Ireland is one of the few countries in Europe that experienced almost complete deforestation in recent history with just over 1% forest cover remaining at the beginning of the 1900s. Since then, an impressive effort has been made by the State of Ireland and other stakeholders to increase forest cover – but the Irish plan to plant forests has also faced a lot of criticism. I have spoken with three experts on Irish forests: Jonathan Spazzi, Forestry Development Officer working for Teagasc, Aileen O’Sullivan, Environmental Technical Lead for Coillte Forest, as well as Padraig O Tuama, private forestry consultant specialising in clients interested in Continuous Cover Forestry (CCF) and former task leader for researching and promoting Continuous Cover Forestry (CCF) in Coillte Teo.
They have all joined forces to promoting the Continuous Cover Forest management (CCF) approach, to increase species diversity and forest conservation in Irish forests while as well enhancing timber value. As a proper tool to support their efforts both Teagasc and Coillte, in collaboration with ProSilva Ireland, have decided to establish several marteloscope sites in different forest types. Check out this interview to learn what has happened so far in Irish forestry, how the three would like to shape the future of their forests, and what they expect from working with marteloscopes.
Who in Ireland has setup marteloscopes? Why? What drove you to take the decision?
Jonathan: Teagasc, to date, have installed 3 marteloscope plots in the south of the country.
The plan is to use new interactive learning tools and methodologies as part of Teagasc advisory and training programmes with particular focus on Continuous Cover Forest management (CCF) training for a range of stakeholders including forest owners and forestry professionals.
We decided to establish the marteloscopes because there was and is an identified need to develop both technology and capacity development pathways for CCF within the forest sector. The user-friendly nature of the tablet software allows participants to visualise and process results in the forest and this delivers efficient and interactive learning outcomes.
Aileen: I first heard about the plan to set up the Integrate Marteloscope Network in Ireland when I attended a meeting for interested stakeholders, hosted by Teagasc Forestry Development Department, in Oakpark, Carlow, in February 2019.
My main interest is to support learning among ecologists and foresters on practical management measures that will enhance or improve the biodiversity value of forests. I am a forest ecologist who has been working on the process of mapping Coillte’s forests and other habitats of nature conservation value for over 20 years now, and I plan to use the marteloscope network for the purpose of learning and demonstrating how forests of biodiversity value on the Coillte estate can be managed so that their biodiversity value is increased over time.
Padraig: I have started working with marteloscopes already in 2009. As task leader for researching and promoting Continuous Cover Forestry (CCF) in Coillte Teo I established the first marteloscope as part of the AFI (Association Futaie Irrégulière) Network in Curraghchase Forest Park in conjunction with AFI. I had previously set up the first AFI Research stand in Ireland in Curraghchase and the marteloscope was set up within this research stand. I was introduced to the AFI Research stands and marteloscopes through a company, Selectfor in Wales. In 2008, Sarah Wall, senior Lecturer in Forestry College in GMIT in Galway approached me regarding setting up a marteloscopes in Ireland. Through our contact in SelectFor in Wales we visited marteloscopes in England and Wales. On return we received funding from the Irish Department of Forestry and established a first marteloscope in 60-year-old Mixed Beech woodland in Curraghchase. The main drivers in setting up the marteloscope were similar to those mentioned by Jonathan:
- There was no training structure in CCF in Ireland and this was to be the first attempt at this.
- Coillte wanted to introduce training modules in CCF for forest managers, especially in broadleaves as Coillte had made a commitment to manage all its broadleaf woodlands through CCF.
- GMIT had wished to introduce training in CCF as part of its Silviculture Modules in Forester training in GMIT.
In 2012 three further AFI marteloscopes were set up in Coillte property in broadleaf woodlands in Oughaval in Co Laois and Donadea Forest Park and in young Sitka spruce forest in Tickincor in Co Waterford. However, we started working with Integrate marteloscopes only in 2019.
What are you planning to do with the Integrate marteloscopes?
Jonathan: When it comes to Teagasc we have developed a pilot e-learning blended training course to be delivered to forest owners and others in conjunction with marteloscope exercises. This provides an excellent opportunity for Teagasc forestry advisory staff to embrace important technologies. One course was delivered in 2020 and two more courses will be delivered this year. A number of shorter one-day knowledge sharing events are also planned in marteloscope plots.
Padraig: I would like to add that the marteloscopes will also be used by Teagasc as introduction and training tool to private forest owners on Continuous Cover Forestry. With Coillte, primarily serve the purpose of upskilling and training forest managers in selection thinning for continuous cover forest management in different forest types.
