Continuous Cover Forestry In Ireland

Continuous Cover Forestry

Continuous Cover Forestry In Ireland


Continuous Cover Forestry (CCF) is an approach to the sustainable management of forests whereby forest stands are maintained in a permanently irregular structure, which is created and sustained through the selection and harvesting of individual trees. The term “continuous cover forestry” does not equate exactly to any one particular silvicultural system, but is typified by selection systems. Different existing forest stands may require different silvicultural interventions to achieve a continuously productive irregular structure.

Advantages and history of Continuous Cover Forestry in Ireland

A number of useful species are not found in Ireland or are not naive (е.g. Boar). Tree species that are an integral part of selection forestry in Europe, but are not native to Ireland are Beech, Sycamore, Silver Fir and Norway Spruce. Without these species a true Selections Systems is not possible. By using species that are not native but appear to be compatible with native forest ecosystems, the understanding of the ecological relationships within such an ecosystem is reduced. It’s this understanding that helps minimise costs in a Continuous Cover Forest.

With the Groups Selections System more light is required on the forest floor and this increases the risk of weeds, such as grasses. Once established light-demanding species will need to be given much more room; they won’t wait like Beech or Fir. A number of introduced species have affected the balance within our ecosystem (e.g. Grey Squirrel, Sika Deer and Rhododendron ponticum) and their eradication or integration or integration into our management systems is a daunting challenge. A further constraint to the principles of CCF in Ireland is the general absence of local populations of tree species.

Continuos Cover Forestry Ecoplan

Continuos Cover Forestry Ecoplan

Irish forests are dominated by introduced species with a low degree of ‘naturalness’. Forests are highly splintered: According to Lеibundgut, the minimum woodland size required to manage a forest with the Group Selection System is greater than that needed for the true Selection System; at least 5 to 30 ha. Forests are often under-thinned or plundered – increasing stand instability while reducing the feasibility of conversion to Continuous Cover Forestry. Few examples of CCF exit in Ireland with only с. 7% forested; practically all of this is plantation forestry and mainly conifer mono-cultures. Soils have been degraded, particularly on marginal land earmarked for forestry. Infrastructure, such as forest roads and ride lines, as well as less obvious resources such as high seats and experimental plot, are poor. These are essential in order to practise good forest management and in particular CCF.


When looking at Continuous Cover Forestry compared to plantations, regarding stand stability we conclude that plantation forestry changes the constraining site conditions through drainage, fertiliser and further inputs. In contrast, CCF forestry uses mainly native species adapted to site conditions to improve them over time and increase stability. These fundamental differences required a change in the mindset of foresters in Ireland as well as a long-term commitment.

The economics of established Continuous Cover Forestry are impressive, however conversions results in a delay in the return on the initial investment. Part of the investment remains commitment indefinitely. This requires a longer-term approach to forestry than presently exists. As a society our tradition of forestry management is limited. The publics’ relationship with forests and forest management has been relatively  poor over the last 100 years or so. The multi-functional nature of all forests and the need to utilise land resources sustainably has had little acceptance up to recently. This, I believe, is reflected in the present Irish Forestry policy.

Continuous Cover Forestry Ecoplan Forestry

Continuous Cover Forestry Ecoplan Forestry


Continuous Cover Forestry should not be seen to be in direct competition with plantation forestry, but rather as a better management systems once forests have been established. This is becoming increasingly apparent as our information resource improve. The continued lack of such information, as well as the poor forest infrastructure, are considerable constraining factors to CCF practise in Ireland. Despite the constraints outlined here, existing plantations need to be accepted as a stage in the succession to managing forests under Continuous Cover Forestry. Such Continuous Cover Forests are made up of species that often require the pioneers function of plantations (made up of hardy species), but out-perform such a plantation once converted. The design and management of plantations needs to be adapted to improve this conversion to CCF.

For more information please contact Ecoplan.

Sean McGinnis Ecoplan Forestry


You can read the UK Forestry Commisions Booklet on managing Continuous Cover Forests Here