Root and branch challenges for forestry sector

Working towards international standards is vital for the future of our forestry sector

Irish timber producers and exporters will struggle for business if they don't meet international certification standards
Irish timber producers and exporters will struggle for business if they don't meet international certification standards
Steven Meyen

Steven Meyen

Certification provides the mechanism by which high standards can be maintained and new opportunities created in the forestry sector. That was the key message from Minister of State Andrew Doyle at the recent conference on forest management (FM) certification held in the Botanic Gardens, Dublin

Organised by Sustainable Forest Management Ireland, the event brought together the major players in forest certification, including representatives of certification schemes, certification bodies, consultants, forestry companies and organisations, timber users, government agencies and private growers.

In his opening address to the Conference, Minister Doyle referred to the recent COFORD Report, 'Mobilising Ireland's forest resource', which noted that "as the level of supply from the private sector increases, the lack of certification is likely to become a barrier to wood mobilisation".

Minister Doyle said: "All stages of forest management require careful planning and consideration. All these activities, from preparing a site right through to replanting after clearfell must be done in accordance with Best Forest Practice and environmental guidelines, all of which are well documented. Certification provides the mechanism for proving that these high standards have been applied. It provides the evidence supported by a formal internationally recognised process to show that forest operations have indeed been carried out to the required standards."

Marie Doyle, forestry lecturer at UCD and chair of Sustainable Forest Management Ireland (SFMI) set the scene by providing a brief background to SFMI and outlined what SFMI hoped to achieve from the conference.

I gave an overview of FM certification, explaining that most international markets now require certification. As a result, certification will gradually become a necessity for private growers, as private timber volumes increase and more private sawlog will come to the market. Forest owners who hold certification will have a competitive advantage over others.

I pointed out that many mills abroad have Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) chain of custody (CoC) certificates in place. In contrast, most Irish mills only have an FSC CoC certificate in place.

Hopefully this will change soon providing both growers and consumers with more choice and flexibility.

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I also explained how the certification application process functions and the role of the different players in this process. I hope to discuss these topics in a bit more detail some other time.

The national secretary of PEFC Ireland, William Merivale told the conference that Coillte forests have PEFC FM certification in place since June 2014 while a number of private group FM certification initiatives are under way. In the meantime, 43 Irish companies now hold PEFC CoC certificates. He said "CoC certification is becoming essential for those exporting to the UK and beyond."

Dr Owen Davies who is FSC UK's forest standards manager discussed recent FSC developments as well as issues that are coming down the tracks such as the controlled wood strategy and the review of pesticides policy.

Conor McSwiney is the compliance manager with GP Wood. GP Wood owns two sawmills in Enniskeane and Lissarda in Co Cork. They employ around 150 people directly with another estimated 250 people employed indirectly in areas such as harvesting and haulage. GP Wood buys over 400,000 cubic metres of logs every year and processes them into sawn timber products mainly for export.

"FM certification is a key element of our due diligence required under the EU Timber Regulation," he said.

Customer demands

He added another very good reason, "Certification is a customer requirement. Markets demand timber certification. Without certification we would struggle to sell our product." He also said that it is a great way to promote their products.

They buy in their logs either as 'FSC 100pc' (this means that the wood comes from FSC certified sources) or as 'FSC Controlled Wood' (this means that the wood is from non-certified sources). This combination allows GP Wood to sell their products under the wholly certified 'FSC Mix' label.

Currently, all material from private growers is purchased as Controlled Wood (non-certified). A Controlled Wood Risk Assessment needs to be completed on all private timber to verify it is from low risk sources.

Under certification rules, GP Wood cannot buy in more than 30pc of their timber as Controlled Wood. "Should some private growers get certified, priority would be given to this material. We would therefore recommend that private growers look to get certified," said Mr McSwiney.

Ronan Haslette is the fourth generation of the Haslette family to own and run Merenda based in Leitrim.

His company has built up considerable expertise in producing wrapping veneer and related products and competes effectively on a worldwide scale.

Merenda has had an FSC CoC certificate in place since 2005. Mr Haslette found that this FSC certificate was an "expensive headache" initially. Eleven years later, it has become essential to his company improving his profit margin while demonstrating his sustainability credentials.

Karl Coggins, assistant principal with the Forest Service (DAFM) outlined an interesting pilot scheme that is making use of the Knowledge Transfer Group model. The objectives are to establish two certification groups for private forest owners and from there develop a useful template for future Irish group certification.

Tilhill Forestry's certification and assurance manager Ewan McIntosh gave a very interesting overview of the UK Woodland Assurance Scheme as well as Tilhill Forestry's Certification Group Scheme.

These presentations were followed by an interesting and lively discussion guided by a panel of certification experts. The discussion was facilitated by Mary Mulvey, CEO of Ecotourism Ireland.

Steven Meyen is a Teagasc forestry advisor

An independent voice for sustainable management

Marie Doyle, forestry lecturer at UCD and chair of Sustainable Forest Management Ireland (SFMI) explained what SFMI is all about, "SFMI aims to promote sustainable management of Ireland's forests through information, advocacy and education on independent forest management certification schemes. It is a non-profit voluntary organisation, whose membership includes organisations such as the IFA, Coillte, Teagasc, UCD, Ecotourism Ireland, Society of Irish Foresters as well as individual members."

She noted that for SFMI to deliver on the above, it is necessary to expand its membership, progress certification awareness in Ireland and contribute to standard development. For this to happen, SFMI needs new blood. She encouraged people to become a member of SFMI to contribute to this process in a positive and constructive manner.

One of the single biggest tasks that is looming on the horizon is the revision of the current Irish FSC Standard expiring at the end of 2017. Revising this standard will require a significant level of input in terms of expertise, time and resources.

First of all, a Standard Review Group needs to be registered with FSC International. Then the organisation will have to source funding and establish a chamber-based group with an independent chair to lead this review. This group of experts with an economic, environmental or social forestry background will then need to revise the current Irish FSC Standard taking into account the International Generic Indicators (IGIs). This revision is then followed by a consultation with a wide range of relevant stakeholders. At this stage, the newly revised standard will then have to be 'field tested'.

Luckily enough, the other FM certification scheme that operates in Ireland - PEFC - is in a more stable position with a functioning multi-stakeholder forum to review its next standard revision.

Ms Doyle finished by raising a very important point especially if you keep in mind the size of Ireland and its low forest cover. "Looking to the future, is a single standard for Ireland a more realistic option than maintaining two separate ones - similar to the UK Woodland Assurance Scheme?" she asked.

So, if you are up for a challenge and have an active interest in FM certification, email or contact one of the committee members directly.

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