Monday 26 September 2016

The spring cleaning has revealed mixed fortunes in our woods

Joe Barry

Published 06/05/2015 | 02:30

Clearance: Joe Barry's oak woods after thinning
Clearance: Joe Barry's oak woods after thinning

April was a wonderful month, especially given the great spell of fine weather in the latter few weeks. The ground had dried up well and we were kept busy drawing out the thinnings from the winter felling. It is important to remove these promptly and stack them in an airy, open place.

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If this task is left until later in the year, rampant growth can occur on the woodland floor, smothering the cut lengths. With the overhead shelter of the remaining trees, the timber simply will not season.

We have one area of very disappointing oak which, given that all the other sections of oak are growing strongly, I suspect must be due to poor provenance of the original plants.

Whatever the reason, I decided that if I was to leave it untouched, it would be a wasted resource. I ruthlessly marked the trees for removal and was pleasantly surprised to find that there were in fact more good individual specimens than was evident prior to thinning.

Originally growth was so disappointing that I had added in a few thousand alder to ensure some sort of a crop. These, coupled with a large number of self-seeded ash, produced a dense but rather ragged looking woodland.

Now that the ash, alder and poor oak are gone, the entire area looks far more promising and contains the basis for a decent oak wood for my successors.

Along with the existing mix of naturally regenerating ash, sycamore and oak, next autumn we will add in an understory of eucalyptus, Italian alder, Western hemlock and Western red cedar.

The hemlock and cedar will go in the shaded areas and the eucalyptus and alder in the more open spots.

Many foresters might raise their eyebrows at this approach because it is time-consuming and expensive, but once the work is completed, there will be little further required other than normal vegetation control and thinning in the years ahead.

Seeing that thinnings have such a high value as fuel, I believe this approach is well worthwhile, especially given the long-term nature of growing oak.

It is perhaps unfair to describe any tree of firewood size as "poor" because they have a high value when dried and processed in to logs.

But once a tree has reached 15 to 20 years and is clearly inferior to its neighbours, it should be removed.

The planting we are undertaking is to ensure that there is a good understory coming on to encourage the remaining oak to develop. It will reduce light on the stems and hopefully also reduce any potential epicormic growth.

What surprised me was the volume of timber we had for removal. This will leave a nice profit after thinning costs have been deducted and proves yet again that broadleaf woodland can pay.

It appears that there has been a disappointing uptake of the new Agro-Forestry and Forestry for Fibre schemes. This is a shame because they both have many good points and add a further dimension to the overall afforestation mix.

Unfortunately, the retention of the ruling that forestry is forever has apparently put people off.

I cannot see it, however, as a disincentive for availing of the Agro-Forestry scheme.

If you are growing long term broadleaves such as oak, sycamore and cherry, you can also either graze or till the land while the trees are growing to maturity in well-spaced lines.

Fibre

This system is very popular in France and is well proven as a workable and profitable farming method.

The Forestry for Fibre scheme is different because it is aimed more at small-scale production and is ideal for providing enough fuel for the home.

In this case, it would appear more sensible if a time clause of say 20 years was included rather than compelling the landowner to retain his land in coppice production ad infinitum.

The land for both schemes must be of good quality and again, many farmers would be reluctant to commit such land to a single long term use.

Do have a look at the Agro-Forestry scheme on the Teagasc forestry website http://www.teagasc.ie/forestry/grants/ as it deserves support and should prove profitable over the long term.

The 2015 RDS/Forest Service Irish Forestry Awards are open for entries and offer a prize fund of €10,000, along with an RDS silver medal to the winners of each category. Email forestry@rds.ie or download entry forms at www.rds.ie/agriculture

 jbarry@ independent.ie

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