Last week I was excited to take part in the first tree-marking training days for the COFORD (Council for Forest Research and Development, Ireland) Low Impact Silvicultural Systems (LISS) project in Ireland. Hollywood is one of the forests on the database, along with other plantation sites across Ireland that are being transformed, in various degrees, to non clearfell, permanent forests. Close to 300 sites, comprising a mix of commercial, privately owned and Coillte (Ireland’s large semi-state forests) sites, are being tracked for this project. (See an overview and update of the LISS project here)
A big part of transforming and in general terms improving any forest, be it for economic, ecological or aesthetic values, is marking trees effectively for selective thinning. While some may object to trees being felled, not felling can often have greater detrimental effects to a forest overall. Un-thinnned plantations which may have been heavily stocked at the beginning to produce straight-stemmed trees may result in overcrowded situations where individual trees are stressed due to competition for nutrients (this was the case at Hollywood, so many trees were overcrowded that they stopped growing and resembled conifer ‘bonsais’). These trees would also give poorer timber returns and also be more at risk from disease. In aiming to transform a plantation to continuous cover one needs to selectively harvest poorer quality trees to create small ‘pockets’ in the forest canopy to allow regeneration of other species on the forest floor. Therefore any tree thinning is a skill and a balancing act to deliver a range of ecological, economic and amenity values.
In my own case, and this is the first question any forester will ask a forest owner, I have to think of the long-term aims for the forest. The aims might include: are you managing the forest for its fuel, biodiversity, amenity, high value timbers, or a range of these objectives. A forester and attentive forest owners who are interested in managing forests for the long term (and which all forest management will be moving toward) will aim to make sure the forest ‘capital’ is ever increasing to offset the costs of forest management, this includes thinning costs. At Hollywood, we are looking for fuel for ourselves (as I write this one our neighbours is loading up his van with Hollywood firewood), and to improve the biodiversity and the quality of its soil, thereby improving the resilience of Hollywood for the long-term. Its important to remember too, if a forest is offering a lot of value, its future is more secure too). We also wish to improve the quality of our trees too, so that any felled in the future will receive the best market value. This means the upkeep of the forest is always at a minimum cost to the forest and ourselves. But there are intangible values too. As our forest diversifies, its aesthetic value has already improved and we have more varied flora and fauna. Unfortunately these values, along with carbon and soil improvement values, are still overshadowed in the forest sector by an emphasis on economic values. This is the case in Ireland at present, and it is understandable as we have only recently begun to establish a wood culture again in Ireland. However this is changing when people understand the wider values forests play for so many aspects of life and through such education days like this.
In my own case, I have gained some limited knowledge of identifying good quality conifer trees from my own site when the LISS team came to assess my site and my forest activities in January (and from attending ProSilva days over recent years). However, its one thing looking at trees in a small site then being asked to mark trees in a large plantation! (more…)