People also expressed concern that they didn't know how to go about harvesting and selling timber, or they were afraid the timber volume they had available to harvest was not economically viable. It was therefore very heartening to listen to the experience of one informal Forest Owner Group based in Inishowen, Co Donegal (see below).
The collective approach is paying dividends for Inishowen forest owners
One of the speakers at the Talking Timber event in Letterkenny was William Callaghan. He is a farmer and forest owner from near Clonmany, Inishowen, Co Donegal. He told the story of the Inishowen Forestry Owners - a small, informal group of forest owners.
"Forestry has become an important source of income for farmers in Inishowen," he said. The first private commercial planting took place in Inishowen in 1987. There are now about 2-300 local forest owners with forests ranging in size from one to 140 hectares.
This informal group was created in 2011 when a couple of neighbours were looking to get their forests thinned for the first time. Since then, several more forest owners saw the benefits of working together. The Inishowen Forestry Owners Group was born.
Willie and I have organised several forest walks and events giving members a better understanding of harvesting and selling timber. Willie believes that it is very important for group members to educate themselves and to share information.
The group focuses very much on making farm forests pay for their keep - generating income from timber for the farmer. The Group's work centres on the creation of inspection paths, monitoring and improving drainage and assessing windblow risk.
Once forests have been assessed and found to be suitable for thinning, felling licences are applied for, forestry roads constructed and all paperwork completed. Once a suitable number of forests in a locality have been identified ready for thinning, a harvesting contractor is hired in to carry out the work.
All the timber is harvested by timber harvesting machines and forwarded to roadside in different categories (e.g. palletwood, stake and firewood).
The palletwood and stakewood is sold roadside by weight to a sawmill but the Group retains the firewood for sale locally. The Group uses a paper collection docket system for all timber removed.
"Thinning your forest is important," says Willie. "It improves the quality of the forest, generates an income when premiums are finished, generates a better understanding of forestry for each owner and creates future stability."
He seriously questions if these forests would have been thinned without the assistance of the Group.
Willie finished by giving an overview of what the Group has learned so far. "What doesn't work is to do the harvesting by chainsaw, to thin plantations where the crop is too uneven or not old enough and to thin deep peat sites."
"What does work is to do the harvesting by machines, getting a good working relationship between farmers and the harvesting contractor, getting a good working relationship between the forest group and timber buyers and allowing a bit of space to each individual when they need it," he said.
I believe that forest owner groups in Ireland can learn valuable lessons from this small, informal group. This Group focuses on what is important: what is important is to harvest and sell timber collectively generating much needed income for farmers.
William Callaghan can be contacted on 087 2506640 or firstname.lastname@example.org.