The oak wood plantation that came with our house is nearing ten years old and as part of the forestry scheme it was planted under we are now officially required to submit a management plan. Getting our medium and long term aims down on paper is something we wanted to do anyway and so to receive formal notification was a great motivator to get moving.
Having done some research on various management techniques the one that appealed to us the most was a continuous cover 'close to nature' approach. There are only two or three professional foresters actively practicing this technique in Ireland. We enlisted the help of forester Paddy Purser and rather than just ticking the boxes on the required official forms he agreed to come and spend a whole day with us and a friend in our woods training us in the first steps of 'close to nature' silviculture.
Although it piddled rain for the duration we were enthralled and hardly noticed being soaked to the skin. Paddy taught us how to prune, how much to prune and what to prune. He showed us how to select 'frame trees' which are the ones we will favour in the long term for the timber trade. We marked the frame trees with yellow tape, we also marked special interest trees with blue tape and in a few years time others will be marked with red tape for thinning. We identified small areas of poor quality trees that could be cleared to allow naturally germinating saplings grow and thrive, thus encouraging natural regeneration and increasing the biodiversity of the plantation. In our woods there are plenty of ash and sycamore saplings just waiting for a spot of sunlight to race up through the canopy. By allowing more species to grow the crop becomes more like nature intended and is consequently resilient to disease and natural disasters such as storms which can wipe out vast tracts of forests of a uniform age.
We had read up about so many of these practices and had even been on a brilliant 'close to nature' morning workshop but we still didn't have the confidence to get out there with our saws and just 'do it' in our own woods. After our day with Paddy we are now really excited about taking the woodland to heart, reading it's changes season to season and deciding how to manage it on the smaller scale. Our woodlands are full of possibilities for the future and we are now eager to take up the role of it's custodians. It will never be clear felled like much of the forestry in the landscape which apart from looking like a nuclear bomb has landed in the vicinity, also causes devastation to the ecosystem and the fundamental soil structure. Even when a mature tree is selected for felling from a continuous cover woodland the result of it's removal is hardly noticeable.
On a larger scale Paddy recommended further species we could introduce to add more diversification but also to meet the requirements we have in the medium term as a family ; Cherry, Walnut and Sweet Chestnut for fruit, nuts and colour, Noble Fir for growing our own christmas trees, Holly for wildlife and decorative berries, Scots Pine because it's Dan's favourite tree and Ash for a fast growing firewood. Much of the prunings we are taking now and over the years are big enough to use as firewood and so we are immediately self sufficient in terms of our central heating with plenty of surplus; I've already bartered a wheelbarrow full of firewood in return for an evenings babysitting. The prunings can also be used to make charcoal or greenwood house and garden furniture. When the time for thinning or extraction of faster growing trees comes we hope to have our own low impact working horse in the woodlands to work alongside the family and so avoid the need to contract in large scale high impact diesel fueled machinery. As we work through the decades the woodland will remain a tranquil and enjoyable place for all creatures, human and otherwise!
When we first moved here we thought the woodlands would just be like an extension of our garden, a place of amenity and a wildlife haven. Now we understand it's potential for being so much more whilst still maintaining it's initial appeal and functions.