Farm Ireland

Friday 16 November 2018

Cutting through the red tape to harvest 2,000t of Irish timber

William Merivale

Two felling licences, 130 letters and emails and rain by the bucket-load

A recently completed first thinning of a fairly typical, albeit larger than average, forest illustrated the trials and rewards of carrying out this essential operation in a timely manner. The forest in question is 60ha, predominantly Sitka spruce, with a few small areas of lodgepole pine on the most infertile sections. Planted in 1994, nearly 40ha were deemed ready for thinning this year.

January 2011: Initial meeting with the owner, instructions received to prepare an advisory report. Inspections were carried out, which revealed that the owner had already brashed a number of inspection paths to allow access. Sample plots were measured to establish basal areas and mean tree sizes, and the route for a proposed forest road was determined. An application was also made for a general felling licence.

February-March 2011: The report was completed and recommendations regarding thinning, anticipated volumes, and the proposed forest road were discussed with the owner.

April-May 2011: The forest road scheme form one (application for approval) was submitted to the Forest Service for grant aid for a road of 1,000m.

July 2011: The general felling licence was granted, but was valid only until December 31, 2011, due to freshwater pearl mussel considerations.

Early August 2011: Road grant approval was then issued, subject to certain conditions, not least being that the road must be satisfactorily completed no later than September 30, 2011 with form two (application for payment) submitted by October 14. Fortunately, a good contractor is lined up in advance and available to move on site at short notice as soon as he is given the green light. A harvesting contractor is also engaged to fell the trees along the route of the road. The volume comes to just more than 400t.

Mid-September 2011: An extension to the approval period is essential. While the formation of the road is complete, ground conditions remain too wet for trucks to bring stone in. The Forest Service grants an extension until mid December, with the condition that form two is submitted by December 30.

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October-November 2011: It doesn't stop raining. By early November, matters are looking dire and a further extension is sought. All appeals to the Forest Service fall on deaf ears and the response is unequivocal -- finish the road by mid December or forgo all grant aid.

November-December 2011: The contractors involved somehow move heaven and earth to overcome the elements and complete the work on time. After numerous loads of six-inch stone are laid in the wettest parts before surfacing with limestone chippings, and an even greater number of tense conversations with the quarry owner and the haulage contractors, the last load of chips is delivered, spread and the entire surface rolled in the nick of time. Form two is delivered to the Forest Service days before Christmas.

January-February 2012: There is further correspondence with the Forest Service, culminating in the first instalment of the road grant (80pc) coming through on February 15.

April-May 2012: A security barrier is erected at the entrance. A felling licence extension is then applied for and is granted, and is valid until December 31, 2013. Meet saw millers and harvesting contractors on site, terms negotiated and finalised, and contracts for the harvest and sale drafted. Agree to sell the timber standing sawmill to buy all boxwood and stakewood, with a separate contract for sale of pulpwood into the wood fuel market.

June-July 2012: The harvesting contractor moves on site on June 11. One line in seven is removed with a light selection thinning between the racks. Considerable care is needed in some areas due to high rainfall, wet ground conditions and the pearl mussels. Forest road scheme form three is submitted and an inspector visits. A second instalment of the grant (20pc) is paid. A short break from the near continuous rain means the contractor has to move off site for a period to cut silage, but returns mid July to finish.

In summary, after 18 months, about 130 emails and letters, two felling licences and an unbelievable amount of rain, the first thinning of about 40ha is completed and close to 2,000t of timber is harvested. The proportions of boxwood and pulpwood are about even at more than 40pc each, with stakewood making up the balance of about 15pc.

With current timber prices the owner has made a reasonable surplus, and a second thinning, which will yield a substantial proportion of boxwood, is planned for 2015.

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

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