by Joe Barry
Jack Tenison who grows trees, both in Wales and at Lough Bawn in Co. Monahan is one of our real foresters and it is his open minded attitude to forestry and general plantation management that makes discussions with him so informative and thought provoking.
At the recent Irish Timber Growers Association outing to Lough Bawn, Jack posed the question "Biodiversity; is it a public benefit or just a burden on the private landowner?"
Jack went on to ask if biodiversity is simply yet another burden thrown at the predominantly profitable species in Irish forestry, Sitka Spruce ? Or is it part of the economic, social and environmental basis of sustainability ? He asks is it right to set aside 20% or more of the forest area for public benefit but at private cost ? Or is biodiversity an integral part of profitable forestry management and the heart of growing good trees ?
The answer at Lough Bawn is to keep costs low by working with nature rather than against it, but of course, this may not suit all plantations.
Lough Bawn is a fine and scenic estate, continuously planted since 1820 and well known for the quality of its soft and hardwood timber and the beauty of its lakeside setting. It is the current winner of the RDS forestry award for biodiversity so Jack must certainly be getting things right in that area of management.
Jack is clearly a committed environmentalist but he is also a practical forester and he continually questions the current aims of covering Ireland with hardwoods if they are not going to pay. He has achieved a real return of 8 % per annum from Sitka without including in his calculations any premium or grant benefits because, as he says, grants and premiums only distort the real picture. Now 8% is a good return on money by any standards and Jack has achieved it by practising forestry with minimal inputs of chemicals and sprays.
One of the reasons, he feels, why his low input systems work is the rich variety of habitat and species present at Lough Bawn. He recently established a conifer crop without using any of the standard chemical precautions against Pine Weevil and this astonished some of the foresters present who have all seen the appalling damage that this pest can do to young trees. One forester stated that not dipping the young trees was verging on being foolhardy and Jack agreed that it was a risk but happily he got away with it.
The richness of biodiversity could have been responsible for the natural control. (An old forestry practice was to plant fruit trees to encourage pest-eating birds among young plantations.) Perhaps as a result of working with nature he has managed to avoid the build up of weevil numbers, which can destroy crops. Land managed for biodiversity can contribute substantially to cost savings in commercially planted areas. He recently replanted a 10 acre section of Sitka at an exceptionally low cost of £250 per acre.
The need for forestry to pay its way is essential on any commercially run operation and Lough Bawn is no different in that respect. Jack stated in his opening address that while only 30% of the planted area is under Sitka Spruce, it provides 90% of the total income.
He also stated later in the day, when we were among some magnificent broadleaved trees, that he had recently sold forty 200 year old Oak for £200 each or a return of £1 per year of growing. This tallies with the experiences of other farmers selling hardwoods at present and there is an urgent need for the whole issue of marketing broadleaves to be addressed. It cannot be right that we are importing tropical hardwoods in vast quantities for our joinery businesses yet our own excellent hardwoods are fetching derisory prices. We do not of course have the critical mass of hardwoods available yet, in order to support a serious saw milling enterprise but, in the meantime, little is being done to encourage farmers to plant broadleaves other than through Forest Service rulings on minimum areas that must be part of new plantations. It is absolutely essential that 40 year or longer premiums be introduced for broadleaves if we are to make any serious progress.