Woodland management

Why use horses for urban woodland management?

  • Combining horse-power with traditional woodsmanship skills removes engine fumes, and lowers noise disturbance for local communities and wildlife.
  • Working with horses allows sensitive woodland management, with time taken to create gradual change.
  • Working horses are better able to access smaller urban sites, or sites with large surrounding residential areas.
  • Horses tread lightly in comparison to modern machinery, causing less ground compaction, less soil disturbance, and lower impact on flora.
  • Our carefully crafted outreach and volunteer initiatives allow the local community to become an integral part of our work.

Operation Centaur makes working horses relevant to contemporary urban communities. Working closely with these communities, we demonstrate that working horses are a viable alternative in urban conservation and estate management. The gentle pace and quietude of working with horses in conservation allows our team to sensitively observe the impact that our work has on the habitats and wildlife around us, helping us develop a more intimate understanding of what we do.

Rolling bracken - Richmond Park
Traditional methods of working the land yield better results than mechanised alternatives

Horses are used in forestry to extract and move timber to stack sites, and take timber off-site when needed, on horse-drawn forwarders. We recognize that within large-scale, commercial forestry, working horses aren’t currently an economically viable comparison to modern extraction and processing machinery. However, within smaller scale woodland management, in woodlands requiring sensitive management, because of wildlife or proximity to urban communities, or in areas less accessible to modern machinery, horses become a viable and sustainable alternative.

Working horses are lighter than modern machinery, so have a lower impact on the woodland floor. They are agile over difficult or sloped terrain, and are flexible in working within denser tree growth, causing less damage to standing trees. Within urban communities, there is also the benefit of causing less noise disturbance. To further this, Operation Centaur fell and prune trees using traditional axe and saw techniques, removing chainsaw noise, and thus disturbance to surrounding wildlife and people. We also aim to maintain a continued relationship with the woodland, such as managing Bracken or Rhododendron that may begin growing in thinned areas. This requires more time, but offers incredibly valuable opportunities for engagement with the local community, something at the core of our work.

Adding experiential value for people

Re-introducing a management strategy to unmanaged woodlands can initially create quite stark changes to the structure of vegetation, as the canopy is opened to allow regeneration of sapling native woodland tree species, as well as under-story woodland flowers and shrub species. Working within the parameters of your existing woodland management strategies, we develop sensitive approaches to implement the necessary work, for example, by rotating thinning work of designated areas over a period of several years. This helps softened the changes to the woodland, perhaps by reintroducing a rotational coppice system.

A key component to this work is to actively involve the local community who are connected to, and are using the woodlands. We recognize that working with horses adds an incredible amount of experiential value for people. We design and implement community outreach initiatives, including onsite demonstrations of the work we are doing, and volunteer parties who are trained to assist us in our forestry work. We can also create resources for the community who are involved in a project, such as firewood delivered to them by horse and dray, or wood to local craftspeople.

Our aim is to give this community a better understanding of woodland management, the work we are doing in the woods, and to allow them to become an important part of the management process. To maintain engagement with this community throughout the calendar year, we aim to run events to connect people with the woodland, such as spring bird and wildflower walks, summer tree identification walks, and autumn fungi walks. When we return the following winter to continue our thinning and management work, it’s our hope to have an engaged and supportive community around us.

brti-horse-loggersThe Operation Centaur woodlands team are members of British Horse Loggers, the national body representing those working in forestry with horses. With membership, we undertake continued training for professional development. We also hold LANTRA certificates in tree felling, and are trained in traditional woodsman axe and saw techniques. Our horses are experienced working horses, and trained to work in woodlands.

Contact us to discuss your requirements.

Operation Centaur, Holly Lodge, Richmond Park, Richmond, Surrey TW10 5HS
Contact Operation Centaur
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In partnership with The Royal Parks, Historic Royal Palaces and  Shire Horse Society