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Sutherland sawmill and renewables business GMG Energy makes carbon footprint pledge with £250,000 investment


By Calum MacLeod

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Making a commitment to a more sustainable business modeal are GMG Energy team members (left to right) wood processing operator David Greaves, managing director Malcolm Morrison, sawmill manager Aaron Smith, wood processing operator Liam Forbes, and site manager Malcolm Nicolson.
Making a commitment to a more sustainable business modeal are GMG Energy team members (left to right) wood processing operator David Greaves, managing director Malcolm Morrison, sawmill manager Aaron Smith, wood processing operator Liam Forbes, and site manager Malcolm Nicolson.

A local renewables and timber-processing business which is a significant employer in rural Sutherland is investing some £250,000 in plant and machinery to build on its strong growth over the past five years.

GMG Energy, which operates on a farm in the picturesque Halladale Strath between Tongue and Thurso, has spent £150,000 on a Wood Mizer LT70 sawmill and is poised to invest another £100,000 on a treatment plant to increase its range of products.

The investment means that wood from the local area will not now need to be transported 125 miles for processing, allowing businesses across the north and the islands to markedly reduce their carbon footprint by sourcing locally.

GMG Energy is also investigating the possibility creating heat and steam from wood waste to turn a turbine in order to self-generate the electricity it uses and to further minimise its environmental impact.

Business owner Malcolm Morrison, a former agricultural banker with Santander, said: “This investment means that we now have some of the most up-to-date timber processing equipment on the market and are well-positioned for meaningful expansion.

“Customers will be able to cut down on imported timber and timber products, road miles can be minimised and a sustainable market can be created for this area’s abundant forestry resources.

“We will continue to plant more trees than we process, meaning the business is self-sustaining, and a recent purchase of some 21,000 tonnes of local forestry means that we have in-built resilience in the event of interruption of supply.”

GMG Energy is sited at Bighouse, where Mr Morrison’s Sutherland-born mother still lives. The property has 800 North Country Cheviot sheep, a herd of summer cattle and a number of rental and holiday accommodations.

Mr Morrison left his studies in agricultural economics at Glasgow University to return to farming before going into agricultural business and then into agri-banking, initially with Clydesdale Bank.

He said: “I had a lot of clients who were exploring renewables and I saw the opportunities which were becoming available so, in 2016, I set up a standalone renewables business with six-megawatt biomass boilers to dry logs, sawdust and chips.

“The sawmill, which gives us further wood processing capability, was established just 18 months ago with very welcome support from the Forestry Commission and the business now has six full-time staff and one employee, a shepherd, on the farm.

“We are looking north, not south, for markets and have clients such as a pallet manufacturer in Orkney who supplies the fishing industry. Local estates and farms are outlets for fence posts, gate rails, cladding and so on.”

Investment in treatment plant will open new opportunities in agribusiness and local construction companies for treated and stress-tested timber and GMG is also considering some limited manufacture, of items such as garden furniture.The company increased turnover in the year to August 2021 to just over £2 million, up from £1.7 million the previous year. Mr Morrison is cautious about predictions for next year, given spiralling costs of fuel, timber and labour, but would be happy with a period of steady post-investment consolidation.


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