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!

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

  3. The 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