Farm Ireland

Monday 19 November 2018

Carefully compile your plans to cut through complex world of woodland

William Merivale

Forestry isn't rocket science ... it's much more complicated -- so said Fred Bunnell, the now semi-retired professor of forestry at the University of British Columbia, Canada.

Think about that statement for a moment. Rocket science is comprehensible, to rocket scientists at least. By contrast, the complex eco-systems that the forests of the world provide for two thirds of all known species of plant and animal, and their interaction, let alone mankind's intervention with those eco-systems, are barely understood. Add to that the forests' impact on climate regulation and carbon storage, not to mention their social, cultural and economic importance, and we have quite a heady mix. Professor Bunnell has a point.

Without wishing to alarm anyone, the point I'm making here is that we all have a responsibility to ensure that we manage our forests both to the best of our ability and as carefully as possible.

Management planning, and a well-documented management plan, are an important part of this. Moreover, a comprehensive and well-conceived plan is an essential component of the certification process, especially bearing in mind that it is not the forest that is certified, but rather the system of management applied to that forest.

A good management plan should set out the owner's objectives, a road map showing how those objectives are to be realised, and incorporate records of work completed, forest heath, sales of timber, and of non-timber products where relevant, and so forth.

Ideally, the plan should be comprehensive and clear enough to allow for a seamless transition to a new owner or manager in the event of the change.


On the assumption that many readers will be considering certification in the foreseeable future, I suggest that they start work on preparing management plans for their woodlands that will meet the requirements of a certification audit.

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A first step is to secure copies of the title documents. Ideally, these should be Land Registry folios and file plans, or in their absence an acceptable form of legal declaration such as a solicitor's letter, to prove ownership.

Remember, while you will know exactly what you own, you need to be able to prove ownership to a third party -- eg, an auditor -- or ensure there is no doubt in the event of a new manager suddenly having to take over.

Next, any external factors that influence management must be described. Examples here include archeological monuments, fisheries considerations, or if the woodland is situated in or near a NHA or SAC, or an area designated as of high landscape importance.

By the time the woodland is ready for first thinning, or at the very least shortly afterwards, an inventory should be prepared, preferably by a professional forester as it includes a quantity of technical information such as species, top height, yield class, stocking density, mean tree volume and total volume set out on a compartment or sub-compartment basis.


The inventory must be accompanied by maps clearly showing each compartment. A good inventory is an essential tool for planning and is well worth preparing properly.

There should be a written plan for a period of at least the next five years, setting out the objectives and silvicultural systems to be employed, with an annual chart itemising the operations on a compartment basis.

This can be accompanied by a chart showing the records of works done, with date and the location; and sales records, again with dates, volumes and prices achieved.

However, as this last is commercially sensitive and confidential, the owner may wish to keep it in a separate file.

It is also advisable to have a written operational plan describing the thinning system to be employed, thinning control methods used, how scrub is to be controlled, and maps marking extraction routes, stacking areas and forest roads.

The operational plan will also describe the measures to be taken over time to restructure the forest with regard to varying the age profile and introducing species diversity where appropriate.

Finally, the plan should include a section on hazard identification and risk assessment. This must never be overlooked as the consequences can be very serious.

William Merivale is national secretary of PEFC Ireland and a forestry consultant based in Cork. Email:

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