Six steps towards switching to Continuous Cover Forest
Continuous Cover Forestry (or close-to-nature forestry) is the norm in Europe but the exception in Ireland.
With CCF, you retain forest cover. The forest consists of trees of all ages and makes use of natural forest processes.
Tree harvesting provides a regular, sustained income, but also rejuvenates the forest and makes room for new generations of trees to grow into the canopy.
1. Start planting early
The earlier the transformation process starts, the better.
Identify top quality trees that have a straight stem and a well-developed, deep crown (those trees are your Potential Crop Trees, PCTs) across all diameter classes.
They should be the focus of your attention. Mark inferior trees that are interfering with your PCTs and remove.
Start thinning early and frequently.
Early, light and regular thinning operations are much more suitable than carrying out fewer but much heavier thinnings.
2. Watch out for seedlings
As your thinning operations continue, more light will gradually reach the forest floor encouraging the development of seedlings.
This will start happening first where seed sources are already present, from nearby hedgerows for instance.
This is now happening in abundance in the upper section of Seán Ó Conláin’s forest. Gradually your PCTs will start to produce seed, creating your next generation free of charge!
3. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket: improve biodiversity
An integral part of transforming your even-aged, single-species spruce plantation to CCF requires improving biodiversity.
Woodlands with a range of species and of various ages will be able to handle much better the challenges of climate change such as unpredictable weather patterns and increased disease risk.
You have a wide range of management tools at your disposal to achieve this.
Introduce different tree species either by encouraging natural regeneration or by planting with appropriate shade-tolerant tree species.
For instance, Seán Ó Conláin has planted shade-tolerant species such as hornbeam and hazel in the upper section of his forest following the second thinning.
4. Create deadwood in the forest
Forests need both standing and lying deadwood.
Ring bark and fell inferior trees to create standing and lying deadwood respectively.
Where appropriate, carry out coupe felling – micro-clearfells if you wish. This can result in excellent natural regeneration opportunities if appropriate seed sources are present or plant with suitable tree species if not.
Grazing with cattle, sheep or pigs can also improve biodiversity.
‘Can’ is the operative word here as too often this translates into overgrazing, resulting in the opposite result.
The serious deer problem we have in some parts of Ireland is a good example.
5. Improve structural diversity
Gradually your forest becomes a ‘patchwork’ of trees at different stages of development, of different ages and different species.
Some trees are ready for sale.
They are marked, harvested and sold.
The removal of these trees will allow other trees that you have been selecting and nurturing over the years to move into the dominant position.
At the same time, you identify and mark young trees with great potential – your future crop trees.
6. Financial support for Forestry
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has announced financial support for CCF as part of its recent Mid-Term Review.
Three payments of €750/ha will be available as part of an approved 12-year transformation plan
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