Coed Trallwm: Llanwrtyd Wells

Coed Trallwm: Llanwrtyd Wells

Green Enterprise


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FROM FTN June 06

Coed Trallwm and Better Woodlands for Wales. Jane Karthaus enjoyed FC hospitality and a visit to a woodland enterprise.

In 1976, forester George Johnson, put his money where his mouth was and bought a woodland, with an inheritance, to produce saleable timber for profit. After searching the UK, he and his wife Christine settled on Coed Trallwm, 165 ha of mainly p68 conifers (SS, NS, DF, JL, NF, WH), in a remote Welsh valley. In accordance with practice at the time, the scrub oak had been felled, or killed and some of the plantations are on ancient woodland sites. Thirty years on, FC Wales chose the site to launch the new grant scheme called Better Woodlands for Wales.

Initially, George struggled with stray sheep and grey squirrels to maintain the largely thicket-stage crops on land ranging from 1,000' to 1,500’, on mainly good forest brown earth soils. Christmas tree sales provided some welcome income in the first few years, before commencing on a rigorous programme of thinning. Installing four km of roads, George carried out heavy first thinnings (one row in five and every other tree, and brashing, assisted by his first (of 56) employee in 1982, using a Toyota Hilux-based forwarder! With a wry smile, George explains the high turnover of employees is due to them being mostly students. The DF was of poor provenance and even after four thins (the first being to waste), he is unsure whether to restock with DF, in spite of others assuring him that it is a good DF site.

In 1990, mid-Wales suffered storm damage and George lost 10 ha which had just been thinned, replanting in the same year. That crop is now approaching first thinning.

From 1996-2006, timber prices collapsed: in 1994 Euroforest bought timber at roadside for £41.50/t; in 96/97 BSW paid £38; now he's lucky to achieve £30. He realised that the answer was to mechanise, but could not justify buying his own harvester, so, reluctantly, he sells more than half standing. Although he has sold once by electronic auction, he was not convinced that the better price was the best deal in terms of damage, so he prefers to have the same contractor (through Tilhill Harvesting), trusted to do a good job.

The fourth thinning was the first stage towards transformation to continuous cover forestry (CCF). Aware of a lack of knowledge in conversion of upland Sitka plantations, he agreed to Forest Research setting up seven, one-hectare trial plots, using four different selection methods. It is too late for some of the higher yield class areas, which will be felled. The WH will be felled to avoid seeding, part of which is a PAWS and will be restored to native woodland and part will be restocked with conifers but managed to maintain the existing biodiversity. Some enrichment planting will be required.

Meanwhile, Christine has been renovating derelict buildings to create eight holiday cottages and a reflexology treatment room, which she manages. The area has recreational potential, but is not a national park; there are currently 500 bed spaces in the immediate locality. Without doubt, the soft, charming countryside and Hansel-and-Gretel location of the cottages make the prospects good. Added to which, the area is now becoming known as a mountain biker's paradise. Access to the tracks is free, but the newly-built visitor centre sells refreshments and a strange assortment of biking sundries; and demand for the cottages should increase. Open every day since it started a year ago, business at the centre has been slow, but the Johnsons are confident. I asked George if he felt grant support was sufficient for the level of public benefits he provides. Without answering the question directly, George said he did not set out to provide public benefits, but rather he is trying to earn a living.

The trails were built using the enhanced WIG while the visitor centre was helped by a Welsh rural recovery grant available following foot and mouth. This was exactly what it was designed to do: re-invigorate the rural economy.

So why did FCW choose Trallwm for launching BWW? Peter Garson, head of grants & licences for FCW, explained that it was a model of private sector, multi-purpose forestry, assisted by public funding. So many elements of BWW are represented there.
Trallwm was used in the piloting of BWW and now, building on his involvement, George is training to be an approved management planner.

FCW is promoting BWW as more than a grant scheme. Anxious to get away from the ad hoc applications under the old WGS, the management plan is central (and obligatory) to the new scheme. In order to make best use of woodland officer time, management planners (and specialist assessors) are selected from the private sector, trained and approved - all management plans have to be submitted by them, working for the owner, but paid for by FCW (with Objective 1 funding). Each year, there will be an opportunity for new applicants (or those who previously failed) to be trained and approved, allowing a supply of new blood, although applicants must show they have some experience and competence in management planning. Conscious of legal issues surrounding selection, FCW believes it has conscientiously set up an objective and fair appraisal system.

FC England is content with a management plan for WIG and WMG in woodlands over 30 ha, so is the Welsh approach overkill for small woodlands? Not so, says Peter, who explains that a farmer wanting to fence a shelterbelt does not need to bother with the plan detail because it will be dealt with by an expert, free of charge.

New planting has been declining in Wales in recent years and this trend is expected to continue. Will this approach help or hinder?

And what is so difficult about a management plan that a specially trained expert is obligatory? What is so complex about the scheme, when one of the basic premises was to keep things simple? Peter prefers the description, “sophisticated” and suggests it is more to do with familiarity with the new electronic administration system, which is (more or less) operating.

Peter insists that the industry supports the plan-based approach and the introduction of management planners, evidenced by 94 applications of which 72 have been approved. Some foresters argue that they had to seize the only opportunity to retain their independence and ability to secure work. But with an optimistic estimate of 2-300 scheme applications in the first few years (every woodland owner who wants FCW grants has to apply from scratch), then decreasing, it is hardly a passport to booming business.

Conditions will be perceived by some owners to be onerous: with all the woodlands on a property included in the management plan, a commitment to their sustainable management in the long term; and obligatory appointment of an FC approved management planner of the owner's choice, even if he has his own manager.

George is unsure if he will be better off under BWW. It has been confirmed that upgrading his narrow tracks will be eligible for grant of 50% or 75% of standard costs. Improving riparian habitat by felling conifers and planting native broadleaves, grey squirrel control, restoration of ancient woodland sites, transformation thinning (despite some concerns about the effects on timber quality) for CCF, are all eligible operations of interest to him.

Foresters in Wales seem to be fairly optimistic that financial support will increase and that much of this will encourage sound silviculture. So as long as there is sufficient cash, they look over the border rather smugly. FCW is confident that uptake will be high - time will tell.

Post Code :LD54TS


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