Forestry Study Tour

Last week was the study tour for some 40 Bangor MSc Forestry students who traveled by coach to the Lake District, the Scottish borders and North Yorkshire to see a range of sites demonstrating Continuous Cover Forestry (CCF), rewilding and flood mitigation. The theme for the week (and subsequent essays we will have to write): the Resilient Landscape. Here is a brief review of the week with some photos and descriptions of the sites. Apologies for any mistakes or ommissions, this is largely a quick write-up of notes taken during the visits.

Day 1 Wythop Forest Continuous Cover Forestry, Lake District.

Gareth Browning of FC England was our host for the day, and explained the management of 156 ha of mixed forests under CCF.
CCF has been practiced in much of the forest here since 1980, with douglas fir as the main species, and there are some impressive specimens (for the UK!!) of up to 52m tall. These areas are now under transition to broadleaf as they fall under the Plantation on Ancient Woodland Site designation (PAWS).


The markets for the Douglas fir are mainly in Germany where it is used in port infrastructure; some also goes for ships masts. The Workington paper mill 

has provided a new market for wood chip, used to power the mill, making thinnings and better forest management more viable. Douglas fir is worth 2-3 times that of Sitka spruce as timber.

There are 16 separate forests in the area, ranging in size from 9ha to 1000ha. The lack of connectivity is a mixed blessing: for example, about 120 roe deer are culled every year, and the separation between the forest areas makes this much easier since roe tend to cover a large area; red deer would be more problematic since they would rarely break cover.
A significant constraint is the proximity of the A66: safety regulations require a minimum of two tree lengths in distance between any public road and tree felling; since CCF requires large seed trees to be grown, this distance becomes quite large. When felling within this limit takes place the road needs to be closed for some weeks- an expensive proposition.
CCF is fairly new here, just 30 years, compared to 300 years in Switzerland for example. In the last 10-20 years, the forests have begun to regenerate themselves.
Douglas fir needs a certain degree of warmth and sun for the seeds to germinate- it will not regenerate on north-facing slopes and requires underplanting here. Other species being introduced now include western red cedar, silver fir and Montgomery pine.
Large Douglas fir  frame tree surrounded by thicket of regeneration which will subsequently be thinned
One advantage of CCF is that it produces more wind-firm trees (although on other sites we learned that CCF for spruce is not practical for windy sites- any thinning leads to more windthrow, for spruce at least). Larger trees can develop good buttresses for stability. A more diverse structure is the aim. About 50 frame trees are retained per hectare, which works for shade tolerant species such as Douglas; more than that and it becomes hard to maintain a diverse structure with gaps that can regenerate.
Some plantation forest has now been designated ancient woodland, influencing future management plans and species choice. Increased species diversity is favoured for resilience to future pests and diseases and climate change. One species mix is beech, planted under conifers. As with other sites we visited, most larch here has succumbed to Phytophthora ramorum and has been felled.
Gareth argued that forests will be increasingly valued for other reasons, recreational and flood mitigation perhaps, and should be at least as deserving as subsidies as farming.
We drove round to nearby Dodd wood where the recreational value was obvious. Osprey viewing stations bring in £1-2million to the area annually. The birds need a diverse structure, with the precise species being unimportant. Some of the frame trees will be left to continue to grow with no plans of harvesting- visitors to the park appreciate this since “Big trees make us feel very small.” They have a Wow factor.
There was some discussion of the difficulties of extraction for very big trees close to the road or on steep slopes. In some cases helicopters might be considered. But the extraction process, although disruptive to the soil, creates a seed bed leading to more regeneration. Even opportunities for windthrow can help this and the end result is a “self-healing” forest. Ultimately however, small areas of CCF are not enough.
Stunning view from the hostel in the morning
Day 2- visit to the Eddlestone water project with Hugh Chalmers of the Tweed Forum. This is for flood mitigation involving engineering meanders into the river, planting trees, bank stabilization, log flow restrictors. To access the land used in this project, some £2.3million has been paid to farmers in the area either in compensation of land purchase. Hugh pointed out that it is not just the trees, which can help reduce flooding through increased water infiltration, but also the vegetation growing beneath them. Fish benefit from up to 50% shading of the water by trees. The project also benefits from carbon credits for carbon sequestration, though some of the land is peat bog and might be better left unplanted. Hugh made the wry comment “there is nothing logical in land management- people love peat for growing trees in [as a potting medium]!” The possible role of beavers was mentioned (not in this area at present) but that their beneficial effects could be replicated partly by growing willow on the riparian zone and regularly coppicing it- beavers apparently only use fairly small material (like willow coppice) for their dams, while constructing log flow restrictions would use bigger material which could cause a problem if large logs moved downstream rapidly in a flood. Impressive to see something of how this kind of project can happen in practice. As we have also seen on the course in North Wales, the key issue is successfully working with many stakeholders, especially the farmers with land along the river. As High said, it is good to get farmers working together and thinking in terms of the whole catchment.

Glen Tress Trial Area

This Forestry Commission forest is half way through a 120-year transition process from single-aged stand Sitka spruce to CCF with diverse age structure and mixed species.

