Die-back may have ecological benefits

Ash Die-back

 

Until now clearing and reforestation has been the best strategy to recover a forest affected by Die-back, bark beetles, heat, drought, storms and fires throughout Germany, according to their Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture.

Dead Ash from Die-back and dead spruce and beech from beetles are often seen by nature lovers who walk through the forests. The plan to reverse the damage usually consists of large scale clean-up followed by a reforestation programme. At least 500 million euros are needed for the programme and subsequent maintenance.

Preserving dead wood

The Government’s initiative has been considered as a “wrong strategy” by some ecologists from Julius – Maximilians- Universitat  (JMU) Wuerzburg in Bavaria. “This policy is likely to create extensive, even forest stands that remain particularly vulnerable to the impacts of future climate change”. Says the ecologist Simon Thorn.

The experts are calling for a radical change. They insist that the Government should reconsider the strategy and financial efforts to create forests resilient to future climate change. The scientists suggest not to remove dead wood and not to conduct reforestations on large scales.

For centuries, forestry has followed a clearing and reforestation plan. The consequences: a steady decline in biological diversity and the extinction of many fungi and insects that depend on dead wood. According to Thorn, this collides with the goals of the Government coalition that the dramatic decline should be halted. Instead, public subsidies must be aimed at preserving dead wood created by disturbances.

 

Credit: Sean McGinnis
          Ash die-back roadside in Athlone

 

Forest Dieback 2.0

In the 1980’s there was widespread forest damage in Central Europe, mainly caused by air pollution due to industry and traffic. At that time there was talk of “Waldsterben or “Forest Dieback”. The current catchword “Waldsterben 2.0” refers to this period. The addition “2.0” expresses that the current forest damage has other causes this time, namely climate change.

 

Forest Operations in Silvergrove, Co. Cork

Silvergrove

In response to the enormous amount of interest regarding the recent forestry operations in Silvergrove, Kilbarry, Co. Cork, (loosely referred to as Toon Wood) I’m delighted to take this opportunity to answer some of the genuine concerns raised, and to give some background and explanation of what we are trying to achieve there.

 

Background

The land owner at Silvergrove is a woman with a keen interest in both history and the environment. She approached Ecoplan Forestry in 2014 wondering if she could somehow combine her poor agricultural land and scrub woodland into the ancient, traditional land management practice of ‘wood pasture’, the mutually beneficial integration of trees, forages and livestock.

‘Wood Pasture’ or Silvopasture is an enlightened land management technique. It is currently being promoted by the Forest Service as Agro-forestry due to it’s enormous benefits, and is grant-aided at the establishment stage. Please see the sites: Silvopasture and agroforestry.  I was extremely interested in the project. It was a tradition in the area, and it would have a range of benefits both economic and environmental.

 

The Application Process

My initial site visit showed a farm that had fallen into disrepair over the years. Neither farmland nor woodland; furze, bracken and willow were encroaching onto the open fields throughout. The existing trees were predominantly clusters of coppiced ash, birch and willow, with individual oak and holly in places. The tree stocking was varied, but generally extremely low, and thicker on the boundaries. Ash was regenerating naturally, along with pockets of the other species in places. I estimated the 13Ha was 50% open fields, 50% scrub woodland.

I applied for a General Felling Licence (GFL) in May 2015. The site was in the 3km NPWS referral zone, and the local Forest Service (FS) Inspector is their Native Woodland expert, so I was confident that the application would be assessed by expert professionals who were well able to assess any potential issues.

3 months later FS responded with a query – ‘whether or not this is a thinning or a clearfell application and if it’s a clearfell application, a replanting plan must be submitted’. I responded with the details as requested, and volunteered the objectives and prescribed operations. The GFL was approved and issued in late 2015. Considering the length of time it took I can only assume it was referred to the NPWS, and assessed in detail by the FS.

 

Planning

Once we received the felling approval we waited. The area is sensitive, and there were issues with some locals, so we waited to hear anything from anyone interested. We heard nothing. We also waited to properly plan, and to choose experienced contractors with the right machines that wouldn’t damage the ground. Finding a contractor was difficult considering the very small volumes of timber, and its small value, that would be felled.

During this waiting period the regenerating ash on site was found to have Chalara (ash dieback). And importantly, a Department of Agriculture Inspector advised the land owner to remove the scrub.

