see the links below).


Good Woods - for people, for nature

Visit the Good Woods web page

The Good Woods project is a novel project aiming to breathe new life into UK woodlands.  The project—a joint initiative between DIY giant B&Q, sustainability charity BioRegional and forestry charity The Sylva Foundation—will revive woodlands to provide environmental, social and economic benefits. For more information contact Amy Hammond:


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