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Reserve Forces & Cadets Association
Northern Ireland


24 September 2015

71 Engr Regt Reservists from Scotland and Northern Ireland completed their annual training exercise, led by 591 (AA) Fd Sqn and based out of Cameron Barracks in Inverness. They were joined by 50 members of the US National Guard (USNG), as part of Ex MULBERRY TREE. The exercising troops practiced their combat engineering and construction skills on projects at the Highland Wildlife Park in the Aviemore area, the 2015 World Orienteering Championships near Inverness, and the Kitchener & HMS Hampshire Memorial on Orkney.

Highland Wildlife Park Task by Lt Rob Trounce, 591 (AA) Fd Sqn

Our detachment was tasked with a number of projects of varying size within the Highland Wildlife Park, Kingussie. The troops involved were a mixture of South Dakota National Guard (Airforce and Army) and Sappers from all three squadrons of 71 Engr Regt, as well as Officer Cadets from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Tayforth UOTCs. All were billeted in the Rothiemurchas lodge just outside Aviemore. Dining like kings, thanks to the outstanding efforts of our chef , those involved in the exercise also had the opportunity to make the most of the picturesque surroundings with mountain biking and a cultural package that included a visit to Fort George, the Battle of Culloden as well as a whiskey tasting at a local distillery.

At the wildlife park our primary task was the raising of 6m posts which would support suitable fencing for the new Amur Leopard enclosure (similar to snow leopards except closer to extinction). This enclosure will be part of groundbreaking work to reverse the declining wild population by reintroducing leopards from zoo stock into their natural habitat in Russia. Over the first 5 days of work 80 posts were raised each requiring a metre deep hole which were dug with hand tools to limit the human and mechanical footprint in the area. The work was physically demanding and we had to overcome the challenging terrain to meet the client’s requirements. Even when the digging felt more like rock hunting than a construction task, morale remained high due to the calibre of the troops involved.

Once the Amur Leopard enclosure posts were in place we shifted our effort to the construction of a log wall which would form part of a European Bison management area to allow the staff easier access to monitor and treat the herd. This involved digging lengths of trench 1m deep by 0.6m wide using a mini-excavator, which gave the USNG heavy machinists the opportunity to get to grips with our equipment under the instruction and supervision of the UK Plant Operator Mechanics. The logs were placed into these trenches by hand and framed before being secured in place with concrete. Concurrently with these tasks more posts were erected for a native Wild Cat enclosure and an area of hard-standing for a poly-tunnel was completed. By the end of our tasks those involved had the luxury of standing back and admiring a job well done (and the chance to explore the park).

Orienteering Championships Task by 2Lt Dean McCrea, 591 (AA) Fd Sqn

The Scottish 6 Day Orienteering Event, which included the World Orienteering Championship, took place from 2nd August – 8th August 2015, in the outstanding natural surroundings of the Scottish Highlands. We were tasked with construction of three temporary bridges, a culvert and some areas of hard standing to enable the successful running of the event. As all of the bridge sites were located in the Scottish Highlands, there were environmental considerations which needed to be accounted for, such as locally sourced stone, which all had to be removed by hand and then returned to its original location after the event. Another environmental consideration was not to disturb the local fish population, meaning no heavy lifting equipment could enter the water, resulting in all bridges being placed into location by crane.

Bridge Site 1 was completed in three days, and consisted of gabion baskets filled with locally sourced stones being used as foundations to support the 10m metal prefabricated bridge walkway. Once the foundations were in place the bridge was craned into position and a ramp created from locally sourced stone and finished with sandbags to form safe access and egress. The bridge was used by the runners on day two of the Scottish 6 Day Orienteering Event (3rd August), was removed straight after in the reverse order to the construction phase, and the environment returned to its normal state.


Bridge Site 2 was a unique bridge build due to the type of bridge design, environmental restrictions and water flow considerations. Bridge 2 was a pontoon bridge constructed of three 12m prefabricated pontoon walkway panels (sourced by the client from a marine fish farm), which joined to create a 36m floating pontoon walkway. To the best of our knowledge this was the first time that Royal Engineers had used a pontoon bridge in conjunction with a water source influenced by a hydro electric power plant. The hydro plant was located one mile upstream from the pontoon bridge site and heavily influenced the flow and water level of the river at the point the bridge was spanning. The ever changing water levels meant that a detailed plan had to be developed between the task site commander and Scottish and Southern Energy plc (SSE), who control the water source at the hydro plant. After several meetings with SSE the optimum water conditions were determined, which would allow the pontoon bridge to float at a constant water level during the bridge build and event but would not endanger the hydro plant operations.

The build took place over four days, with day one being solely planning and a dry rehearsal build to ensure the actual build went smoothly and safely. Day two involved lowering the bridge panels into the water at the home bank. As bridge panel one was lowered into position the crane experienced technical difficulties rendering it unserviceable, although it was able to lower the first panel into the water to be secured to the home bank. Our contingency plan, using the medium wheeled tractor and extended forks, sprung into action to successfully and safely lower the remaining bridge panels into location at full stretch from the home bank. The bridge panels were then joined together and the near bank panel was anchored into position using a Tirfor jack and earth anchor set. The far bridge panel was swung over the river using the current to help the bridge move, with safety lines in place to allow for the correct orientation and location of the bridge to take place. Once the bridge was in position it was anchored down with steel wire rope and Tuffer Jacks at each corner, to ensure it could not move. The hand rails and defiling were then placed into position for the event.

The pontoon bridge was the key bridge for the event on day two of the Scottish Orienteering Event, as it created a link between the event registration area and the start/finish points. The bridge was used by over 5000 people consisting of both orienteerers and spectators, many of who took the time to thank the UK and US troops for their efforts. Everyone involved felt a huge sense of achievement and pride in the bridges, but with no time to reflect the pontoon bridge had to be lifted of the water that night to allow the water level to be altered as part of SSE planned maintenance the following day. The bridge was removed using the reverse of the original construction method, with the exception that a replacement crane had been delivered by ALC to remove all three bridge panels from the water. The whole disassemble phase took around four hours so with hot wraps on site we worked into the night!

Bridge site 3 was the same type of build as bridge site 1, the only difference being it was for the World Orienteering Championship. This build was completed in four days and was in place for use on 8th August and removed on 9th August.  A great set of tasks and some good engineering experience gained, just a pity all there is to show for it now are photos as none of the bridges remain.