The transformation of Hollywood forest continues. It is so hard to believe it is now 15 years since we began, with the advice of expert Pro-Silva foresters, our first thinning of our single species Sitka spruce plantation. We adopted what was then a new-to-Ireland continuous cover forestry management – otherwise known as CCF – to foster a permanent mixed species, birdsong-filled small forest, that also provides us with a means to heat our home and offset ongoing forestry management costs. Now talk of CCF, rewilding, and regenerative agriculture are enthusiastically discussed and debated about across the country and I’m delighted that Close-to-Nature CCF practices, advocated by Pro Silva Ireland since 2000, are a key part of Ireland’s new forest strategy.

From scientists, we know moving to more permanent mixed-species ecological forestry is a necessity. There is greater awareness of forests’ key role in preventing climate breakdown, wildlife collapse, soil and river health and their role in our wellbeing. But the shift for the forest industry, that has got used to quick economic returns and production methods by harvesting singular tree species quickly in rows, is huge. And while we may wish it otherwise, one cannot transform forest and forestry practices quickly – trees grow slowly, and we cannot abandon the significant investments already made. This is why I see CCF forestry as a slow art – and it also takes time to learn and consider all the environmental, social as well as economic considerations to practice forestry well for ourselves, for forest communities and for future generations too.

Thus this cultural shift in the forestry sector is immense (and is similar to the ecoliteracy needed across the creative sector which I so enjoy teaching about at Haumea Because while we can intellectually understand the necessity to change our forestry practices, adopting ecological forestry management methods requires a radical reorientation in forester’s education and confidence that new practices will deliver the social, environmental and economic aspects on different sites. This will also require new training to select and harvest timber sensitively, as well as new types of mills and markets to deal with diverse timbers.

So, with our small efforts here in Hollywood, it was a real delight to have a visit from our first forester Chris Hayes. While we live in adjoining counties, and I would hear of Chris’ activities from friends, it was many years since he had visited. Chris is one the most artistic foresters I have come across and has now moved into environmental documentary filmmaking at and was coming with a friend to shoot some drone footage for upcoming films for Pro Silva Ireland on continuous cover forestry (which will undoubtedly also advance the national conversations about CCF). We didn’t have long to chat but I was thrilled that Chris later sent this testimonial about his perceptions of Hollywood as it is now – even if it remains the smallest Close-to-Nature CCF forest in Ireland:

Hey Cathy,

It was so nice to see you yesterday. When we drove up your lane and met Martin and walked into the woods and I remembered my first visit to your place. I could place where I cut trees out, the intent you had, the clear language you used around what you were doing, the real deep cultural value that was wrapped around how you felt and saw your place, the short film clips you had of movement in the trees…….the spruce monoculture feel has evaporated, the regen of native trees is bustling, there is some lovely sawlog, there is height and structure that is awing, deadwood that is teeming with live things…..

there was your lovely embrace and it all stayed with me and it reminded me of my first days in forestry and why I loved it and all about the Hollywood story and what has flown from it in so many directions, I got a bit lost in some of my forest work and wish i had of stayed more connected with some of what i felt again yesterday, but those rings are filled in now and i am grateful for being back in the forest world still and to feel and hear all that again.

You are such a kind, giving, unyielding, fierce source of primal lore. So thanks again and I want to call in for a coffee in the woods and to talk more, already I have much to pick your bran on but first just this and then we can continue.

Chris Hayes, Winter 2022.

Here is Chris from the first year when we began marking and thinning trees to begin the transformation of a monoculture plantation into a small thriving forest.

PS I’m also delighted to share that a short film about the Hollywood Forest Story – and its first 10 years – a film I made for EarthWritings at Maynooth University in 2019 will be displayed in a wonderful celebration. For the first time in over 20 years, Pro Silva Ireland will be hosting the Pro Silva International at a meeting 14 -16 June 2023. This meeting is just for International Pro Silva delegates, many are leading ecological foresters from across Europe. I will be thrilled to be helping with the Pro Silva Ireland committee to welcome the many European foresters who so generously visited and helped plant and tend Close-to-Nature continuous cover forestry so well in Ireland.

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