[this post is for new followers of my forest transformation work – some material I have written about previously on my older ecoartnotebook.com site]
While I have been concentrating a lot lately on doing written research for my thesis, my forest keeps on growing, and fast! People here may may complained over Ireland’s recent cold wet summer for growing vegetables but this is the climate our forests love and it easily gives Ireland the best tree growing in Europe (for Ireland’s own sustainability, biodiversity and climate change challenges its something that Ireland must recognise and invest in so much more). In fact, it was not difficult to see about 3 feet of new growth on many of the trees we live beside – pictured above is the growth in our young ash – this was the same place where a year ago I made a short video work where I was describing how the ash here were just above my knees .
The system of forest management I follow is known as ‘Close-to-Nature- Continuous Cover forestry’, and its primary method is selective harvesting (generally about 25% of trees are removed irregularly throughout an area every 3-5 years, based on examining which trees are best to leave or stay, to increase the overall ecological vitality and resilience of the forest (our clever forest-in-the making, a mixture of 25 years old conifer trees and native species on just 2.5 acres is supplying us with over 70 tonnes of firewood every three years and I’ll discuss how we are managing this more efficiently in another post). So Close-to-Nature-Continuous Cover* managed forests are a mix of species and differing-aged trees.
The organisation that has done most to promote this type of low impact silviculture here in Ireland and across Europe (and now has members in the US and Australia) for large commercial but also for smaller forests, like mine, is ProSilvaIreland.org, a branch of ProSilva Europe. ProSilva is a Latin term – ‘for the forests!’ I’m on the committee for ProSilva Ireland for their publications (we have created several general publications for farmers/interested woodland growers on transforming conifer plantations to permanent forests here) and website and I also manage the European website and members online networks too. I have been fortunate over the years to have got to know many of the leading foresters and the forests they manage here in Ireland and across Europe . However this type of forestry is a radical departure from industrial forestry common to most westernised countries, and will necessitate quite major changes in our forest education, industry and policy (as a step in this direction I was very involved in incorporating this new type of forest management into the Irish Green Party Forest Policy earlier this year here ).
In regards to my art & ecology practice I’m very fortunate to have this ongoing dialogue with skilled and visionary foresters. I also attend open-forest training days to better ‘see’ the ongoing changes I need to be aware of in managing my forest. In fact, my art training has been at times more of a hindrance at times in looking at forests; one really needs to spend time with forest workers to really ‘see’ a forest in all its complexity. Oddly enough, most of the time foresters look at the ground and the canopy though, rather than the trees; its on the ground that one needs to look to gauge the ground conditions, potentials, problems for species on a site and the canopy will tell a lot about whether there is enough light getting into the forest to encourage the growth of younger trees. One forester told me, that forestry really is all about ‘sculpting with light!’.
This image below graphically shows what a Close-to-Nature- Continuous Cover managed forest looks like – its an image produced by ProSilva Netherlands who incidentally lead on developing new biodiverse close-to-nature-continuous cover forests on reclaimed land. Several of their leading foresters were in Ireland recently giving people here valuable advice.
For newcomers to sustainable forestry – the chief difference in this type of forestry is that it moves away from the industrial, agricultural mindset – that a monoculture -monocrop grown and clear-felled on rotation is a ‘forest’. As we beginning to understand (and should know from Ireland’s past with reliance on a single crop like the potato), monoculture crops are incredibly risky from a disease perspective. Such threats are increased by globalization, as we are beginning to learn with the new Ash dieback disease that has been exacerbated with the the mass importation and planting of single species (I will discuss this disease in a later post). Current agricultural forest management styles are also oil (and pesticide, also derived from oil) intensive. All things we must move away from in a world challenged by peak oil, accelerating climate change and catastrophic levels of species loss and ongoing land degradation (successive planting of monoculture trees will eventually lead to degraded and ever less productive land).
Close-to-Nature-Continuous Cover forest management strongly moves us to think in the long-term, for a range of values beyond that of our single ecocidal focus on economics. This type of forest management is not rocket science, more like much needed commonsense that foregrounds a deep sustainability. What I find interesting from my reading too is that some eco-philosphers, land historians and anthropologists are beginning to highlight the rich knowledge we have almost entirely eradicated with the violence towards many indigenous peoples. Peoples who more often than not, knew how to maintain their lifestyles over millenia by relating so much sensitively to their lands and waters. In Ireland, our forests were eradicated many centuries ago, so old knowledge of relating to them has long since gone (and it is debated how much of a forest culture there was here too with Ireland’s early uptake of field systems).
My interest in forests in Ireland only goes back 17 years when I first started to work for crann.ie not long after my move from New Zealand to Ireland in 1995. Crann is Ireland’s tree organisation and has considerably helped to bring back knowledge and forest practice with Ireland’s own native broadleaved trees. Initially I was particularly interested and learned a great deal from people involved with the Crann ‘Local Project’ (a pioneering broadleaved forest establishment project that occurred in Co. Leitrim almost 20 years ago). You can see where some of my ideas have grown from in this old and slightly blurry video. Its one of the first forest videos I ever made, see below.
* The full term ‘Close to Nature- Continuous Cover’ forestry is used as there are versions of ‘continuous-cover’ forest management that do not fully replicate permanent forests.