Woodland has multiple assets – for the planet - acting as a carbon sink and diverse habitat for a plethora of biodiversity. Landscape, amenity, sporting and commercial interests follow. In England woodlands are either owned and managed by the state (Forestry Commission) or the private sector including individual landowners, charities and business investors.
Timber crops typically take from 35 to 150 years to reach harvest. But there are many expenses and pitfalls along the way. Softwood plantations are faster growing and easier to harvest mechanically but grown as a monoculture are much poorer habitat and harmful long term to soil quality and ground water. These huge blocks tend to be state or investor owned. Most private estates and landholdings tend to have mixed woodland and parkland trees. Profitability from timber alone is challenging. Management costs tend to be higher based on economies of scale. At Escot our forester Simon Major has been encouraging natural regeneration in some areas. We have a woodland management plan for the whole estate and a recently felled plantation of mature oak has given the opportunity to experiment with CCF.
This involved waiting for a ‘mast year’ (heavy acorn production) before felling. This may only occur every 5-7 years so forward planning is essential. The trees are then felled, ideally in winter when the sap is no longer rising up the trunk, but this is not always possible due to ground conditions or other woodland activities such as shooting.
In this instance a relatively flat 5 acre site was felled leaving 16 mature oaks standing across the site together with a continuous ring of oaks around the perimeter to act as shelter from wind, sun and frost as well as a top up seed bank. The brash (remaining small branches after main trunk and firewood have been removed), instead of being heaped up and burnt was instead formed into a perimeter stockade to deter roe deer. Deer gates were built at points of access. Continuous grey squirrel control has also been implemented - grey squirrels dig up seedlings to eat the acorn. The oaks that survive are later vulnerable to bark stripping by greys leading to deformity or death of the tree after 15-20 years.
The advantages of CCF and the brash stockade are multiple:
- No burning of brash, avoiding atmospheric pollution and most of the carbon returning to the woodland soil
- No imported seedlings other than to introduce a small proportion of oaks from a wider gene pool and a few other species
- Up to ten times the current normal stocking rate to give up to ten times the choice for ‘winning’ trees to be selected
- A full tap root – nursery grown stock often lacks the tap root due to undercutting or manual handling
- No plastic tree guards – considerable environmental and fiscal saving
- Very little or no herbicide application
There are a handful of examples of Oak CCF in the UK but Escot is the first in the South West as far as we know. Its success depends upon long term vision and commitment.