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Equipping Irish forest owners, foresters and forestry students to manage diverse forests

A new forest training network aims to enhance confidence and ability in managing a diverse range of forests in Ireland, writes Jonathan Spazzi, Teagasc Forestry Development Officer. Teagasc has partnered with EFI to make marteloscope training programmes and resources available to forest owners, foresters, students and other user groups.

Since the foundation of the State, Ireland has undertaken progressive expansion of its national forest resource to reverse the deforestation trend of past centuries. With just over 1% forest cover at the turn of the 20th century, the new State embarked on an ambitious policy to plant land and create employment through a growing forest industry.

Early afforestation by the State focused on spruce and pine afforestation, but was followed in more recent decades by an increasing diversity of conifer and broadleaved species being planted. This reflected the increasing involvement of farmers and other private landowners bringing a wider range of agricultural land available for forest creation. Today, Ireland’s forest cover stands at over 11% of land area, of which approximately 30% is made up of broadleaf species and a further 20% of diverse conifers. Almost 75% of private forests in Ireland are less than 30 years of age and many are approaching the thinning stage.

Training need

With the trend in species diversification envisaged to continue, there is now a growing need for owners to better understand their forest management options as part of a sustainable and integrated approach. A critical element of this is to control the thinning process and realise the full potential value of their forests. Enhancing forest owner management skills is imperative if a sustained level of timber mobilisation combined with strong ecosystem service delivery is to be achieved from our farm and other private forests.

New marteloscope training programme

In response, Teagasc Forestry Development Department (FDD) has developed a new training programme, supported by the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM), to facilitate exchange between owners and other stakeholders interested in adopting integrated management models. The programme is being delivered through outdoor forest training workshops in marteloscope plots.

This new knowledge transfer initiative is designed to enhance confidence and ability in managing a diverse range of forests. The main aim of the training is to equip forest owners and other users with the necessary skills to choose the most appropriate management systems to meet their objectives and to help integrate and enhance both the production and biodiversity value of each forest.

At the recent launch of the new marteloscope training programme at the Teagasc Research Centre in Oak Park, Carlow, Minister of State Senator Pippa Hackett emphasised the importance of early engagement with forest owners and managers in developing new skills to support integrated management models which can complement current practices. During her visit, Minister Hackett met members of the North East Forestry Group (NEFG) who were participating in the first marteloscope training workshop of 2022. Minister Hackett said, “Forests’ ability to deliver multiple benefits to society is one of their greatest strengths. It is therefore very important to engage now with forest owners and managers in developing new skills to support integrated management models which can complement current practices.”

Senator Pippa Hackett, Minister of State, Professor Frank O’Mara, Teagasc Director, Liam Herlihy, Chairman of Teagasc, Derek McCabe, Chairman of the North East Forestry Group with fellow group members and the Teagasc Forestry team at the launch of the new marteloscope training programme in Oak Park.

Enhancing forest owners’ confidence and ability in managing diverse forests

Land owners plant forests for a wide range of reasons. These include income diversification, timber production, carbon sequestration, protection of water quality, protection/enhancement of biodiversity, creation of woodland amenities and improved work-life balance, to mention a few. In recent years, interest in planting a diverse range of forests has been steadily growing, including interest in native woodlands and the adoption of “close-to-nature” management options.

A balanced mix of forest management systems is therefore required to cater for the increasing diversity of forest types, site conditions and, in particular, owner’s objectives. Recent developments in European and national forestry policy are also directed at promoting diverse and integrated management as a means of enhancing forest resilience in the face of climate disruption, sustaining forest production and delivering diverse ecosystem services. As part of these efforts, novel systems, known as continuous cover forestry (CCF), can enable, on suitable sites, commercial timber harvesting while permanently retaining a forest cover.

Teagasc Forestry Development Department has partnered with EFI, in collaboration with Coillte State Forestry Board and Pro Silva Ireland, to make this resource available to forest owners/foresters/students and other user groups.

