Wednesday, 28 July 2010

What's wrong with forestry today?

I took these photo's today, close to where I live and it is an absolutely typical example of the type of forestry that is practiced around here and in so many other places too. This piece of woodland was a very prominent landscape feature and now it has been felled it is even more eye catching to the many thousands who drive past it each day.

From counting the growth rings this wood represents over 70 years of growth since it's last clear felling. It appears to have been completely unmanaged and by consequence has grown into a low quality, low value crop with virtually all the timber being sent to the local pulp mill where it has a value of around 19 euros per ton. An entire human lifespan to produce an almost valueless product. But it didn't have to be that way. Just a little bit of periodic management to thin the overcrowded trees and remove those of poor form would have concentrated the growth potential in the remaining better trees, which could of then grown on to be of a high enough quality for saw milling and be worth 10 to 20 (or even more) times as much. Still taking the same 70 years to grow and mature.

Large areas of woodland should never be clear felled. A forest is a living entity that modifies the soil it grows in, moderates temperature extremes, reduces windspeeed, increases humidity, greatly reduces rainfall runoff and many many other additional beneficial factors as well. When it is felled, in a moment all this is lost. It becomes a micro climate of extremes. Today it was baking hot and it was as if the whole site had been sterilised. There was not a bird, beetle,bug or animal of any kind, absolutely devoid of all life. You could then step from this into the part of the woodland which still remains (for the time being). It was like walking through a door from one room to another - totally different in every way. There surely has to be a better way than this to manage our forests.

So what is the future for this wood? Well as long as it is not cleared for housing or agriculture it will eventually recover. Already some of the cut stumps were showing signs of life. The regrowth is surprisingly quick. The sweet chestnut can grow up to 3 metres in the first year here after being felled. Although this soon slows down, within about 20 years it will look like a wood again. Without management it will soon once again become overcrowded, dark and spindly and slowly as the years roll on, edge ever closer to its next brutal low value clear fell

Sunday, 25 July 2010

How it all began

This is an introduction to give you some idea as to how I came to be here doing what I am doing.
It was 1996, Life was stuck in a rut, repetitive job, long hours for not much reward. I was fed up of Britain, house prices were already out of reach and it seemed that we would be renting forever. We also had a baby on the way so life was about to change, so why not make it a big one and change everything.

So we went to a French property show in Harrogate, couldn't believe how cheap properties were in the Limousin. We could have a house and barns and lots of land with a monthly mortgage payment way less than what we were renting just a house for in Cumbria.
I only had enough spare cash to do one property finding visit. This was also my first time in France, and so I struck lucky and agreed to buy the second property I visited.
In August 1997 the mortgage was arranged and the place was ours(and the banks) It consisted of 2 houses in need of renovation, 2 large barns and 27 acres of land, mostly treed and badly neglected and
spread over 46 separate parcels. After half a dozen week long renovation visits during the following
winter we arrived here permanently in early June 1998 with all our possessions packed in a van, a 9 month old baby, virtually no money, no job and not a word of French- even to me this now looks a little foolhardy when I see it written down.

So what, I asked myself could I do to earn some money here. This is how I got started producing firewood both for ourselves and to sell. I had only once before picked up a chainsaw, I did a weekend chainsaw course run by the BTCV somewhere around Newcastle when I was 18. The course was great however at the end they showed an old Forestry Commission Video of chainsaw safety and accidents which scared me to death and resulted in me not picking up a chainsaw for another 15 years.

So I was now in the situation where economic necessity forced me to conquer my fear of self preservation and so I acquired an old, late 1970's Stihl 08 which is all metal and weighs a ton. Little by little trust was built between man and machine and a great partnership resulted. I now have a Husqvana 365 which is a beautiful machine, powerful, productive and solid but not too heavy.

So I began to make a start on my woods using a basic principle to remove the poorer and overcrowded trees to give space to the better ones so that they might realise their full growth potential. So this my first ever posting in my very first blog gives you a little background to what will unfold in the posts that will follow. Hopefully a few of you will find the adventure interesting and worth following. I refuse to believe that I am the only tree mad person out there!

Thanks for looking -Michael