In 2017 we applied for an extension to the Licence. We were happy to go through the entire application process again – referral to NPWS, site visit by FS, clearly visible sign and public notice at entrance. We received a second GFL approval in April 2017. The approval was a standard approval for 5 years. As before, the GFL had absolutely no conditions attached.

 

Work Begins

Felling began in early September 2017, 2 years after felling was approved. A Felling Notice was erected at the gate giving all details and contact numbers, which has remained in place during all operations.

On the 13/10/17 the site was visited by the local Forest Service Inspector (the native woodland expert). He was responding to complaints made by a member of the public. (The land owner suspected a local begrudger) He found no relevant issues, said he was happy with the work, and to continue. ‘(The Inspector) said he was satisfied that there was no particular breach of the Licence’.

FS issued a letter following the visit with details of the Native Woodland Conservation Scheme, which had been discussed on site. The letter also mentioned grazing which was beyond their brief, and not relevant to the operations.

At the end of October the site was hit badly by storms Ophelia and Brian, as had much of the south-west. Unfortunately a large number of senescent oak were blown, along with many more younger trees. I assessed the damage, documented it, and decided the damage was a result of catastrophic rather than endemic windblow. So our objectives did not change.

Storm Damage
Oak tree Storm Damage at Silvergrove 2017

In early 2018 the site was again hit by the ‘Beast from the East’ causing more significant damage which was again documented and assessed.

 

1st Suspension

On the 14/09/18 the local Inspector and another Inspector visited the site again following another complaint. He threatened the workers and the land owner with legal action, stopped all the work, and suspended the Licence. In his Statement of Evidence the Inspector noted ‘We identified 12 oak trees, one beech and 7 ash.’ 20 trees  after 3 bad storms over 13Ha.

On the 30/10/18 the suspension was lifted following analysis by the Manager of the FS Felling Section. No breach of the Licence was found, the suspension was wrong, as the complaints were unfounded. Again, we were advised to carry on doing what we were doing.

It’s important to note that even at this stage I had heard absolutely nothing from anyone regarding the work we were doing. Despite my sign on the gate, and the notice, anonymous complaints were made, accusations were hurled, but no-one asked for any information or dialogue.

Silvergrove
Silvergrove

In early November, in an attempt to pre-empt any future issues, we requested a meeting on site with the head of FS Felling Section and anyone else they chose to bring. We wanted the opportunity to openly discuss what we were doing, and to invite any feedback or concerns. FS did not meet us!

 

January 2019

On Monday the 07/01/19 I received 4 calls from an unknown number, and I also received 2 e-mail enquiries about the work at Silvergrove. I was delighted to finally receive some interest. I answered the calls, answered the e-mails, no problem. The next day I got a call from FS. Apparently there were more complaints.

There were also threads on Linked-in and Twitter with a lot of anger and genuine concerns. There was also a lot of misinformation.

 

The Facts

  • The lands at Silvergrove are not designated as Sensitive, not SAC, NHA, SPA or even pNHA.
  • The lands are not in a Fresh Water Pearl Mussel catchment, or within a 6km zone of a FPM catchment.
  • The lands are not part of Toon Wood.
  • The land is not an ancient oak woodland, it is a farm.
  • NPWS, Fisheries, Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture were all consulted and approved the works.
  • The work was not done in secret, sneaking in over the Christmas holidays, it has been ongoing since early October.
  • In Ireland there is a legal process, which was followed, strictly adhered to, or exceeded.
  • The work is not yet finished, of course it looks bad now.
  • I strongly reject any accusations against the land owner or what she is trying to achieve.

Conclusion

I appreciate everyone’s concerns here. I only regret that I haven’t heard from anyone before now in the 3 years this has been going on. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and to form their own conclusions, but Foresters (private and public), Dept of Fisheries staff, NPWS staff and Dept of Agriculture staff all approved the work. As environmental professionals we are dedicated to protecting and enhancing our environment, do you really believe this was a conspiracy to destroy an ancient Forest?!?!

All of the above is the truth as it happened, documented in letters, e-mails, texts and pictures. If you’re still dissatisfied then maybe the system let you down. If the system doesn’t work then maybe all that anger should be directed at the system? The land owner did everything by the book. She’s trying something new, something different, and change & the unknown can be frightening. I’m always available to answer your questions, maybe allay some fears, and shed some light. Let’s talk.

