TREES are taking to the skies above the Peak District as part of an innovative project to remove felled timber from a remote hillside.
The Forestry Commission has set up a skyline using cables and pulleys – a system deployed in mountainous areas of Scotland, Wales and the Lake District.
Sitka spruce, pine and larch tree trunks 60ft long are being winched from the hillside close to the Snake Pass, which is off-limits for conventional harvesting and forwarding machinery.
It is the first time a skyline has been used in the Peak District.
Albin Smith, of the Forestry Commission, said: “The Sitka spruce, pine and larch were all planted in 1930 as part of the major expansion of forests following the critical shortages experienced in the First World War.
“Less thought was given to how the trees would be harvested from such steep ground, but the skyline is successfully solving that problem. Gradually, we want to break up the blanket of conifers on the hillside to create a more varied woodland, with trees of different ages and more native species.
“We also want to make the edge with the moorland more natural rather than a straight line.”
The trees are being felled by foresters using chainsaws and then hitched to the industrial grade ‘zip-line’ with chains and lowered down the valley side.
There they are processed by a hi-tech harvester before being transported to the saw mill.
The harvesting work is expected to take until May to complete.
As the trees are felled, cloughs in the 155 hectare Snake Forest will be allowed to naturally regenerate with native species such as oak, rowan, hawthorn and willow.
There will be additional planting of species such as aspen and hazel.
The Forestry Commission aims to continue production of timber from Snake Forest – but its future management will strike a ‘balance with landscape and biodiversity goals’, Mr Albin said.