Importance of certification is growing on woodland owners
Woodland owners are gradually becoming more aware of the need to get to grips with forest certification sooner rather than later. This is particularly the case for those owners who are within a year or two of starting to harvest their timber.
The real flashpoint looming is when sawmills reach the 30pc threshold for uncertified material permitted under their quality assurance schemes. At this point, non-certified timber may struggle to find a viable outlet. But with timber supplies from private forestry coming on stream in ever increasing amounts, it is not a case of if but when this point is reached.
I regularly meet with representatives of timber producer groups and have recently conducted a series of workshops on forest management certification and the organisation of group schemes. The most frequently asked question is, 'How much does it cost?'
The most frequent observation is to that certification is too complicated, too onerous, and must be simplified if it's to catch on.
The issue of cost remains – for the moment at least – impossible to answer with any degree of accuracy due to the variables involved. Moreover, it is very dependent on the number of members in a group scheme.
However, it is reasonably safe to budget on an annual cost of approximately 3-6pc of the forest premium (diverse conifer) for a group of say 30 members with about 800-1,000ha of forest between them. However, a lot of fine-tuning will be needed before a more accurate estimate can be given.
With regard to the demand that certification must be simplified if Irish forest owners are to embrace it, the answer is in many ways a straightforward one.
All European forest certification standards must reflect the national forest legislation and regulatory framework of the country in question – in the case of PEFC, the pan-European guidelines for sustainable forest management to which Ireland is also a signatory. In short, the certification standard is an audit protocol which enables a third party to establish whether a forest owner is managing his woodland in compliance with the requirements placed on him by the State.