To date in Ireland, there is a total of nine marteloscope plots, three installed by Teagasc and six by Coillte. Teagasc has installed one plot in Curragh Chase forest, County Limerick in partnership with Coillte and two in Teagasc Research Centre, Oak Park, County Carlow, with both a conifer plot and a broadleaf plot to cater for a wide range of participants including forest owners, forestry professionals and students. It is envisaged that, given available resources and continued demand, further plots will be developed in other locations in the coming years.

The North East Forest Owners marteloscope workshop 

In February, forest owners from the North East Forestry Group (NEFG) participated in the first workshop of the year in Oak Park, County Carlow. This was as part of a NEFG busy programme of activities for 2021-2022 funded by the DAFM under the Woodland Support Projects funding initiative which aims to promote multi-functional benefits of forestry from recreational, environmental, community and economic uses. As part of this initiative, a video was also produced on the day by the NEFG and will be available on their YouTube channel in the coming months. 

The workshop training followed a facilitation style approach encouraging interaction and plenty of hands-on exercises leading to frequent discussions in the forest.

The workshop had three main objectives:

  • To familiarise participants with different forest management scenarios ranging from clearfell to continuous cover harvesting systems
  • To practice the key skill of selecting trees by their quality-vigour and biodiversity value.
  • To demonstrate how, on suitable sites, timber production could be integrated with biodiversity enhancement leading to resilient and permanent productive forests.
Discussing selection of quality trees for possible retention in the broadleaf plot

In the morning session, facilitated by Teagasc Forestry Development Officers Frances McHugh, Kevin O’Connell and Jonathan Spazzi, participants were guided through a range of introductory and interactive exercises such as grading trees by their timber and biodiversity values and basic skills in tree species identification. To cater for different scenarios, exercises on the day involved two separate training plots – a plot of mainly mixed conifers and a plot of mainly mixed broadleaves.

Forest owners group discussion following group exercise in the conifer plot in Oak Park forest

This gradually progressed in the afternoon session into a full group thinning exercise where participants, broken into small groups, carried out a full simulation of a transformation thinning of the plot towards a permanent productive forest. INFOMAR software loaded onto a weatherproof tablet acted as management simulator and allowed participants to assess in real time the impact of their selection choices on the volume and value of the timber removed as well as on the biodiversity value of the forest. Each group was then able to present and discuss their results with the rest of the participants.

      Forest owners discussing tree selection in the conifer plot during one of the many exercises.

Progressive Limerick farmer and hands-on forest owner Donagh O’Grady, who attended a marteloscope training course, commented “For me, the course content and presentation were excellent and gave me a much better understanding of many issues around forest management including production and biodiversity. …  I now have the confidence to go into the forest and pick out the better trees. … I think for those owners growing timber, a course like this is absolutely invaluable. … The practical day in the forest was particularly enjoyable and informative”.

2022 Teagasc marteloscope workshops

The Teagasc marteloscope training programme has been available since early 2022 to forest owner groups and other stakeholders. It offers a new practical and interactive knowledge transfer resource for participants to develop skills to manage a range of diverse forests.

See more information here.

A busy schedule of Teagasc marteloscope workshops has been prepared for this year, primarily for forest owner groups but also including consultant foresters and forestry students.

In each case, the workshop material and the level of interaction were tailored to each user group broadly divided between forest owners, foresters and forestry students.

Forest owners discussing tree selection during a workshop in the broadleaf plot in Oak Park forest

So far, we have organised 10 workshops utilising 3 marteloscope plots. Each workshop included 10-12 participants in average. In particular we completed:

     – 3 x one-day workshops for forest owner groups

     – 1 x one-day workshop for forestry students (Waterford Institute of Technology)

     – 3 x one-day workshop for consultant foresters

     – 3 x short intro (2 hours) workshop for a range of other organisations/groups

In total over 100 participants have attended this year’s Teagasc integrated management workshops to date, resulting in great engagement in the forest and very positive feedback. More workshops are planned for later in the autumn including increased interaction with Coillte marteloscope programme.

Forestry student’s discussion during marteloscope workshop in Oak Park forest

For next year the plan is to review the feedback, reflect on the experience so far and continue to improve and develop this valuable communication and educational resource for integrated management in close collaboration with our European and national partners.

Group of consultant foresters attending one of the 3 marteloscope workshops on Close to Nature management held in Curragh Chase forest in April this year


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