“With marteloscopes trainings, personnel within the forest industry can get a better understanding that CCF management is a viable financial option that can incorporate protection and enhancement of biodiversity within the forest.” (Padraig)
Aileen: One aspect that really appeals to me is that the EFI marteloscope training incorporates ecological assessment with the silvicultural and financial aspects of forest management. The tool used for this is Catalogue of tree microhabitats developed by the INFORMAR project. This is an exciting tool that could in future be adapted particularly for Irish forests. It shows foresters how to assess the biodiversity value of trees, as well as their timber value.
In 2019, we initiated the Coillte BIOForest project, in which we developed management plans for biodiversity areas (forests of biodiversity value). The question we asked was this: how can we combine silviculture and ecology to benefit our forests? We assembled a team of freelance ecologists and foresters and were very lucky to get a highly skilled team with great ideas. Improving our understanding of how to implement CCF was a major part of this project.
During 2019-2021, Coillte has commissioned ProSilva Ireland to set up six marteloscope plots. Through the BIOForest Project, Coillte funded the first EFI martelescope in Donadea Forest Park in September 2019 in liaison with ProSilva Ireland. A further two were put in place in 2020, one updating the previous Oughaval AFI marteloscope, another in Glenart in Co Wicklow. Three further marteloscopes will be set up during 2021, again funded through the Coillte BIOForest project in liaison with ProSilva Ireland.
Aileen, you have been talking about “biodiversity areas”. What does this exactly mean?
Aileen: Coillte maps forests and other habitats of conservation value as biodiversity areas. Biodiversity areas are not a formal designation, there is no legislation associated with them. They are a Coillte initiative. The whole point of biodiversity areas is to encourage foresters to manage forests (and other habitats) in a way that enhances their ecological value.
During 2014-2016, Coillte commissioned an expert forest ecologist to develop BioClass, which is a biodiversity assessment procedure for forests. BioClass is based on national scientific research on biodiversity indicators in Irish forests. BioClass works by presenting a list of indicators, and the more of these indicators that are present in the forest, the better its value for biodiversity. During 2017/2018, BioClass was applied across all of Coillte’s biodiversity areas. Coillte gives me a budget to take on freelance ecologists to do this kind of work.
One of the outcomes of the BioClass project was the recommendation that many of Coillte’s biodiversity areas should be managed under CCF. It became clear that Coillte needs to be able to improve our knowledge of CCF and learn how to apply it in forests that have special biodiversity value. Going back to the BioClass procedure, another benefit of having a list of indicators of biodiversity value is that we can say to foresters, if you can increase the number of these features present in this forest, you are going to improve the biodiversity value of this forest. I like this idea because it points to a number of practical measures that can be implemented as part of CCF management, in order to improve the biodiversity value as well as the timber value of forests.
I would like to see the biodiversity indicators integrated with the CCF training in Coillte’s forests.
What are possible outcomes of the exercises in the Integrate marteloscope plots?
Jonathan: The simplest outcome for some participants will be tree species identification or learning to appreciate the different but equally important roles that trees play within the forest and to reflect on their value whether for production or their biodiversity value.
As part of a structured programme, the exercises will provide participants with a process for understanding how to progress the transformation of young plantations towards permanent productive forests which are able to self-regenerate. In addition, it will train participants with the technical skills required to set forest management targets, understand the thinning process and to be able to follow the progress towards such targets. Finally, we aim at enhancing forest owners and forestry professionals understanding of the harvesting systems associated with CCF transformation and the timber products/marketing opportunities that are available.
“My main interest is to support learning among ecologists and foresters on practical management measures that will enhance or improve the biodiversity value of forests” (Aileen)
Will you also invite the general public to do exercises?
Padraig: Although the Integrate marteloscopes will primarily be used as outlined previously, there will be introductory courses devised for policy makers and for senior management within forestry companies in Ireland that will incorporate marteloscopes. The training will also be available to the forestry colleges as required. We envisage that they will be utilised to train harvesting contractors and forestry workers in the future as well. Because of the flexibility in setting degrees of difficulty in exercises within the marteloscope model, I am expecting it could be used by school students and general public sometime in the future.
Jonathan: It is envisaged that marteloscopes will be used in the near future for a wide arrange of users, including forest owners, professional foresters, forestry students, forest researchers and policy makers and it is envisaged that, subject to resources, non-forestry users or the general public may be invited to do exercises.
