The following ministerial announcement appeared recently in the newspapers :
‘Mr John Browne TD, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food with responsibility for Forestry, announced that the Forest Service of his Department has issued a call for proposals from interested parties relating to the promotion and development of sustainable forestry. Applications are being invited, by means of press advertisements, for financial support towards pilot projects and initiatives concerned with developing sustainable forestry in Ireland and towards projects aimed at the promotion of forestry in Ireland.’ - http://www.agriculture.gov.ie/index.jsp?file=pressrel/2005/29-2005.xml - February 2005.
This at last provides some hope and encouragement to the many people in this country who see a future in sustainable forestry rather than the continued rape of the land by monoculture coniferous plantations. Monoculture coniferous forestry in Ireland has limited viability today because cheaper and better quality softwoods can be imported from Scandinavia, Eastern Europe - and soon, no doubt, from the vast plantations of China. Also, we must fulfil our obligations and commitments under Agenda 21 regarding the environment, nature conservation and biodiversity (variety of living things).
Farmers are needing to diversify to stay in business and forestry is a good option. However, monoculture plantations that are harvested at a certain age and then re-planted only deplete the soil of nutrients, creating a need for fertiliser. They can be subject to large-scale pest damage, thus requiring application of pesticides, and they rarely produce sufficient quality timber to cover costs and maintain the owner’s living standards until the next harvest. This is because they conflict with nature rather than working with it.
Managed ‘continuous cover’ woodlands are the only true form of sustainable forestry. By mimicking natural systems, problems such as mentioned above can be almost eliminated and quality timber is continually available by selection for specific requirements and on-going re-planting in harmony with natural regeneration.
A balanced eco-system
A balanced eco-system provides its own natural fertilising and pest control as all the living elements are linked and depend upon one-another like parts of a machine. The different trees and plants extract energy from the sunlight (photosynthesis) converting it into sugars. Bacteria and fungi extract nutrients from the soil (nitrogen, phosphate, trace elements) which they then exchange through the plant roots for sugars. Fallen leaves, dead plants, dead animals and dung provide food for insects and worms which, in turn, along with living plant shoots, seeds and berries, are food for birds and animals. This is nature’s food chain.
Plants thrive in conditions specific to each species, and sub-species. Birch is a natural coloniser of acid soils but it’s fallen leaves release alkali, reducing the soil acidity and thereby allowing other trees and plants to grow there. This process leads to the stage where trees such as ash and oak grow in a sheltered woodland with open canopy and they grow strong and tall as they aim for the patches of light above. Variety of species and ages means that nutrients are constantly being turned over through all levels of the soil because the root systems are all shapes and sizes. Eventually the result is a rich oak / ash / hazel / holly woodland with oak being dominant as the ‘climax’ vegetation. Since the oak can live for a thousand years, it actually takes from two to three thousand years for this woodland to become a fully balanced stable eco-system. Global warming or cooling will meanwhile affect the spread of the woodland to north or south - or would have if we didn’t have the woods surrounded by other developments, farmlands, etc. This is one reason why even the most ancient woodlands need some management - left to themselves, they would only be able to regenerate by filling gaps left by dead trees and gradually the number of trees would diminish and invasive species from outside the woodland would begin to take over.
Management by imitation of nature
The process of woodland development can be managed by imitation of nature and can be speeded up in order to avail of nature’s bounty for economic benefit whilst encouraging biodiversity to ensure a healthy eco-system. This is the essence of true sustainability. A whole range of management techniques can be employed, including selective thinning and planting, agro-forestry (silviculture with organic plant crops and / or animals), coppicing and pollarding (preferably ‘with standards’) and use of part of the woodland as an educational or amenity resource. The woodland can also be designed to provide benefits such as preventing soil erosion, taking up excess water, providing shelter, cover for game, a nature reserve and / or improvement of landscape / scenery - all of which will add value to property.
Local provenanceGenetic variations occur in trees of the same species from different climatic regions so it is important to obtain seeds / saplings from a local nursery using a certified local seed source. Many birds and insects depend upon very specific times of flowering and ripening of seeds / berries so the whole balance of the eco-system can be upset by bringing in stock from another region. The notion of GM (genetically modified) trees and shrubs can only lead to ecological disaster - other local authorities need to follow the example of Clare County Council and declare their counties GM-free zones - for the good of the farmers as well as the woodlands - and, of course, the consumers.
We await with baited breath Minister Browne’s press advertisements inviting applications regarding sustainable forestry ! Meanwhile, anyone interested should get a copy of ‘The Woodland Way’ by Ben Law (available from CELT or from BookSteps or Walnut Books). CELT are currently running an introductory training course which will be repeated in the autumn and again next year. Contact : Bob Wilson 061-640765 www.celtnet.org and email@example.com