 

Sean McGinnis

Ecoplan Forestry Limited

18 Cluain Rhaine,

Banagher, Co. Offaly.

R42 P282

087 9302922

sean@ecoplan.ie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Giants Grove Project

The Giants Grove

 

The Giants Grove is a remarkable project. The establishment of an 8 hectare woodland dominated by the world’s largest trees, the worlds largest organism by volume. It will take 1200 years to mature. It is really something special. However, the Giants Grove is so much more than just Redwoods. The project has been carefully planned to be of enormous benefit to the environment, across a wide range of aspects. The Redwoods are widely-spaced, dotted amongst a native woodland.

The site consists of Oak, Ash, Birch, Hazel and Scot’s pine, with some Alder, Rowan, Hazel, Holly, Juniper and Spindle. It provides food and cover for a range of wildlife due to its well-developed canopy structure. Surrounded by existing native woodland, which provides essential connectivity between 300+ Hectares.

 

One of the most exciting aspects of the Giants Grove is how it will connect two large blocks of native broadleaved woodland. The area is already home to red squirrels, voles, shrew, pine marten and even the reclusive otter, in addition to many more common woodland mammal species. There are also large populations of birds and bats, insects and butterflies, all of which will benefit from and thrive in the larger habitat created.  This project is special, on so many levels, in so many aspects. It’s fascinating to imagine how it will look in ten, a hundred or a thousand years.

Find out more on the giants Grove website https://www.giantsgrove.ie/

Get in touch for more information http://ecoplan.ie/contact-us/

Forest Consultancy

Ecoplan Forestry are available for a wide range of forest consultancy services to help forest owners make the most of their forest asset. From site reports and recommendations, to valuations or just general advice Ecoplan will be able to give you the information you need, and give you options.

Good forest consultancy is essential in order to maximise the potential of your forest asset.

Forest Consultancy
Forest Consultancy – Ecoplan Forestry

For more information, please go to the contacts page.

Forest Asset Management

In order to fully realise the full potential of your forest asset, it is essential to manage that asset correctly and professionally. You can include your forest in the Ecoplan Forestry Management Group to avail of professional advice and updates, annual productivity reports, improved security, and the knowledge that your asset is being nurtured.

For more information, please go to the contacts page.

Forest Estate Management

Ecoplan specialise in Forest Estate Management, where our goal is to improve the woodland according to a long-term management plan while providing a reliable sustainable income. Professional Forest Estate Management is essential in order to maximise the potential of your woodland, whether your objective is financial, aesthetic, or biodiversity.

Forest Estate Management
Forest Estate Management

We manage a number of Irelands finest Estates where our honesty, reliability and results are greatly appreciated. For more information, please go to the contacts page.

Consultancy

Ecoplan Forestry are available for a wide range of consultancy services to help forest owners make the most of their forest asset. From site reports and recommendations, to valuations or just general advice Ecoplan will be able to give you the information you need, and give you options.

For more information, please go to the contacts page..

Harvesting & Thinning

Harvesting & Thinning is an essential aspect of Forest Management, if completed correctly thinning realizes short-term financial returns while greatly improving the value of the remaining crop. However, if carried out poorly, the financial impact on the value of the plantation would be disastrous. Ecoplan Forestry manage harvesting & thinning on behalf of clients ensuring all operations benefit the plantation and the client, short and long term, rather than the processor or end user of the extracted timber.

Ecoplan have no conflict of interest in harvesting & thinning operations, no deals with processors or end users; our sole aim and involvement with thinning and harvesting is to ensure the operation benefits the plantation. Never ever sell standing thinnings directly to the end user without an independent forester acting on your behalf!! Never ever have your thinnings managed by a person or company with a conflict of interest regarding the harvested timber!!

Always remember the focus of thinning is about what you leave in the forest, not what you take out!!

Woodland Improvement

The Forest Service Woodland Improvement Scheme is available for all broadleaved grant-aided sites which are approaching first thinning stage. The aim of this scheme is to improve access, form, and volume production, and this operation greatly increases the value of the plantation.

Grant-aid is available for this work, and Ecoplan forestry specialize in the management and supervision of woodland improvement operations. For more information, please go to the contacts page.