Thinning started in our small spruce plantation on Monday!! It’s very exciting to see the huge amount of light now coming in; we have a new clearing too which we will be planted with fast growing pioneer species. For our soil conditions, we’ll be putting in alder and birch, that will prepare the ground for other species which don’t like so much light when they are getting established. We know the ash will leap in once these pioneer species pave the way. We know this as in areas where our sitka spruce didn’t grow we had stands of alder (self -seeded from the hedgerows), and in these areas we have small ‘nurseries’ of one foot high ash plants coming on (our future magnificent ash forest, with a bit of oak (we have one large oak on the property) is still underground!).
Being in a woodland and beginning to understand how to manage it, is all about observation. However, even though I have been over-trained at art college to develop a visual eye, learning how to see and read a forest is a skill that I have learnt, only by being with foresters. I’m always amazed what foresters see when they enter a wood, they are constantly checking what trees are coming up, looking at the undergrowth to assess the soil type; the other thing that foresters who are into sustainable mixed species forestry, is they are always looking upwards; checking to see if there are light gaps to allow seedlings in the forest floor to come up. This is what we are doing with our thinning – leaving trees to give shelter but creating light gaps for native species to come up, or if we are impatient -more likely, plant in ourselves. My friend Jan Alexander, President of Pro Silva Ireland, founder of Crann, is now sharing her knowledge about sustainable, close to nature forestry on her site http://www.localforestlog.wordpress.com (www.localforestlog.ie) – if you interested in knowing more about mixed species forests, Jan has years of observations & knowledge to share and you can subscribe to her blog too.
But the level of visual observation skills and understanding about forests, so lacking in Ireland and elsewhere, has often struck me over the years. In my previous work I tried to show how local people in Leitrim took to planting native woodlands in my ‘local project’ film in 2006 -those interviewed revealed how they had become skilled in observing the changes in establishing a woodland; what species grew, what were attacked by pests, how some species thrived in open areas – all very valauble and positive stories, which when brought together showed the beginnings of valuable local knowledge. But there is still a lot to learn and the biggest gap in knowledge that Jan and I observed was how people had little or no knowledge on how to manage forests sustainably into the future, both mixed species and more interestingly, how to manage spruce plantations sustainably, both in terms of ecology & economics.
As an artist, some things take a while to develop and the answer for me about managing and learning how to convert spruce plantations into sustainable forests was literally on my doorstep! I remember about 18 months ago walking Holly (our dog) though our 2 acre Sitka Spruce plantation, thinking, ‘what a dummy, you have all the ingredients for showing this on your doorstep!’ So, still with the scientist head on me, I thought that this would be a great, long-term slow-art experiment. Again, I would bring in foresters and people interested in my community to start conversations and activities (again, the strongest element for inspiring eco-change is people’s own stories, I’ve talked about this before, it has been identified elsewhere as one of the 10 rules of successful environmental communication) & the great thing for me is that my Martin was also excited to learn more about how to deal with our spruce.
So last April, Jan kindly came down to our wood, to give interested friends a tree-marking workshop; basically how to observe and choose which spruce to fell and which to keep. As our 2 acre, ~23yr old spruce had never been thinned, actually walking into the trees was difficult, so part of the workshop activities was arming everyone with saws so the lower branches (brash) were removed. It was an exciting day, I had my cameras out, did some filming etc. However, what with other commitments it is only now that I have started to organise all this information. My present day-job has given me a good understanding of the power of on-line social media, so I am opening the project up further by creating online photo albums group on Flickr, so that people can contribute to and comment on this photo diary.
If you are planting, managing, observing wildlife in woods, you are welcome to contribute, so we can all learn from each other. Its pretty easy, logon here. See the slide show here from the April Tree Marking workshop, all these great photos were taken by local photographer Gwen Wilkinson One further note – the setting up of this online group album will be great for any future films so perhaps it is a cunning way for me to collect information too, so thanks in advance 😉 ,but i’ll ask first before I use anything.
You can also see how I’ve grouped my own shots from the project here (my Flickr handle is CathyArt), please feel welcome to login, comment or ask questions and if you are in the neighbourhood, do feel free to drop in and see the work in progress, but take care where Chris and Eoghan when they are felling trees!
I’ll be updating my photo diary over this week and into the future, so do log on if you are interested and we all want to see your pictures too!