From the FC website:

When the Trial Area was established in 1952 most of the plantations were 20-30 years old.  The 117 ha area was divided into six Blocks and the plan was to transform the area over a 60 year period by felling and regenerating groups totalling two hectares in each Block every six years.
Various different mixes are being trialed in different plots, with the prevailing philosophy of “anything but Sitka”. The problem is, as we were to find in other sites also, is that Sitka regenerates so vigorously that it is a major headache trying to establish anything else. On poor land, it even regenerating under itself is problematic as it tends to come up so thickly it gets checked and fails to thin itself, simply not growing. In some cases the most efficient thing is to simply mulch the entire seedling crop and plant into the bed of mulch.
Glentress is also the preeminent site in Scotland for mountain biking. Some of our group opted for a mountain bike session rather than the forest tour, but I decided to see the forest this time. There was considerable discussion about the challenge of combining hosting  quarter-of-a-million mountain bike visitors with the practice of felling large trees. A minority of bikers seems unwilling to always heed the No Entry signs when felling is taking place, and there have on occasion even been conflicts.  Ospreys and other protected species are also a challenge for the timber industry, but recreation here is an increasingly significant income generator.
As a forest, Glentress seems to play the role of laboratory, trying different species mixes for CCF, but the constant incursion of Sitka makes it difficult to really achieve what they want to do. In the meantime, it is a great example of how forests are being  asked increasingly to fulfill diverse functions for society well beyond simple timber production.

Day 3 Carrifran Wildwood

The Wildwood project was started in 1993, a grass-roots community project to restore “native” woodlands  in the Southern uplands, as a demonstration of the kind of vegetation that was once found over most of southern Scotland. The 650ha site at Carrifran was purchased on Milenium Day, 01-01-2000. Regeneration would have been far too slow because of lack of seed source – in fact, as with Glentress, the main regeneration would be Sitka from neighbouring plantations, which requires constant weeding-out anyway! Over a half million trees have been planted since then, 75,000 by volunteers, and all the trees were grown by seed collected by volunteers and contracted to nurseries to grow on.
The choice of species was made after a site classification based on assessing what woodland type was likely to have been there in Neolithic times, which mainly upland birch-oak mix.
Our host for the day Philip Ashmole, one of the projects’ founders and author, with his wife Myrtle, of The Carrifran Wildwood Story (2009).IMG_4117
Philip explained that there was a deliberate decision made not to incorporate more southerly species that might subsequently move northwards in a warming climate; the range of elevations available at Carrfiran allow for a certain amount of migration for differing climates here anyway. But no attempt at building in either climate or disease resilience is being made through species choice- it is all about demonstrating what the lowlands of Scotland might have been like 6000 years ago before intensive farming, forest clearing and sheep grazing. The patchy plantings is also deliberate- there would always have been herbivores such as deer which would have prevented complete canopy closure, their numbers held in check by wolves and lynx which would have kept the herbivores moving.
A major expense has been a deer fence- “the best fence in Britain” paid for with lottery funding, which is hoped to last 10-20 years with maintenance. A group of mountain goats that had been living here were captured (bar three that could not be caught and were shot) and moved to the Windsor Forest park, ironically to aid in a peat conservation project by grazing regenerating trees and shrubs! This caused some conflict in the early days as the goats removal was fiercely opposed by another local group- a good example of conflicts than can arise between differing conservation goals.
80% of funding comes from private investors, there is also income from carbon credits, and the project has over 1000 subscribers.
Juniper in the foreground.
Little formal research is being undertaken at Carrfiran, deliberately so since research markers etc would interfere with the projects aim- to give visitors an experience of wilderness. However, despite being favourable to wolves and lynx in principle Philip disliked the word “rewilding” since it “has a lot of baggage associated with it”- though we did not hear what he was referring to.

One of the few original trees, a rowan, is visible on the bank behind Philip, now protected from grazers it has several seedlings growing around it.

Perhaps the main issue regarding resilience is that the project relies heavily on a small group of dedicated volunteers, but these are predominantly males over 60. A local hillwalking group regularly walk the entire fenceline to inspect it for faults.

A beautiful place and an inspiring project, well worth a visit.

Day 3: Eskdalemuir

For a complete contrast, our next stop was plantation forestry sites at Eskdalemuir characterized by single-age stands, hard edges and clear-fells. The forestry covers some 20,000 ha of mainly Sitka spruce established in the 1970s and 80s, grown on a 40-year rotation- much of it now ready for or just after felling and re-planting. The forestry is managed by a number of different forest management companies, and we were met by two forest investment fund mangers who discussed the project with us.

This site was the subject of a recent CONFOR report comparing incomes and carbon storage from forestry with upland sheep farming on similar areas, finding that while forestry only receives about 1/6th the subsidies of agriculture, before subsidies it can generate up to 3x the income, as well as being a net carbon store as opposed to an emitter of CO2 in the case of sheep farming.

