'Planting broadleaf trees is a gift to the nation'
I always enjoyed reading Joe Barry's articles in the Farming Independent, especially the stories about his own woodland.
Over the years, as the trees grew, so did the stories. Or is that the other way around?
I got the chance a while ago to catch up with Joe. It was a great opportunity to see how the woodlands have come on over the years.
Joe planted most of his woodlands in 1995. He wanted to improve the landscape, create shelter within the farm, create additional farm enterprises, such as the supply of firewood and timber, increase the areas of wildlife habitat and enhance the overall biodiversity of the entire farm.
To improve access to and through the woods, a road was constructed 14 years ago.
Since then, the woodlands have been thinned three times. Every time, Joe marks the trees to be removed. Any tree with a hint of a disease or with a poor form gets the chop. All the harvesting is carried out by chainsaw while the timber is removed using a quad with a small crane fitted. Joe says that he likes to thin "little but often".
He is now getting ready to carry out a fourth thinning in some sections of his woodland.
First, he will mark the top quality trees (potential crop trees or PCTs) to be retained, and then he'll mark the competitors to these PCTs and remove those. He has found that it is really well worth windrowing the brash.
With the brash out of the way, it reduces the tripping hazard, making woodland management so much safer. At the same time, he also creates valuable deadwood habitat.
After each thinning operation, briars will very happily make use of the extra light reaching the forest floor, covering large areas quite quickly. Joe is on the lookout for an eco-friendly way to keep briars in check.
He has considered flailing and grazing with pigs, but hasn't come up yet with the perfect control system. So if you have any bright ideas for Joe, let me know!
One way that does help to keep the briars in check is underplanting: Joe introduced hornbeam and western hemlock in some areas recently. Both species can handle shade very well.
Another species that is ok in the shade is holly. Joe planted over a thousand holly of a few different varieties along the woodland edges which now provide great wildlife food and cover and it's also a useful bonus for sales at Christmas.
You may remember his interesting recipes such as 'flightless grouse', 'southern fried squirrel' or 'squirrel casserole'. Even culinary delights such as grey squirrels are a serious tree pest, causing considerable damage by stripping the bark off hardwoods such as beech, sycamore and oak. Joe told me that since then, the grey squirrel population appears to have crashed.
Anecdotal reports suggest that pine martens and buzzards, together with unrelenting trapping, reduced the likelihood of 'turkey stuffed with squirrel' at Christmas…
The material harvested from his woodlands 'fuel' his son Peter's firewood business (logonfirewood.ie). The wood is split and dried in a kiln fuelled by the smaller, unsaleable crown wood.
Joe is now also trialling robinia as well as eucalyptus to see if these two species would be suitable as another, sustainable source of firewood.
The eucalyptus he planted was supplied as small plugs by D-Plant based in Wexford (dplant.ie) and planted three years ago. They are already about four metres tall. They are fast-growing and make for good firewood.
Robinia pseudoacacia is quick-growing and also makes for great firewood. The wood is very dense and durable. However, watch out for the very vicious spines.
His woodlands don't just produce and supply firewood.
Some of the trees have found their way to Dublin Zoo, providing climbing frames for the monkeys there that look natural and fit in with the landscaping, while others even ended up as innovative interior decoration in a couple of Dubai restaurants!
He has been hosting school visits for many years.
Children enjoy these 'woodland classrooms', where they learn about the benefits of trees for both the environment and for use in construction and as the ultimate sustainable fuel.
He also harvested some trees for hurley butts but found that the money he makes from selling firewood nearly equals the income from harvesting, planking and selling hurleys when the labour involved is taken into account.
Another idea he has (he's not short in the ideas' department!) is to install and rent out log cabins in the woods.
And in the past, he got lovely (wooden, of course) fridge magnets made to help promote the wood fuel business.
Joe is passionate about his woodlands, but he says that to make broadleaf woodlands pay for their keep, you have to pursue a range of options, especially as there are no more specialised hardwood sawmills left in the country. That makes the firewood market one of the few viable enterprises still available.
Joe says: "The economic realities of growing broadleaves are not properly acknowledged by the Government and the public at large."
The huge contribution to the environment and the national good made by those who grow them is continually ignored.
It must be understood that anyone planting a species such as oak will not see any financial return in their lifetime nor even in their grandchildren's lifetime.
He adds: "It is, in a sense, a gift to the nation and an investment for the distant future and thereby essentially a philanthropic act.
"If we are to increase the area of broadleaves, we must greatly increase the length of the duration of the annual premiums and accept that it will take a century of careful management for such woodlands to finally become truly sustainable and give a financial return."
Keep up the good work Joe - you're an inspiration to us all.
'Planting broadleaf trees is a gift to the nation'
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