Sunday 25 September 2016

Forestry is one of the best investments I ever made

Joe Barry

Published 27/01/2016 | 02:30

The least we can do is to keep replacing the fine old trees on Irish farms
The least we can do is to keep replacing the fine old trees on Irish farms

The recently launched d 'Land Availability for Afforestation' document is welcome and has appeared following a lot of time and study spent on the issue. It confirms there is too much marginal land lying semi idle at the moment and the owners of such land could greatly benefit from planting it.

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But there are many reasons, some of them relatively complex, why they choose not to do so.

All of these reasons are clearly outlined in the document but the principal ones seem to be a fear of premium rates changing as they have done in the past, along with a further erosion of the previously promised tax free status of forestry and the fear of committing land to forestry forever.

Having planted over 20 years ago and despite all of these fears, personally I see forestry as one of the best investments I have ever made.

Were I fortunate enough to own any of the thousands of acres of marginal land I see every day as I drive around Ireland, I would not hesitate to establish woodland in it but then it's easy for me to say this having learnt the hard way how to get the most from my own woods.

When launching the document, Minister Hayes stated: "On lands classified as being 'limited' for agriculture, representing 1.8 million hectares, there is wider scope for afforestation. These lands have a higher proportion of difficult soils, often economically marginal for agriculture, with forestry presenting a viable alternative land use option."

I would have thought that this was stating the bleeding obvious and didn't require a room full of experts to come to that conclusion. On the other hand, I guess it doesn't do any harm to keep stating these facts.

We must continue to make every effort to persuade landowners of the real benefits of the current afforestation scheme.

Of those of us who planted in the past, some took no interest in the management of their woodland and never took the trouble to learn how to get the best returns. Such people really don't deserve to own such a valuable asset which has been established at little cost to themselves.

But there are many others and I think they are in the majority, who got involved, learnt how to manage their woods and are now making good money selling timber. They are earning an income far above what would have been available if the land were left growing just rushes and poor quality grass with maybe a few suckler cows wandering around, up to their elders in mud.

Oak woodland

Two farmers phoned me recently with queries relating to the management of their oak woodland. Both had well grown oak 15 and 16 years old and both were concerned that they should be in thinning it.

Obviously I couldn't comment properly without seeing the woods in question, but both men were keen to grow the best possible trees and were annoyed at the vague advice they were receiving. I could only tell them what I had done with my own oak which is now 21 years old and of mixed quality. Some is excellent and growing strongly and this I have thinned, selecting the best for retention and using whatever was removed for firewood and wood chip.

Other areas are poor and I may well remove most of the oak except for a very small number of potentially good individuals and replant with what I hope will be a more suitable species.

Our knowledge on growing broadleaves in Ireland is still very limited but there is an excellent book Oak: Fine Timber in 100 Years available from Future Trees Trust and Woodland Heritage.

Google the title and you will find various options for purchasing it. It is well written, nicely illustrated and gives sensible advice on thinning and general management. Throughout the pages we learn how superior oak has been produced by foresters in continental Europe in the past and how, through proper management, we can leave a wonderful legacy of quality oak for our successors.

The long term nature of growing broadleaves can put some people off planting them but if no one did it, we would not now have the superb specimens of beech, oak, lime and others that grace our hedgerows and parkland.

Virtually every farm in Ireland has one or more fine old trees. The least we can do is to keep planting to replace them for when they eventually die.

Indo Farming

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