Much of the discussion was about improving public relations regarding the impact of forestry of this nature. For the second rotation, regulations now stipulate greater age-structure diversity, softer edges with native species on the boundaries, much smaller areas of clear-fell. However, Sitka seems here to stay- in terms of productivity and profitability in difficult environments, it ticks all the boxes while few other species show any real promise. They certainly would not grow so fast-although given some of the limitations of timber quality resulting from the fast growth of Sitka this might not be a bad thing. However, for now the economics of upland forestry manged purely for profit seem to dictate no real increase in species diversification is likely- although worth in excess of  £100million, as only a small fraction of the investors’ total portfolio, the risks of catastrophic disease outbreak in Sitka seem to be something that will just be absorbed should the situation arise.

We were told that there has been next to no new conifer afforestation in the past few years, and that this is due to bureaucratic filibustering. Delays spawn further delays and the necessary permissions are just never signed off on. Broadleaf is ok, but while fracking licences for example are guaranteed to be granted within 16 weeks, applications for new conifer plantations have been sitting for several years without progress. This shows perhaps just how far public opinion has swung against conifer plantations, despite their profitability in recent years, which will have serious consequences for British forestry in the future which will meet a supply crunch by 2030 unless new afforestation occurs. In the meantime, with returns on investment forestry still very strong, our fund managers were looking to Ireland for new opportunities (though conifers are certainly not popular there either!).

Day 4 Galloway Forest Park


IMG_4152 Above- larch stand due for sanitation fellingIMG_4155

Examining the Forest Management Plans in the Clatterinshaws visitors’ centre.

Dumfries and Galloway is the biggest FC district in Scotland  covering 115000 ha with 20% of production at 700,000 cu m. The district generates £80m from timber and recieves £20m from the Scottish government for visitors centres and other recreational facilities.

The species make up consists of:

78% spruce

10% pine

8% broadleaf- this is expected to increase to help meet the national target of  20%

4% larch- all of which is scheduled for sanitation felling on account of Phytopthera ramorum which has been present since 2010. Some of the larch shows signs of healthy branches, and cuttings are being taken for grafting onto rootstocks in the hope of finding resistance- but “noone really expects to find any.”

Great spruce bark beetle has been present since the 1980s but so far can be controlled with one of the few successful biocontrol methods.

Afforestation at Clatteringshaws was begun in the 1940s, with most of these now felled and active felling underway for most of the 1970s plantations also. The area is now being managed to meet a range of production, environmental and landscape demands. New plantings include intimate species mixes to maximise soil benefits, such as shelterwood systems of beech, Silver fir and sycamore. A dozen conifer species and a dozen broadleaf species are in the plans. Rotation lengths for conifers are being extended. 60% of the plantation area is bog and in some cases on deep peat de-forestation is occurring, with the peatlands being restored after felling.

Public opinion was discussed: do the public understand forestry> A resounding “No!” was the answer given. Every two years, the FC commission a public opinion survey which makes for depressing reading (according to one of our lecturers) – forests are generally held in very negative regard, often associated with crime and vandalism. There is serious arson problems in forests closer to the big cities. On the other hand, around Clatteringshaws, while larch is generally preferred aesthetically for its more diverse herbaceous layers and understory, after an initial outcry when sanitation felling takes place (were it not for Phytopthera, most of the larch would be held onto for as long as possible), often the felling of the older blocks has opened up the views and improved opportunities for mountain biking and other activities, and generally been quite well received.

For further information on Scottish FC managment and planning see here.

Day 5 Slowing the Flow, Pickering

Last stop- another flood mitigation project, this time on a much larger landscape scale. The project was initiated after Pickering suffered severe flooding in 2007. The aim is to prevent chronic flooding up to a 1 in 25-year event. Slowing the Flow is a partnership project lead by Forest Research and with DEFRA as the main funder. The project is believed to have saved the town from the worst of the flooding in 2010.

Over a catchment of 66 square kms, there are 50 ha of woodland planted, 140 mini dams and a large bund protecting the railway. There are also mini-bunds and stockades made from spruce, and 170 large woody debris dams.

Although the media has focussed mainly on the soft landscaping measures of tree-planting etc, the engineered bund (see photos) is by far the most significant contribution. The key in flood mitigation is to reduce the peak- “slowing the flow”.

In terms of forestry, planning for species diversification is designed to meet climate scenarios for 2080, when 30% of the public estate is expected to become unsuitable for current species due to higher temperatures. 20% diversification is planned, including shag-bark hickory as a possible alternative to ash, grand fir, Macedonian pine and oriental spruce.

Beavers were discussed as being considered for introduction, with the proviso that they will simply be shot if they get out of hand: they will almost certainly undermine the railway through burrowing. There is roe deer and some red and muntjac, and our FC host, who advocated much more extensive re-planting of the moors which have suffered “centuries of abuse from grazing” commented “lynx would help.”


A great trip all considered, very informative and lots to think about. Now all there is to do is write the assignment… Many thanks to our lecturers Mark, James and Tim for organising everything and all the hosts who patiently answered all our questions.

I leave you with some atmospheric photos from where we stayed Thursday night, the beach at the funky and wonderful Boggle Hole hostel just below Whitby, the heart of Dracula country…






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