Considering investment as thinning gets serious
I just wish I had planted more to make most of demand
I don't believe in New Year resolutions but with spring on the way and all my trees at the thinning stage, I am determined to maximise the returns from my woodland.
Having planted in 1995, I have been thinning the ash gradually for several years as it is one species that requires lots of light. In the areas where the trees are more advanced, I will be going in for the third time -- and it's remarkable the way they respond to being given a bit of space and room to breathe.
First thinning of ash and sycamore can be tedious work and, without grant aid, it would be a marginal exercise. With so many trees of small diameter to deal with, anything less than 10cm is hardly worth bothering with and best left on the forest floor to decay gradually and provide habitat for wildlife and add to overall biodiversity.
Anything above that size is valuable for processing into logs or selling on to others in the wood-fuel industry but now, with larger stems available, I need to improve the system for removing them from the woods.
My original method of manually loading a small quad-drawn trailer was fast, efficient and relatively cheap to set up, but it is no longer appropriate. Last year, I employed a contractor with an Alstor eight-wheel-drive mini forwarder to do the work. This year, I hope to do the same as many of the stems being felled are heavy and do require mechanical handling for removal and stacking at the forest roadside.
The best part, of course, is that, after 15 years of management, I now have trees of a decent height and girth to work with and can look forward to a steady supply of ever-larger logs. The sycamore were initially badly damaged by grey squirrels before I realised the need to control them. This damage made me wait until now to see how the trees would recover, if at all.
A high percentage of these sycamore are of no commercial value, having been ring barked badly with the leading stems destroyed, but there are just enough good trees remaining to warrant retaining them rather than clearfelling and replanting. This was the first intervention, as I was initially nervous about leaving only good trees which would perhaps attract further squirrel attacks.
This time my son and his helpers removed around 50pc of the crop. It remains to be seen if the squirrels will attack what is left and I will carry on trapping and shooting at every opportunity, especially as the greys are also causing damage to our oak and beech.