Farm Ireland

Monday 19 November 2018

Blueprint set for success in bio-diversity

Joe Barry

Joe Barry

Throughout Ireland, there are many outstanding individuals who manage to achieve excellence in whatever career they adopt. Most work away quietly and rarely receive proper recognition for their efforts, especially when their lives are spent in rural areas and out of the public gaze.

The RDS Farm Forestry Awards are invaluable for discovering such people and highlighting their efforts, and it is always an education to visit their farms and learn what it was that secured them the winner's medal.

The main award categories are focused on farm forestry and bio-diverse woodland management. The farm forestry awards are given to farmers who have created first-class, commercially viable woodland, with points also given for conservation and the retention of wildlife habitat. The bio-diverse award is for those who have greatly enriched the diversity of their woodlands while maintaining them for commercial production.

It all sounds rather similar -- and it is, because good forest management and wildlife conservation go hand in hand.

However, the winners of the bio-diverse category are always individuals who have created something really special within their woods to further enrich them with a wide range of diverse species.

Last year's bio-diverse award was Jack Tenison, who manages around 250ac of mixed woodland at Lough Bawn, near Ballybay, Co Monaghan. He had previously won this award in 2001 and was second in 2008.

The farm contains a mix of pasture land and old broadleaf woodland, much of which was planted more than 200 years ago, along with more recent plantings of younger stands of conifers -- the principal species is Sitka spruce.

Mr Tenison's own words best describe his management principles, which are "to seek to demonstrate that there is a middle way and that environmental and economic aspirations can be compatible".

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"A further factor, affecting the whole farm and its wider context, is to demonstrate that landscape, beauty and history need not be spoiled to make money," he added. "There may be little distinction between management operations and environmental measures. Some businesses may operate regardless of environmental sustainability, but forestry is a long-term organic activity and, unless distorted (as modern farming may have been by subsidies), it must be environmentally sustainable to be economically sustainable.

"Bio-diversity is not a discrete add-on as so many 'environmental' lobby groups expect it to be; it is an integral part of forest management.

"The habitat at Lough Bawn includes lake shore, wetland, river edge, hedgerows, thicket, plantation, full canopy, natural and semi-natural wood, conifers, hardwoods and mixes of all kinds. This diversity was created, and is maintained, by repeated human intervention."

It is interesting to note that, due to the natural balance that Mr Tenison has achieved within his woods, no pesticides are used when replanting as pest species are largely controlled by natural predators.

"The key aim is for the leading stem of the best trees to grow up without damage," he said. "To achieve this, weeds must be managed; to seek to remove them (for example with chemicals) would be prohibitively expensive and destroy the ecological balance of the forest. The management regime is simple. First, prepare the ground to clear the area, mounding up the lop and top of the previous cover. Secondly, new trees are planted into the bare ground, without preparation, fertiliser, dipping or chemicals. Thirdly, as the trees grow, the leading shoots must be selected and given space. Fourthly, lateral branches must be cut, both to improve stem shape and to prevent swamping by weeds. Once this is done, weeds at the base of trees suppress further lateral growth and provide the habitat for benevolent species to flourish.

"Planting in Ireland over the past 50 years has been mainly of one species, Sitka spruce, reflecting the many qualities of this remarkable tree.

"But uniform Sitka may not always be in Ireland's long-term interest. The financial benefits of a commercial product should not also lead to inappropriate planting to the detriment of the wider environment."

On felling and replanting, Jack added: "On clay soils, any canopy opening, whether by single-stem selection or clearfell, results in weed growth and tree suppression. Natural regeneration can happen, if the light and soil balance is right; but it is not predictable and therefore not a management option.

"Felling and replanting is best, and replanting is best of all if the ground is prepared. But intervention is expensive. To make it viable, it must work with nature and not against it."

What a wonderful set of principles. They should be included in all Forest Service manuals and noted by the managers of our semi-State woodlands.

Indo Farming