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Prepare for Harvesting Operations

There are a number of important steps to follow as you prepare for the start of your timber harvesting operations. These steps can involve securing your felling licence, planning and constructing a forest entrance, road and timber loading area (where applicable), measuring what you are selling, advertising and agreeing on your timber sale, drawing up a harvest plan and a contract.

As these steps can involve several interactions with DAFM (Forestry Division) and other planning and regulatory bodies, they can take some time to complete and should be started two years before you intend selling your timber.

Secure your felling licence

Under the Forestry Act 2014, you are required to notify the DAFM of your intention to fell trees in your forest. This is done through the felling licence application process. Currently a felling licence is valid for a period of up to 10 years and can cover a number of thinning operations. If you are planning to clearfell your forest, you must specifically apply for a clearfell licence which must also incorporate a replanting plan.

For most sites, a high-level harvesting and environmental plan and associated mapping will be required at the felling licence application stage. Sites in more environmentally sensitive areas will require additional environmental assessments and operational planning to mitigate any negative environmental impact.

It is advisable to use the services of a Registered Forester to help you prepare and submit your application. You may also require the services of an ecologist and / or an archaeologist to assist in the preparation of any additional environmental information required. As part of your felling licence application process there will be a public consultation period to allow individuals and non-statutory bodies to submit possible concerns on your planned felling operations.

For further details, see: Felling of trees - legal requirements

Plan and construct a forest entrance, road and timber loading area

To facilitate the haulage of harvested timber from your forest you must ensure there is suitable access for timber trucks. A good road infrastructure is critical to the success of any forest harvesting operation.

The minimum requirement will be a safe entrance where trucks can enter from the public road, drive to a safe timber loading area and turn to exit safely. Larger forests will require additional internal roading to reduce the distances that harvesting machinery must move timber to roadside. A well-planned forest road system, incorporating areas for parking, stacking, loading and turning will assist harvesting and make your timber sales more attractive to potential buyers.

While road construction is often the single biggest investment involved in harvesting and selling your timber, it is supported by a specific DAFM Forest Roads Scheme grant. You will need the services of a Registered Forester to help you to apply for the roading grant. Your Forester will also assist in managing their construction in accordance with environmental and engineering guidelines. As with your felling licence application, you may also require the services of an ecologist, an archaeologist and a civil engineer. In certain circumstances, planning permission is required for forest entrances.

For further details, see:

Measure what you are selling

A detailed pre-sale inventory should be carried out to give you an up-to-date estimate of timber volumes to be harvested.

While prospective timber buyers will view your crop and make their own assessments, it is important that you have your own assessment in order to understand and describe what you are selling. Good pre-sale inventory measurements become increasingly important as your forest increases in value and develops towards the stage of final harvesting.

Advertise and agree on your timber sale

As with any sale, contact as many prospective buyers as possible. This is particularly important if you are clearfelling valuable sawlog assortments which are always in strong demand. Working with a forester with experience in selling timber will help you to secure the best price.

Having an up-to-date map of your forest, along with any inventory measurements, access details and felling licence will help prospective buyers assess your timber and determine its value with more accuracy.

It is important to understand that not all offers are the same and you need to compare like-with-like before agreeing on a buyer, their sale price and any conditions attaching to their offer. For example, in standing sales, some buyers might offer a price for different assortments while others might offer an average price across all assortments. It is also important to request references from any potential buyers. It is advisable to talk to other forest owners who have been through the harvesting process. Your local forest owner group can facilitate this.

Harvest plan

Before harvesting begins, additional information should be added to your harvest plan. This should include specific information on how your timber buyer and / or harvesting contractor plans to carry out harvesting operations while protecting the environment, the health and safety of operators and the general public.

This final harvest plan, accompanied by a detailed map showing specific site features and highlighting elements of the plan, should include items such as:

  • health and safety planning to keep the harvesting site and its approaches safe for operators, yourself, and the general public (risk assessment)
  • environmental planning with measures to protect soils, watercourses, wildlife habitats and any archaeological features
  • details on what harvesting machinery will be used (it is important that the correct machinery is used to protect your forest's soils and, in the case of thinning, protect your remaining trees)
  • details on how your forest will be thinned if you are planning a thinning operation
  • details on what timber assortments are to be harvested 
  • details on how timber will be extracted from your forest (forwarding routes) and where it is to be stacked ready for haulage

This plan will form an important part of your Timber Sale Contract which is explained in Step 5: Agree a Timber Sales Contract.