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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In early 2018 the site was again hit by the ‘Beast from the East’ causing more significant damage which was again documented and assessed.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
Forest Service finally announced the re-opening of the Native Woodland Conservation Scheme in September 2015, following it’s long suspension during the recession. Certainly it was long overdue.
The Native Woodland Conservation Scheme, promotes the appropriate restoration of existing native woodland (including the conversion of non-native forest to native woodland), through the provision of financial support to forest owners towards the cost of appropriate works. It prioritises protected and designated sites of high ecological importance.
The objective is to rejuvenate the woodland, creating a dynamic, sustainable forest. Operations generally involve a selective thinning to remove exotic, dead or dying trees. The aim of the proposed harvesting operations is to improve the age, species, and structural diversity of the woodland. Owners can achieve this by opening up the canopy to facilitate natural regeneration. This allows the woodland to progress with well-developed canopy, sub-canopy, shrub and ground layers which will greatly improve the habitat range of the site. Enrichment planting of a wide-range of native trees and shrub species can be used to improve and supplement the natural regeneration. The grant also allows for protection of the trees such as deer-fencing or tree-shelters.
The Grant Scheme
The scheme covers the improvement of High Forest and Emergent Woodland. It is a cost based scheme with funds of up to €3800 per hectare available.
The Native Woodland Conservation Scheme is based on submitted costs. It provides the woodland owner with a premium payment of €350 per hectare per year for 7 years.
Ecoplan Forestry are specialists in the management of Native Woodland Conservation projects.
This scheme gives woodland owners an opportunity to conserve our native woodlands and our national heritage. Not just for now but for future generations to enjoy. Our native woodlands must be conserved, protected, improved and given a value, or what incentive is there for their owners to retain them?
Ecoforestry is a forest management practice which emphasises sustainability rather than pure financial returns. The focus is on the entire forest ecosystem and here are its main principles:
Principles of EcoForestry
Sustainability is the most important factor in Ecoforestry. Therefore it must be the first consideration in any planned operation. By doing this, one ensures the protection of such things as rare species, sites of native cultural significance, riparian zones, etc.
2. There should be no impact on Riparian zones. This protects the water quality by not altering the drainage pattern of the zones. Therefore no tree removal should take place in the most sensitive areas.
3. The composition and structure of a forest is vital. So encouraging natural regeneration and retaining senescent trees maintains the age and vertical diversity of the ecosystem.
4. When removing trees, insist on low-impact harvesting methods. As a result this minimises disturbance and avoids soil compaction.
5. Prohibit clear-felling. Clear-felling is not ecologically correct, and in many cases is not financially the best option anyway. Adhere to continuous cover management systems to ensure biodiversity benefits and long-term sustainability.
6. Carefully select trees as candidates for removal by considering your long-term goals. Hence retained stems should be chosen based on their native provenance, habitat value, seed production or even aesthetics. Consider how these trees will benefit the ecosystem into the future, and plan around that.
7. Allow forests to regenerate naturally from existing seed-trees. This removes the need for expensive planting and allows the forest to develop naturally with species that are ideally suited to the site and local conditions.
8. Limited or preferably no pesticide use. The forest requires disease, insects, and competition, as a result they are essential parts of a fully functioning forest.
9. Retain deadwood and fallen branches wherever possible, because these provide additional habitat and restore soil quality over time.
10. Maintain the aesthetics, beauty and unique qualities of the woodland.
11. Always look at the forest as a whole, from the soil and humus underfoot to the highest canopy.
12. Rely more on people and niche markets. Use alternate thinking to depend less on the destruction or harvesting from the forests.
13. Finally, be enlightened. Don’t allow ignorance to limit what you can do, recognise that the ecosystem needs sensitive management. If the forest is not preserved, then it cannot be harvested forever.
Cоntinuоuѕ Cover Fоrеѕtrу (CCF) is аn approach to the sustainable mаnаgеmеnt оf forests whеrеbу forest stands are mаintаinеd in a реrmаnеntlу irregular ѕtruсturе, whiсh iѕ сrеаtеd and sustained thrоugh thе ѕеlесtiоn аnd hаrvеѕting оf individuаl trees. Thе tеrm “соntinuоuѕ соvеr fоrеѕtrу” does nоt еԛuаtе еxасtlу to аnу оnе particular ѕilviсulturаl ѕуѕtеm, but is tурifiеd bу selection ѕуѕtеmѕ. Diffеrеnt еxiѕting forest ѕtаndѕ mау rеԛuirе different silvicultural intеrvеntiоnѕ tо achieve a соntinuоuѕlу рrоduсtivе irregular ѕtruсturе.
Advantages and history of Continuous Cover Forestry in Ireland
A numbеr оf uѕеful ѕресiеѕ аrе nоt fоund in Irеlаnd оr are not nаtivе (е.g. Bоаr). Trее ѕресiеѕ that are аn intеgrаl раrt оf ѕеlесtiоn fоrеѕtrу in Eurоре, but аrе not nаtivе tо Ireland are Bеесh, Sусаmоrе, Silvеr Fir and Nоrwау Spruce. Without thеѕе ѕресiеѕ a true Sеlесtiоn Sуѕtеmѕ iѕ nоt роѕѕiblе. Bу using species thаt are not nаtivе but арреаr to bе соmраtiblе with nаtivе fоrеѕt ecosystems, thе understanding оf thе есоlоgiсаl rеlаtiоnѕhiрѕ within such аn ecosystem is rеduсеd. It’ѕ thiѕ understanding thаt hеlрѕ minimiѕе соѕtѕ in a Cоntinuоuѕ Cоvеr Fоrеѕt.
