A good forest economy now needed in Ireland

The first ‘forest to fuel’ meeting organised by the Transition Town group FutureProof Kilkenny and Glas last week turned out to be a good event with much local interest. Contributions were made  from Glas on German woodburners and gasifiers. I made a short presentation about how my art project is documenting our transformation of our 20+ year old conifer plantation to a permanent, mixed species productive forest following close to nature methods. I also described the  close to nature Pro Silva Europe organisation whose members are foresters and large and small forest-owners; it’s celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. I was followed by a talk on a total forest to fuel service for small forest owners with Lightfootforestry.ie presented by Alan Holman and forest partner, Chris Hayes (a Pro Silva member too).   Chris also spoke with a lot of vision on close to nature, permanent forestry and its possibilities for Ireland/world.

Then tying it altogether was a talk by Martin Rafter, describing a developing Leader Nexus project that aims to make the first district heating scheme in Callan, Co. Kilkenny, fuelled by local farmers forest wood!! FutureProof Kilkenny’s Brian Dillon rounded up the evening reminding us all that creating local resilience in regards to fuel will be critical in responding to peak oil and climate change. I’ve since suggested those interested to join the Close to Nature Forest group on the  new TransitionTownIreland networking site.

What struck me that the evenings talks describing a circle of forest growers and timber users was very like the aspirations behind ‘the local project’ community forestry in Leitrim that I documented in 2005 (I’ve also heard another large 100+ forest/woodland group is now in Donegal too). The following you may have read before, I used it years ago when putting together the 1997 Crann Newsletter ; it’s by Wendell Berry, writer, farmer/forester, campaigner, sometimes called ‘the prophet of the land’ in the US.

A good forest economy

  • A good forest economy, like any other good land-based economy, would aim to join the local human community and local natural community or ecosystem together as conservingly and as healthfully as possible
  • A good forest economy would therefore be a local economy, and the forest economy of a state or region would therefore be a decentralised economy.
  • A good forest economy would be owned locally. It would afford decent livelihood to local people. And it would be serve local needs and fill local demands first, before seeking markets elsewhere.
  • A good forest economy would be properly scaled. Keeping the scale reasonably small is good for the forest. Only a local, small scale forest economy would permit, for e.g., the timely and selective logging of small woodlots.
  • A good forest economy would be locally complex. People in the community would be employed in forest management, logging and saw milling, in a variety of value-adding small factories and shops, and in satellite or supporting industries.
  • A good forest economy would obviously need to be much interested in local education. It would of course, need to pass on to its children the large culture’s inheritance of book learning. But also, both at home and in school, it would want its children to acquire a competent knowledge of local geography, ecology, history, natural history, and of local songs and stories..
  • And so, to complete my description of a good forest economy, I must add that it would be a long-term economy. Our modern economy is still essentially a crop-year economy, as though industrialism had founded itself upon the principles of the worst sort of agriculture. ..
  • But even the slightest acquaintance with the vital statistics of trees places us in another kind of world. A forest makes things slowly; a good forest economy would therefore be a patient economy. It would also be an unselfish one, for good foresters must always look toward harvests that they will not live to reap.

A clip from my ‘local project’ film; other local project clips can be seen  here

And What is the ‘Close to Nature forestry’ that is promoted by Pro Silva Ireland & Pro Silva Europe?

pro silva (Latin: ‘for the forests’)

PRO SILVA promotes forest management strategies which optimise the maintenance, conservation and utilisation of forest ecosystems in such a way that the ecological and socio-economic functions are sustainable and profitable -i.e by following close to nature.

The general approach to management which is advocated by PRO SILVA, includes market and non-market objectives, and takes the whole forest ecosystem into consideration.

With reference to sustainability in its broadest sense PRO SILVA believes that forests provide four categories of benefit to society. These are:

1. conservation of ecosystems

2. protection of soil and climate

3. production of timber and other products

4. recreation, amenity, and cultural aspects

Pro Silva Ireland Publications, such at the 2009 ‘What makes Close to Nature Forest Management an attractive choice for Irish farmers? are supported by the Irish Forest Service Dept of Ag, Fish and Food, and can be downloaded for free at www.prosilvaireland.org

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