North East Forestry Group


“It’s a wise man who plants trees whose shade he will never sit.”

North East Forestry Group

Navan  |  Co Meath  |  Republic of Ireland

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Established May 2013


David Bothwell’s Diary

Kevin O’Connell, Forestry Development in Teagasc, was talking one of your fellow forestry group members, David Bothwell.

He has woodland approximately fifteen years old of Norway spruce, Ash and mixed broadleaves.  Like Kevin, he has to work from home these days.  The wood is right beside his house, so he goes out for walks during the day to clear the head.  The Norway spruce will probably not be ready for thinning for another two years or so, but David has already started preparing by cutting brash paths.  He does this in the evenings and on some Saturdays.

Below is an e-mail, including photographs, Kevin kindly received from David to share with you:


In the three small fields, they planted some rows of Alder in the middle of the Norway, so I started my inspection path by brashing the Alder by hand.  (Image shown on the left.)

I then continued into the Norway with a small chainsaw.  It takes an average of two and a half minutes to clean each tree.  (Image shown on the right.)

This can result in a lot of brash to clear from under my feet, but it is necessary to make access easy and safe.  It also allows me to see if I have got all the lower branches.  (Image shown to the left).

I can now see what is happening in the middle of the forest (image shown to the right) and have found a lot of Sally in the trains. 

I also reverse the tractor with the transport box on, round the edges of the forest to maintain access.

In the larger 10 acre field, they left one row unplanted in the middle as an access path.  I am bashing the trees on either side, so it will also act as an inspection path (image shown to the right) but I still have a lot of work to do here.

Owen Cooney’s Diary

I have just completed 2 hectares of agroforestry at Virginia.  A very time consuming project, as I had to deal with hare damage to Red Oak and Sycamore plants.  I managed to contain them by spraying Graziers, an organic compound which gives a weekly cover.  This gave me time to install tree shelters (shown below) which were slow in arriving due to the current travel restrictions. 

I planted at 500 trees per hectare, to obtain this stocking rate, I used the following spacing:

  1. Bullet8 metre rows; with

  2. 3 metre spacing along rows

Stakes were driven in by using the tractor loader’s bucket which was full of clay.

According to ground conditions, species were planted as follows:

  1. Cherry

  2. Italian Alder

  3. Red Oak

  4. Sycamore

A plot of Walnut was also planted at 2 metre spacing in a block, replacing frost damage Sitka that was hit last May.

This ground is in its third year and was sprayed with glyphosate during the winter.

Frances Ball’s Diary

We planted Oak interspersed with Scots Pine as a nursery crop.  Some of the pine didn’t survive, partly because we planted in late spring, followed by a dry summer.  I took the opportunity of beating up with varieties that I like, mainly Birch, Beech, Cherry, Red Oak, Hemlock and some Crab Apple.

The Birch and Scots Pine had grown very well, but it was a pity to see such nice clean and straight Birch wood included with the Pine when it came to selling - Scots Pine wood is not popular!  As for the Cherry, it really thrived and has been most prolific in reseeding itself on the woodland floor.  It’s good to see too that there’s a diversity of self-seeding including Holly.  At first thinning, we were able to leave some peripheral Scots Pine and Birch for colour and variety.

Eighteen years a-growing later, two separate campaigns of shaping and a first thinning last year, the Oaks now have a chance to come into their own and refill the canopy.  Being part of a network of forest growers has proved really helpful, as concerns contacts in getting the thinning done and sharing information.

Where do we go from here?  Next step is to mark out the final crop and let’s not forget the high pruning.  In the meantime, there’s a stream to be maintained, some fencing and wall to repair too - all at a standstill despite the current perfect ground conditions.

There’s a lot of satisfaction in seeing a forest developing and sitting well in its landscape.  It’s a good and productive use of land and very valuable for biodiversity.  However, a deciduous/hardwood forest does require quite a lot of effort and long-term commitment, as well as a few headaches.  Is there a way that this can be repaid?  Is it feasible to extend the plantation?  All suggestions welcome!

The first hard lesson came in May 2018 when the felling licence arrived.  My surprise at receiving licensing approval so quickly turned to disbelief, then frustration when I found a felling condition was included, albeit finely disguised, 6 pages into the approval document.  The condition required that no timber, at all, could be removed until a bridge was constructed across a minor stream over 1km from the wood.  The stream in question, that never had a name as far as I knew, had been crossed by 3 generations of farmers and machinery for over 200 years.  The name of the stream, ironically enough, is the Painstown (shown to the right here).  The Irish authorities concluded, with reference to European law, that the Painstown could pose a sediment risk to the river Nanny 2km downstream and, subsequently, to the Laytown beach, which holds a special protection area designation. 