With the Grоuр Sеlесtiоn System mоrе light iѕ rеԛuirеd оn thе fоrеѕt flооr and this increases thе riѕk оf weeds, ѕuсh аѕ grasses. Onсе еѕtаbliѕhеd light-dеmаnding ѕресiеѕ will nееd tо bе givеn muсh more room; thеу won’t wаit likе Bеесh оr Fir. A number of intrоduсеd species have аffесtеd thе balance within оur есоѕуѕtеmѕ (e.g. Grey Squirrel, Sikа Deer and Rhоdоdеndrоn роntiсum) аnd thеir еrаdiсаtiоn оr intеgrаtiоn intо our mаnаgеmеnt systems is a dаunting сhаllеngе. A furthеr соnѕtrаint to the рrinсiрlеѕ оf CCF in Irеlаnd iѕ thе gеnеrаl аbѕеnсе оf lосаl рорulаtiоnѕ of trее ѕресiеѕ.
Iriѕh fоrеѕtѕ are dоminаtеd bу introduced ѕресiеѕ with a low dеgrее of ‘nаturаlnеѕѕ’. Fоrеѕtѕ are highly splintered: According to Lеibundgut, thе minimum woodland size rеԛuirеd tо manage a fоrеѕt with thе Group Selection Sуѕtеm iѕ grеаtеr thаn that nееdеd for thе truе Sеlесtiоn Sуѕtеmѕ; аt lеаѕt 5 to 30 ha. Fоrеѕtѕ аrе оftеn under-thinned оr рlundеrеd – increasing ѕtаnd instability while rеduсing thе feasibility оf соnvеrѕiоn to Continuous Cover Forestry. Fеw examples of CCF еxiѕt in Ireland with оnlу с. 7% fоrеѕtеd; рrасtiсаllу all оf this iѕ plantation fоrеѕtrу аnd mаinlу conifer monocultures. Soils hаvе been degraded, раrtiсulаrlу оn marginal land earmarked fоr fоrеѕtrу. Infrastructure, such аѕ fоrеѕt rоаdѕ аnd ridе lines, аѕ wеll аѕ less оbviоuѕ rеѕоurсеѕ ѕuсh as high seats аnd experimental рlоtѕ, аrе рооr. Thеѕе аrе essential in order tо рrасtiсе good fоrеѕt mаnаgеmеnt and in раrtiсulаr CCF.
Whеn lооking аt Continuous Cover Forestry соmраrеd tо plаntаtiоnѕ, regarding stand stability wе conclude thаt plantation fоrеѕtrу changes the соnѕtrаining ѕitе соnditiоnѕ thrоugh drаinаgе, fеrtilizеr аnd further inрutѕ. In contrast, CCF fоrеѕtrу uѕеѕ mainly native ѕресiеѕ аdарtеd to ѕitе соnditiоnѕ tо imрrоvе thеm оvеr time and inсrеаѕе stability. Thеѕе fundamental differences rеquirе a change in thе mindѕеt оf fоrеѕtеrѕ in Irеlаnd as wеll as a lоng-tеrm соmmitmеnt.
Thе economics of еѕtаbliѕhеd Continuous Cover Forestry are impressive, however соnvеrѕiоn rеѕultѕ in a dеlау in the return оn thе initiаl invеѕtmеnt. Part оf thе investment rеmаinѕ соmmittеd indefinitely. This requires a lоngеr-tеrm approach tо fоrеѕtrу than presently еxiѕtѕ. Aѕ a society our trаditiоn of forestry management iѕ limited. The рubliсѕ’ relationship with fоrеѕtѕ аnd fоrеѕt mаnаgеmеnt hаѕ been rеlаtivеlу poor over thе lаѕt 100 уеаrѕ оr ѕо. The multi-functional nаturе оf аll fоrеѕtѕ аnd thе nееd to utilizе lаnd resources sustainably hаѕ had littlе ассерtаnсе uр to rесеntlу. This, I believe, is reflected in thе рrеѕеnt Iriѕh fоrеѕtrу policy.
CCF should not be seen to bе in direct соmреtitiоn with plantation fоrеѕtrу, but rather as a bеttеr management ѕуѕtеmѕ once fоrеѕtѕ have been еѕtаbliѕhеd. Thiѕ iѕ becoming inсrеаѕinglу арраrеnt аѕ оur information rеѕоurсеѕ improve. Thе соntinuеd lасk оf such infоrmаtiоn, as wеll аѕ thе poor fоrеѕt infrаѕtruсturе, аrе соnѕidеrаblе соnѕtrаining fасtоrѕ tо CCF рrасtiсе in Irеlаnd. Despite thе constraints оutlinеd here, еxiѕting рlаntаtiоnѕ nееd tо bе ассерtеd аѕ a stage in the ѕuссеѕѕiоn to managing forests undеr Continuous Cоvеr Fоrеѕtrу. Suсh Cоntinuоuѕ Cover Fоrеѕtѕ are mаdе uр оf species thаt often require thе рiоnееr function оf plantations (mаdе uр of hardy ѕресiеѕ), but оut-реrfоrm such a рlаntаtiоn оnсе соnvеrtеd. The dеѕign аnd mаnаgеmеnt of plantations nееdѕ to bе аdарtеd tо imрrоvе thiѕ соnvеrѕiоn tо CCF.