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An Award Winning Approach to Farm Forestry in Donegal

Tom Houlihan, Teagasc Forestry Specialist met with Ross Buchanan, winner of the 2020 RDS/Teagasc Farm Forestry Award to get an insight into his background and his forestry enterprise.

Ross explains: "I grew up with trees on the farm and incorporating a farm forest is helping to realise my vision for this magical landscape". Ross’s innovative approach also offers potential for on-farm business development. Such integration can provide a good template for many landowners.

Ross manages 48 hectares of diverse forest, planted in 2006 on an outlying farm in Glentogher, in the heart of the Inishowen Peninsula. Being from traditional Donegal sheep farming stock, Ross continues to farm on the main holding, over 30 kilometres away.

Prior to establishing his forest, Ross carefully considered his farm resources before deciding on an optimum mix of enterprises for the overall family farm.

He set clear objectives and designed a farm forest in Glentogher to cater for both economic and environmental goals. It contains 11 species, including 14 hectares of broadleaves and 10 hectares of diverse conifers. About 40% of the forest contains spruce.

This important component is appropriately managed to deliver medium term economic returns, and will provide the resources to support future plans. Within the spruce area, species such as Scots pine and birch were established on small hills for biodiversity and landscape enhancement.

Recreational Opportunities

Ross’s forest in Glentogher has beautiful natural landscape features including an ancient oak woodland with a stunning 10-metre waterfall cascading through. The oakwood is traversed by an ancient road, once an important link between the monastic sites of Donagh and Derry. Such idyllic feature have inspired further exciting plans to develop the strong recreational potential that exists. Open areas have been retained, offering great views over Inishowen and out to the North Atlantic. Ross has designed a series of walkways as part of forest road-building activity. Future plans include the addition of log cabins and interpretive trails that will illuminate the fascinating history of the property.

A Good Fit

Ross has a productive, thriving farm forest and a good story to tell. Innovative approaches by RDS/Teagasc Award recipients over recent years reflect the wider opportunities that exist on many farms to integrate forestry into the enterprise mix. Whether small or larger, the essence of a well-planned farm forest is that it can fit in with and complement existing enterprises. 

Informed Decisions

September is an ideal time to consider enterprise options on the farm and where appropriate, to submit a planting application. The decision to plant is a long-term land use change. A whole-farm planning approach will incorporate a range of important topics including the following.

  • What are your objectives and future expectations from your forest? Are you considering a commercial timber crop, native woodland or other categories such as agroforestry? As with Ross Buchanan, a multipurpose forest can also suit many objectives.
  • Grant aid eligibility and species suitability; factors including the location and nature of your land and the potential influence of environmental designations. Other factors include electricity lines and nearby houses. The presence of deer, where applicable, must also be taken into account.
  • Available financial support measures and timelines involved.
  • The potential of your farm forest to fit in with other farming enterprises and agricultural schemes as well as to provide financial, environmental and social benefits.
  • Indicative future returns as well as non-timber benefits and opportunities.

The relative merits of all forestry options should be explored with family members. Discussions should include issues such as family objectives and succession planning. It is also very worthwhile to discuss potential options with your Teagasc forestry adviser and established forest owners in your locality who can provide invaluable insights based on knowledge and experience.

Building Resilience

The achievement of sustainably integrating trees on the farm can help farming families and the communities in which they live to build resilience by optimising the many potential economic, environmental, practical and social benefits.  According to Ross Buchanan: “A managed forest is a valuable asset to a family and future generations.” For further information on all aspect of the planting decision, log onto www.teagasc.ie/forestry or contact your local Teagasc forestry advisor.