Des Drew’s Diary

In April 2018, I applied for a felling licence to thin my wood in line with its forest management plan and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) regulations.  I was buoyed up at the time by the potential of securing a ten year felling licence and the further prospects of sourcing a second intervention thinning grant for some of the work.  As some of the wood included Ash trees, the destructive potential of Ash Dieback (Chalara) was also in my mind.  Two years later, just 18 acres of Ash/Sycamore in the first plot was thinned.  My target was to thin this plot and another 20 acres of Sitka/Norway/Hybrid Larch by April 2020.  So how did it go?  Was I overly ambitious, naive or just inefficient in not achieving the target?  This is what happened and what I learned about managing woodland in Ireland.

The belief being, that the transport of timber across the stream would generate additional sediment and potentially an ecological problem.  This was despite the fact that probably no more than 5 crossings were likely annually over the life of the licence.  My plans began to slide.

Despite protestations, I came to understand quickly enough that the authorities were not for turning, and that the services of a team of professionals would be mandatory:  an engineer; an ecologist; and a building contractor amongst others were needed.  A one in a hundred year flood needed to be catered for...this is not a joke.  The sourcing of all three specialists took time, their work took time, but eventually an application to construct a bridge with full drawings and specifications, an extensive Natura Statement running to 33 pages and a method statement were submitted for approval.  Construction approval, following further consultation with Inland Fisheries, was granted in August 2019.

It was now one and half years since the original application; no trees were cut and no bridge was built.  Unfortunately, it then started to rain and we experienced one of the wettest autumns and winters in my memory.  The previous trickle in the Painstown had grown to a fast flowing river.  No work could be started, as the required specification included adherence to biodiversity and water quality conditions while installing concrete bedding, two one metre diameter pipes, concrete surrounds, amongst other things.  Plans to thin the Sitka/Norway/Larch plot with the contractor were put aside.  However, work to thin the plot of Ash/Sycamore started and I got some positive news:  grant approval was received for hardwood thinning under the Woodland Improvement - Subsequent Intervention Scheme.

In August 2019, the task of thinning the Ash and Sycamore started; however, the work went dormant in the wet winter and was not completed until March 2020.  As my wood is certified in line with FSC standards, all the work was planned and carried out to the certification standard’s requirements.  The saw work was done in stages by Seamus Whelan Abbeyleix Woodland Services; Mick Lawlor from Mountrath; and Patrick Kelly - Ardee Mobile Tree Services (shown left).  Risk Assessments were completed by all contractors backed up by insurance and training accreditation.  Road signage and on-site felling notices were also in place.  Trees to be extracted were marked in advance.  The thinning covered almost one third of the trees with heavy emphasis on the Ash as a precautionary measure.  The original felling application was based on a standard thinning approach to extract approximately 250m3

The plot takes in three fields and progressed smoothly in the first two fields, however, the third field had become badly overgrown in places with briars; this slowed down the work which became very difficult and slow.  To overcome that, Patrick Kelly bought his eight ton tracked digger with tree shears on-site, and he quickly dispensed of the briars and thinned trees at a rate of approximately 70 trees per hours.

The hardwood thinning is finished (shown right) and an application for payment of the grant has been submitted to the Forest Service.  It is difficult to estimate precisely what volume is now stacked in the wood pre extraction, but it is likely to be closely in line with the original projection.  In the coming months, weather permitting, we will start extracting the thinnings and constructing the bridge.  The bridge work is urgent, as the softwood requires thinning and the hardwood thinnings need to be sold.

The lessons for anyone planning to thin and extract timber are clear:

  1. plan for twice the time you think will be needed;

  2. check and plan for all potential issues that might arise from a felling application before submission;

  1. get a professional forester to review the application and flag the potential problems;

and, most importantly...

  1. put aside some of the annual forest premium... it will be needed to fund unanticipated regulatory requirements and costs.

Hopefully, the Painstown bridge will be built this summer, the thinning of the softwoods will be done and a timber market will still exist; you have to remain positive in this forestry business.

One major positive and without a doubt the most encouraging part of the project so far, was to witness the skill, efficiency and hard work of the men in the wood, when we finally got to cut some trees.  These guys are the lifeblood of this business and they need to be supported by us all.

