Good management evident on Wexford woodlands visit

METICULOUS: Paying close attention to detail is vital for those aiming to run a successful forestry operation
METICULOUS: Paying close attention to detail is vital for those aiming to run a successful forestry operation

William Merivale

The dividends to be gained from good management and meticulous attention to detail were apparent at a recent Irish Timber Growers Association (ITGA) field trip to Burke and Lesley Corbett's woodlands near New Ross, Co Wexford.

Some years ago, Burke Corbett had to retire from his job as a commercial airline pilot due to ill health.

Faced with an uncertain future, he and his wife, Lesley, took the decision to start planting parts of their farm, a considered decision based on the fact that they wished to secure a tax-free income for their young family in the event that Burke's health deteriorated still further, and a belief that areas of the farm were ideally suited to forestry.

The Corbetts started in 1995, planting 11.5ha of Sitka spruce and 0.85ha oak. This was followed by the major decision taken in 1999 to plant about 100ha in total and during the following three years, they started a programme to plant approximately 30ha per year.

These plantings comprise mostly Sitka spruce and Japanese larch in an 80:20 mixture, an area of Douglas Fir, and some broadleaves.

Their management objectives are predominantly commercial, though the added shelter and environmental benefits to the rest of the farm cannot be ignored.

From the outset, Mr and Mrs Corbett were committed to ensuring their forestry is as well managed as possible.

With the help of their forestry consultant, Paddy Donovan, they manage the operation entirely themselves, thinning small material by chainsaw where appropriate and supervising harvesting contractors where heavier machinery is required.

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The entire forest area is now accessed by an intensive network of inspection paths. Rather than adopting the standard procedure of brashing an inspection path every 100m (and in truth, how many owners do even as much as this?), the Corbetts have cut their paths every 20 rows (40m) throughout.

This has allowed them to become intimately acquainted with their woodland to an unusually high level and ensures early detection of problem areas.

In addition, they have marked permanent 40m x 40m sample plots throughout all the stands. Measurements are taken from these on a regular basis, so their woodland inventory is both comprehensive and very accurate.

This, in turn, leads to a high degree of accuracy in forecasting thinning volumes, which helps when it comes to controlling the harvest and negotiating with purchasers.

The Corbetts' experience with Japanese larch has not been a happy one.

This species is now off the agenda due to its susceptibility to the fungal disease Phytophtera ramorum but, prior to this becoming evident, large numbers were planted throughout the country.

On fertile land, it simply grows too fast, resulting in basal sweep, crooked stems and higher windthrow risk. On the Corbetts' farm, in a planting of 2000 of 5.20ha of Japanese larch in a 20pc mixture with Sitka spruce, the larch outpaced the Sitka to such a degree that the Sitka was being suppressed.

A first thinning in 2013 removed one row in seven and a selection of the larch between these racks and some of the larch had reached diameters at breast height (DBH) of as much as 30cms and a volume of 0.2 m2 per tree.

The thinning resulted in close to 100t/ha being removed, comfortably double the volume one would normally expect, yet the stocking rate after thinning is still 1,800 stems per hectare with an average DBH of 13cms.

The Corbetts' plans for this stand are now to wait until it has reached the natural age for a second thinning of Sitka, by which time there should be some high-quality stems.

In addition to the permanent plots, whenever a harvest is under way, the Corbetts take sample measurements on a daily basis behind the harvester. This enables them to be absolutely sure that neither too little, nor too much, is being cut and the contractor can be directed to cut less, or more, as necessary.

When it comes to timber leaving the site, the Corbetts utilise the ITGA Model Timber Sales System, whereby the haulier notifies the owner by text prior to arrival on site for each load, but they have added their own further level of security to this.

The Corbetts make sure to fit a combination lock on the gate of the plantation section being harvested.


The code is given to the haulier on receipt of the text message, but then they change the code immediately after the load has been taken. This process is repeated after every load.

The Corbetts' farm is in an area where grey squirrel are prevalent and they have been working with Dr Michael Carey on a grey squirrel control programme.

Despite this, they have never caught a grey squirrel on their own land, but it transpires they also have a resident pine marten – rarely seen, but doubtless effective at keeping the squirrels at bay.

One of their blocks of woodland borders a river and recently, three greys were shot in the adjoining property, but to date they have had no squirrel damage at all in their own woodland.

Burke Corbett is not only committed to managing his own woodlands to the best of his ability, but he is also committed to the local and national forest industry.

He has been involved from the outset with the Wexford Wood Producers and has now been appointed chairman of the recently formed Irish Wood Producers Ltd, an amalgamation of the Wexford Wood Producers, the Kilkenny Timber Co-op, and the Laois Farm Forestry Growers Group. He also serves on the committee of the ITGA.

William Merivale is national secretary of PEFC Ireland and a forestry consultant based in Cork. Email:

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