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Forest Impressions
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By Hal Chavasse

A group of about fourteen members and friends of Pro Silva Ireland were met by Mr Peter Walsh-Kemmis, the owner, near the entrance to Kylebeg Wood on a lovely sunny morning. Also in the party , to give us the benefit of their professional advice, were Mr Huw Denman, who is assisting Peter Walsh-Kemis with a management plan for his woods, and Mr Thomas Harttung, President of Pro Silva Europe.

The morning was spent in Kylebeg Wood, which is an oak wood of 15 hectares aged 150-200 years, of what appeared to be very high quality trees, with beautiful straight trunks and very little epicormic growth. The wood is registered as a seed source by the Forest Service. Under the current Felling Licence, a number of coupes of varying sizes have been felled. A huge amount of Laurel undergrowth has been cleared, using a digger to remove it by the roots, followed by herbicide control of the regrowth. We visited one of the felled coupes, which had been replanted with oak, grown from local seed, and some Scots Pine.

During discussions at three stops in this wood, Peter Walsh-Kemmis said that he had been disappointed by the quality of the felled timber – less than 2% Veneer quality and only 34 % Grade 1. He was also disappointed by the number of failures amongst the replanted seedlings, although there appeared to be ample natural regeneration of oak at the edges of the coupes,

Thomas Harttung said that he would advise him not to worry too much about concentrating on felling after a mast year in order to get the maximum benefit of Natural Regeneration, as this would come anyway. He suggested that it was more important to watch the market, and fell the best trees when the time was right, so as to maximise the potential of the woods. He also felt that it should not be necessary to replant, but to leave it to nature to fill the gaps.

This latter point raised what became a recurring theme throughout the day – namely the need to replant to augment natural regeneration in order to have sufficient stocking to qualify for grants. It was felt by all who had any experience of them that the grant schemes inhibited the introduction of Continuous Cover Forestry (CCF) through natural methods, and that the conditions imposed by the Native Woodlands Scheme were too restrictive.

In the afternoon we visited Ballykilcavan Wood. This is a large area of woodland, which like Kylebeg Wood, is in a potential NHA, and therefore felling is subject to approval by Duchas (the Heritage Service), in addition to the Forest Service and the County Council Planning Department. 35 hectares of Broadleaves in this wood are included in an application under the Native Woodland Scheme, and we discussed how best to use the woods within the restrictions imposed by the NHA and this scheme.

This wood is heavily stocked with Ash of all ages including many tall trees probably aged over 90, but with small diameters due to close stocking and restricted crowns. Oaks are also present but not of the same quality as in Kylebeg Wood, and we saw a group of superb Douglas Fir and a plantation of European Larch, with an understorey of Ash and Hazel.

Huw Denman was put on the spot on several occasions at the various stops as we walked through this delightful wood, where the rides had been recently cleared to make walking easy. His plan will divide the wood into five working sections, each to provide work for one year of a Five Year Rotation. His aim will be to build up the capital value of the woods by preserving the best timber, harvesting the lower value timber and manipulating the canopy to make gradual changes thereby making the woods more productive.

Detailed discussion followed on the profitability of felling poor quality trees which have a good aesthetic appearance. On a different subject, Thomas Harttung suggested that the working sections should have racks established at 40 metre intervals, to be used by machinery which would not be allowed to leave the racks. Felling of firewood would be on to the racks, and commercial timber would be winched to where it could be lifted. A basic road network would be needed which could be covered by the Road Grant Scheme, within the restrictions imposed by the Native Woodlands Scheme.

An interesting point raised by Thomas Harttung was that the fashion for using white timber for furniture etc was changing, and that in the future brown-hearted ash might become more popular, which would mean that it would be worth allowing ash to grow on to 70 cm diameter, instead of felling at the more usual 50 cm.

Huw Denman mentioned that Pembrokeshire County Council had established a “wood store” for hardwood timber, where joineries and furniture makers can come to buy their timber. Farm foresters were finding this an excellent means of selling small quantities of timber, which have been certified under the FSC scheme. This is a matter which will become more relevant in Ireland when the recently planted broadleaves become mature, and farmers will need to find a market, perhaps under some co-operative arrangement, such as the Forestry Development Association.

The day ended at a Sitka spruce plantation, through which a thicket of ash had grown up. A discussion followed on the problems of finding forest workers capable of selecting what trees need to be thinned without having to have the entire area marked by the management. This inspired Thomas Harttung to speak eloquently on the therapeutic delight of marking trees for a couple of hours a day before going to the office!

Morgan Roche concluded the visit by thanking Peter Walsh-Kemmis for a most interesting and well prepared day, in which the message had been that to achieve CCF it is often better to intervene as little as possible, and let Nature take its course.

Hal Chavasse is a private forester, formerly Forest Manager at Lismore, Co Waterford.


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