'The road to your forest is paved with good intentions" - so said St Bernard of Clairvaux nearly a thousand years ago. OK, this is a slight adaptation of his famous saying but it is good to make some forestry resolutions at the beginning of the year.
So, depending on the age of your forest, here's a snapshot of what may need to be done this year.
The first four years
New forests require several years of active management (see table) to become well established. Early management is essential to get the best returns from your forest in the future.
Be sure to go for regular walks through your forest - perhaps take your dog out for a walk. While you're out walking, check that all drains are working well, that the trees have a healthy colour and that no animals are damaging trees or drains.
Also check whether broad-leaves need some additional formative shaping. Shaping can be carried out in summer or winter but avoid shaping in spring or autumn.
Keep an eye out for signs of frost damage. Consider insuring your forest against fire or windblow damage.
Over the summer, watch out for signs of ash dieback. If you see something you suspect is ash dieback, report your finding via the web-based Tree Check app (treecheck.net).
An application of fertiliser will sometimes be required to stimulate growth. If you suspect that your trees may require additional fertiliser, take samples of the leaves or needles. The appropriate time to take such foliar samples is December for conifers and August for broadleaves and larch.
When a conifer forest is about 10 years old, it will need inspection paths. These allow access into and through the crop so that the suitability for thinning can be assessed. There is a short, handy video on teagasc.ie/forestry explaining this process.
Consider joining your local Forest Owner Group this year. Forest Owner Groups are great for getting to know neighbours who also have forestry on the farm and for picking up handy tips from one another.
Conifer trees are by now hopefully between 10m and 12m in height or, in the case of broadleaves, over 6m in height. This is the time to carry out thinning for the first time, if appropriate.
Sooner rather than later is the message, especially if you are interested in practising Continuous Cover Forestry, or CCF for short. Financial support is available to thin broadleaves.
You'll need to have a decent-quality road in place for thinning to take place. Grant aid is available to assist with this. To fell trees, apply for a felling licence in good time and identify suitable timber buyers. Allow two years to put these elements in place.
Supervise the operations personally. The focus should be on removing inferior trees so that the better-quality trees can grow on to their full potential. Also, keep a close eye on timber removals.
Once the first thinning has been done, mark the best trees (or Potential Crop Trees) so that future management can focus on them. Consider high pruning these PCT trees. Check how trees respond to the first thinning operation and make sure that drains and roadways are repaired.
In conifers, first thinning usually removes lines of trees as well as selected inferior trees in between these lines. This provides access for subsequent selective thinnings. Consider subsequent thinning operations every three to five years until the final harvest.
Thinning in broadleaf forests involves the periodic selective removal of competing trees to favour higher-quality stems.
Forest owners need to take an active role in the management of their forests.
The best way to know what needs to be done is by going for regular walks through your forest. By keeping a regular eye on things, you'll know very soon what needs to be done or rectified. The sooner an issue is spotted, the easier it will be to sort it out. And if you're not too sure, ask your local forestry advisor. He or she will be happy to help.
Happy new year and keep up the good resolutions!
Steven Meyen is a Teagasc Forestry Advisor. firstname.lastname@example.org