Working with nature rather than against it should ensure we benefit financially

Joe Barry

Joe Barry

I was really looking forward to the visit of Pro Silva Ireland to my woods here in Meath, even though it had rained prior to the event.

Despite the continuing downpours on the day itself, a great crowd turned up to hear the various forestry experts voice their opinions and advise us on how best to manage the woods and maximise income without resorting to clear fell.

Continuous cover or close to nature forestry is attracting a lot of interest among woodland owners these days and we had the benefit of a number of foresters experienced in this system to guide us on the day.

Dr Jurij Diacs, from Pro Silva, Slovenia, and Reyer Knoll, from Pro Silva, Netherlands, had come over for the event and, along with the Irish members, had a lot to say about how the various stands of ash, beech, oak, conifers and mixed species should be managed.

Planting had taken place in 1995 and most of the woods have been thinned twice since then. Due to some serious grey squirrel damage, I had heavily thinned my sycamore but this was considered to have been overdone and the advice was that this winter I underplant with alder.

The only species I hadn't thinned were the oak and beech and fortunately I had done the right thing by leaving them alone and will not be thinning oak for another 15 years or so.

The only intervention advised there was to carry out a small amount of selective side pruning on the best specimens.

It was further suggested I underplant some of the broadleaf woodland with both hazel and hornbeam to suppress side shoots and provide extra produce.

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As an added bonus, pheasant and woodcock should appreciate this extra cover and also give us some winter sport and tasty meals. As thinning progresses, and this applies to all wooded areas, I will allow the young trees that seed naturally on the forest floor to grow on as replacements.

This will eventually lead to a mixed age, mixed species woodland which will provide mature timber annually, remove the need for expensive replanting and ensure that the woods and landscape remain intact. The environmental benefits from this type of management are huge and it also removes the need for unsightly clearfell and the problems it can cause.

This is yet another example of how we can benefit financially by working with nature rather than trying to impose an alternative and alien regime.

We debated whether, prior to thinning, I should have removed full racks every seven or 10 rows for access for harvesters and forwarders.

I maintained, and some agreed with me, that we should delay this and develop machinery appropriate for best management of broadleaf woodland rather than adapting our management practices to suit the available equipment. Already, several people are gearing up with small scale forwarders such as the Alstor that I wrote about some months ago.

One contractor I have been in touch with has purchased an articulated mini tractor and developed a small forwarder-type trailer and also fitted a grab, which will prove invaluable as the trees grow and the stems become too large and heavy to handle manually.

Extracting timber from the woods is always a problem if, like me, you are uneasy about allowing large forwarders in, which can cause serious ground compaction and possibly damage the bark of trees.

I will, of course, eventually need to remove racks, perhaps every 10 rows, when the diameter of the individual trees expands further and narrows the access paths. A lively discussion took place as to whether this should be done at first thinning or later but the majority favoured earlier intervention.

Provenance is a huge issue and back in the 90s it wasn't always possible to source the best possible stock.

There was also the problem of some contractors preferring second grade trees as, being smaller, they are easier to plant.

Prospective woodland owners need to be very careful to ensure only trees of the best provenance are planted.

They will be in the ground a long time so why use inferior material when alternatives can be sourced?

Pro Silva Ireland holds several field days each year and also makes at least one visit to study woodland management practices in mainland Europe. Check them out on

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