Having just returned home from a trip around Kerry, I am trying to reconcile the value of commercial woodland against the remarkable beauty of so many fine specimen trees found in places like the Killarney National Park, especially when seen growing in such scenic areas.
While looking in awe at a grove of ancient towering pines or enormous beech I couldn't stop myself doing some mental calculations as to the commercial value of such trees and then attempting to convert them in to tonnes of sawn planks and logs for the stove.
This led me to pondering on how we really have a rather limited approach to forestry here in Ireland.
I suppose this is principally due to the fact that we have so little woodland and that virtually our entire industry is based on just one species, the old reliable Sitka spruce.
But even spruce beyond a certain age and size can be difficult to sell as many of our sawmills are not geared to handle them.
A further problem arises when we consider the high percentage of Irish farmers who have had to plant some broadleaves as a condition for receiving the available grants.
Many of these trees are now being thinned, but even Teagasc seem to be at a bit of a loss as to how to advise us on the best means of getting the work done.
Now before my many friends in Teagasc leap to their phones in indignation, I must state that they have produced endless booklets and advisory sheets on thinning woodland, with many diagrams illustrating how to go about the task.
They have held countless field days and put in months of hard work in trying to encourage us to thin and then to explain how to go about it.
They clearly mean well but I and many others still find some of the advice unnecessarily complex. One farmer phoned me and said he was thinking of setting up as a contractor to work at thinning. He said he found the Teagasc recommendations for thinning difficult to follow, and he is but one of many. Their website is excellent and very helpful but when it comes down to certain specifics, some of us can get a bit lost.
There is a very good section on stack measurement but it appears to be solely about conifers and gives us no hint as to how to estimate the contents of a stack of ash or sycamore. I and other farm foresters need some sort of idiot's guide to doing these calculations.
A stack of broadleaf thinnings usually contains crooked timber and has a large volume of air between the lengths but surely there is some simple method for roughly calculating the content? When it comes to actually doing the thinning, one has to further question the time involved in carrying out the marking as recommended.
Many farmers simply do not have the spare time to do this. Common sense needs to be used in these situations. If you are thinning and lucky enough to have a good contractor with experience, he should be competent to assess the trees that need removal without having them previously marked.
But as ever, if you are not experienced in overseeing this, it is prudent to have a professional forester at hand to check on the work and ensure it is being carried out properly.
For example, it takes an experienced eye to identify a potential final crop tree from one that may be perfectly straight but perhaps lacking enough vigour to justify keeping it on.
There could be a multitude of other reasons, such as canker or space requirements, that might tilt the balance for any particular tree.
Farm forestry in Ireland is still in its infancy and we are all seeking to learn more about thinning, harvesting and processing our trees and how to maximise the value of the various species we grow. During October I am looking forward to two separate field days which will be held in my broadleaf woodland here in Meath.
The first visit will be from the members of Pro Silva Ireland, where we will discuss alternatives to clearfell and how to put continuous cover management in to practice.
The second will be later in the month from the Irish Timber Growers Association. I anticipate heated argument and debate and also criticism of my management practices but then sharing ideas and experiences is surely the best way to learn. Both Pro Silva www.prosilva ireland.org and the ITGA www.itga.ie are well worth joining. For details, contact Donal Whelan at 01 235 0520.