Article by: Jez Ralph, Forestry & Timber Specialist, The Diverse Regeneration Company
Jez Ralph, Forestry & Timber Specialist at The Diverse Regeneration Company continues a series of articles looking at the benefits and importance of woodland planting and management, as an increasingly popular form of farm diversification.
In the second part of this series we will look in more detail at woodland as part of a sustainable productive farm unit and in the next we will look at woodlands as part of a sustainable ecological farm unit. Both provide income potential as well as long-term benefits to the farm but perhaps it is easiest to start by considering trees as a crop.
Woodland types can be subdivided almost infinitely, but as a broad-brush they fall into a few categories:
Plantations such as conifer plantations but also including many oak & other native woodland and newer species such as Eucalyptus. These woodlands are usually on workable ground that can be accessed by machinery, as their primary function is to provide wood for sawing or for biomass.
Mixed Native Woodland such as the typical native farm woodland. These are often diverse in species and inhabit steep slopes of boggy valley bottoms. Many will be relics of ancient woodland and have survived because the land is too difficult to work.
Agroforestry, seems a new word but is an ancient form of tree use. Any trees outside their woodland setting in a farm can be considered agroforestry: hedges, single trees, wood pastures or newer silvo-arable systems. Agroforestry can also be the growing of agricultural shade-tolerant crops in woodland settings (forest gardens).
However not all plantations are single aged, and not all native woodland are multi-species.
When planting a new woodland, or bringing an existing woodland into management, it is vital to understand what the objectives are and where the productivity lies. For example, management will be completely different if you want to produce high-quality saw-logs or biomass for heating. The foundations need to be put in place at the very start of what may be a multi-decade transformation.
In 2018 The Diverse Regeneration Company (DR Company) built up a database of income against costs for various types of woodland that show not only how profitable a woodland can be but also how important setting out objectives are too.
So, whilst a standard commercial plantation could yield a margin of £337/ha/year this is spread over income and cost spikes on roughly 5 year cycles over 50 years or more. At the other end of the focused commercial scale Eucalyptus could yield £1,000/ha/year with a rotation length of 15 years but this is a much more intensive system likely to want to be on better land than the standard plantation.
Agroforestry is much more difficult to quantify in the simple terms. Its nominal value from the trees of £53/ha/year does the system an injustice as it doesn’t include increased growth of crops in the system, soil health, increased pollination, shelter etc. And this does not include other potentials from non-timber products such as venison, fungi or foliage which can be important diversified incomes, especially from existing woodlands.
The DR Company’s database includes 14 forestry and woodland systems that can be applied to new planting or existing woodlands. The DR Company’s experts use them as a starting point to work with owners to focus on their long-term woodland objectives. But these production figures are only part of a more complex set of questions. Ecological sustainability; providing ecosystem services; the grant regime and farm succession are all equally important factors when deciding how your new or existing woodland is to be managed, which will be the focus of my next article.
To find out how The DR Company can help land owners and forestry businesses please email: [email protected]