However, here is the problem... their particular skills and experience are in short supply and continuity of work is not helped by the regulatory roadblocks.  The stranglehold that exists over private woodland operations remains a serious issue for all of us with woods to manage.  We all need to care about this and work as a group to get change.  We all knew when investing in forestry that it was a long-term business; few could have anticipated that increased regulation and oversight would extend the payback period even further, while increasing the financial risk associated with getting a return.

John Sherlock’s Diary

It has been an eventful couple of years in our woodland.  Our Ash plantation was sadly confirmed as having Ash dieback in September 2017.  After a protracted process, we were funded for the removal for the entire crop and replanting.  We concluded site clearance in autumn 2018 and finally received species approval in December 2018.

January 2019 arrived with a sense of anticipation for the year ahead, and commenced planting as soon as the frost lifted.  We ordered and collected our plants from a company based in Wicklow (None-so-Hardy).

Planting around 80% of Sitka Spruce to make up for the income lost from eight years of Ash growing, and the balance was planted in Wild Cherry and Red Oak.

We finally finished planting in February and there was a palpable sense of relief all round.

Having taken advice on the whole removal and replanting from our forester, we did the project management and some of the work ourselves.  Although it was difficult at times, we still consider it financially beneficial, along with having a sense of control which we would not have had if we had given the contract to a forestry company. 

While we were on holidays in early May 2019, the weeds took advantage of our absence to grow extraordinarily high.  Luckily, we were able to get a very experienced man to spot spray around them.

We also had a friend’s son clear around each plant with a hook prior to spraying.  There was no lasting damage, but it was a close call.

As we had our felling licence renewed (4 years, unfortunately, not 10 years) we decided to second thin the more mature Sitka Spruce, Alder and Oak sections.  All were planted in 2003 by my late father, Pat Sherlock.  They had been first thinned in 2015.

Having decided to go the Continuous Cover Forestry (CCF) ProSilva route in forest management, we hired two experienced foresters to mark all the trees that were to come out of our plantation.  This was done to take the decision making out of the harvester operator’s hands, to ensure the choices were in-line with the ProSilva method.

The harvesting company representative was concerned when he saw the choices of some trees to be felled, but we had our decision made and were not going to change.  The operation went smoothly enough, but when the harvesting was over, we noticed that no Urea was sprayed on the tree stumps.  We insisted that this was rectified, bearing in mind the distance from watercourses, etc.

At the same time, we hired an experienced chainsaw operator, along with his father, to thin and shape our Oak crop which was then 17 years old.  We had taken out the nurse species of Scots Pine in 2015, so it was time to give the remaining Oak a light thinning and shaping.

Our Alder had reacted positively to the first thinning, so we gave it a second thinning with the mechanical harvester.  I have yet to be convinced that this crop will achieve any high value as sawlog, however, we will persevere in the short/medium-term.

September came, and all the thinnings were removed from the forest.  With our softwoods, we made two grades of pulp wood, along with a grade of pallet wood:

  1. Grade one was pure energy small diameter thinning suitable for woodchip only; and

  2. Bulletthe second larger grade, we kept for our own firewood business.

  3. BulletThe pallet wood was sold with a small premium, as it was FSC certified wood.

The Alder and Oak thinnings will be sold in our firewood business.

Also in early September, we finally sold the Ash we had removed from our infected forest.  This went directly for woodchip, as it was too small for firewood.  We had the choice of burying it, but we chose to remove it and stack it to dry.  This left the forest site clean and accessible for replanting.

I went for a walk down our woodlands, as I often do, however, on that occasion with great trepidation after storms.

Having heard horror stories of trees being blown down after being thinned using the ProSilva method, which leaves gaps in the forest canopy,  there were only three small diameter saplings damaged with wind-snap halfway up.  Hopefully, we will continue not to have any surprises in store with the increasingly more frequent high winds, etc.

The next year we hoped to be quieter with just some spot spraying of new crops, roadways, checking boundaries, topping and access paths.  Our plantation is FSC certified and we had our forest inspection during January.

It will be four years before the next operations, which also brings the reward of timber sales, so careful management is paramount as our annual subsidy will soon run out.

Looking back, although it was hard work and stressful at times, the financial reward and satisfaction of seeing our woodland prosper, was well worth it.  Hopefully, the future of hardwoods will also justify the expense and time which we will all, as forest owners, put into our woodlands.

Forest Owners’ Diaries