How are your sites different from the other more than 130 spread in continental Europe?
Jonathan: In general, forests in Ireland tend to be younger (and perhaps more uniform) than forests found in continental Europe, and this is reflected in marteloscope plots.
Padraig: The marteloscopes set up in Ireland, across the different forest types, would be set in primarily even-aged woodlands at the initial stages of transformation to CCF. I do not know enough about the other 130 spread across continental Europe but I expect that they would be at equilibrium stage or at various stages towards equilibrium in the forest.
How could the setup of marteloscopes potentially impact forest management in Ireland?
Paidrag: We would hope that through training in the Integrate marteloscopes that personnel within the forest industry will get a better understanding that CCF management is a viable financial option that can incorporate protection and enhancement of biodiversity within the forest.
Jonathan: The appropriate use of marteloscope plots can be instrumental in helping with the ongoing process of silviculture diversification in Ireland as well as facilitating the uptake and better understanding of the value of varying tree categories, the influence of thinning and management and the requirement for progression towards CCF management.
“Recent developments in European and national forestry policy are directed at promoting integrated management as a means of enhancing forest resilience in the face of climate disruption, sustaining forest production, and delivering diverse ecosystem services.” (Jonathan)
Are there plans to setup more demo sites? Where?
Jonathan: The focus for now will be on developing exercises and training programmes for use by forest sector stakeholders in conjunction with existing marteloscopes. It is envisaged that further marteloscope plots will be developed in the near future in strategic locations to account for a range of forest types, development stages to meet forest sector requirements within Ireland.
Padraig: At present there are no further plans to setup more marteloscopes but I would expect that there may in order to have wider distribution of across the country, especially in the northern half and into Northern Ireland.
And now finally a bit more controversial question: The Irish plan to plant forests has faced a lot of criticism because it is seen as industrial monoculture (Sitka spruce), and it has strongly has affected the landscape. How could the marteloscope potentially work as a tool for alternative conflict resolution?
Jonathan: Ireland is one of the few countries in Europe that experienced almost complete deforestation in recent history with just over 1% forest cover remaining at the beginning of the 1900s. Since the foundation of the State in 1919, Ireland has undertaken progressive expansion of its forest resource to revert the deforestation trend of past centuries. Earlier plantings focused on spruce afforestation followed in more recent decades by an increasing diversity of species planted, which reflect the trends in land types available for forest creation. Today, our forest cover stands at 11% of land area of which approximately 30% is made up of broadleaf species and 20% of diverse conifers. This trend in diversification is envisaged to continue in the future.
A large number of private forests in Ireland are less than 30 years of age and many are approaching thinning stage. There is now greater need for owners to understand and control the thinning process in order to realise the full value of their forests as part of a sustainable management approach. This is imperative if a sustained level of timber mobilisation is to be achieved from private forests. There is also a growing demand, coming from some forest owners, for the diversification of management systems to complement the current clear fell-replant system. A balance of forest management systems is required to cater for forest types, site conditions and in particular, owners’ objectives. Recent developments in European and national forestry policy are directed at promoting integrated management as a means of enhancing forest resilience in the face of climate disruption, sustaining forest production, and delivering diverse ecosystem services. Novel systems, known as CCF, can enable, on suitable sites, commercial timber harvesting while retaining a forest cover in the long term.
In this context, marteloscopes can be very useful tools as part of new knowledge transfer programmes and will ultimately enhance owners’ and managers’ confidence in managing their forest. This will develop their necessary skills to choose the most appropriate management systems to meet objectives and to help integrate and enhance the production and biodiversity value of each forest.
Padraig: Finally, marteloscopes could also raise awareness amongst the public that Sitka spruce can serve as important component within forestry in Ireland as part of multi-structured, diverse species forests.
Jonathan Spazzi is a Forestry Development Officer working for Teagasc, the state agency providing research, advisory and education in agriculture, horticulture, food and rural development in Ireland.
Aileen O’Sullivan works as Environmental Technical Lead for Coillte Forest. Coillte (Irish pronunciation: [ˈkəilʲtʲə], meaning “forests”/”woods”) is a commercial forestry business in Ireland, owned by the Irish state.
Padraig O Tuama is a private forestry consultant specialising in clients interested in Continuous Cover Forestry (CCF). Before 2017, he worked as task leader for researching and promoting Continuous Cover Forestry (CCF) in Coillte Teo.
Featured image: Forest owners discussion after training in Curraghchase plot (photo: Jonathan Spazzi)