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.
PEFC developed in order to address the particular challenges associated with certification of the typical small and medium owners that make up such a significant part of the European forest landscape.
These challenges include limited income, irregular management activity and revenues, restricted access to information and knowledge, and the difficulties in meeting some criteria in small woodland areas.
To meet these challenges, PEFC pioneered the concept of group certification whereby multiple owners become certified under one certificate, sharing a common responsibility for forest management, pooling resources and sharing the costs, itself leading to a reduction in costs.
A recent scheme developed in the Netherlands has the potential to simplify the process still further. It consists of an online registration and a checklist which evaluates if the owner's current management plan meets the requirements of the PEFC Netherlands forest management standard.
If it doesn't, it identifies where improvements are necessary. It can also be used by a group certification manager to invite forest owners to participate in the group scheme and to determine the extent of their compliance with the standard. The results form the basic documentation to be supplied to the certification body prior to audit.
Clearly some adaptation would be required to modify such a scheme for use against the PEFC Irish standard. But, as it is very similar to the British standard, the intention is that Ireland and Britain will work together to produce a similar scheme suited to both countries.
Anyone from the midlands, and many more besides, will recognise the famous King Oak on the Charleville Estate just outside Tullamore, Co Offaly (pictured). It is not just one of the finest oaks in the country but one of our most magnificent trees, period. Tom Roche of Irish NGO Just Forests grew up in Tullamore and has been instrumental in nominating the King Oak as Ireland's entry to the competition for European Tree of the year 2013 and is calling on everyone to vote for this wonderful tree.
This is the first year that Ireland has participated in this event and it would do no harm to our profile to win during Ireland's presidency of the EU. At the very least, the tree deserves a European audience. Cast your vote before February 28 at www.treeoftheyear.org.
William Merivale is national secretary of PEFC Ireland and a forestry consultant based in Cork. Email: email@example.com