Into the woods
Pat Lynch is based in Reynella Wood, Co Westmeath, and is the winner of the RDS Farm Forestry Award, 2003
When I was 21, my parents gave me £435. My mother wanted me to buy clothes, but my father (Aodogán O’Rahilly) offered to sell me half of a forestry plantation he had bought in Leitrim. Every time I had a little bit of money I put it into forestry.
I now have two hundred hectares built up over five decades. You might earn a higher return by investing in stocks and shares but at least you have the security of knowing your money is safely locked away in trees and every time it rains those trees are going to grow.
You are not at the mercy of a fund manager acting without your input and for whom you are only a tiny part of his portfolio.
With a small enough holding you can manage it yourself without any additional expense. It can be a pleasant way of spending a Sunday afternoon, pruning your trees, digging the grass from around the trees, tending to your investment. At the end of 14-16 years you’ll have something ready for its first thinning. It is a commodity, so prices will vary, just like gold or tin or silver, but with forestry you can delay or advance the thinning by 10 years to take advantage of market conditions.
That said, you won’t put bread on the table for 35 years with the profits from the first thinnings, but at least you’ll have something tangible.
I could be playing bridge or golf, but I love forestry.When you look after something like that yourself, it’s like a child: no matter how ugly the child is, you grow to love it over time.
(The ash die-back and other such diseases are a real concern. The fear is that they might jump species to conifers. The plant nurseries in Holland are a particular concern as, with so many different plants in close proximity, diseases can easily interbreed and spread. )
It’s been a dream of mine for 40 years that at some stage I would have a renewable source of energy, and it’s happened. I planted them 20 years ago. There’s sufficient wood for the winter for here in Dalkey and my cottage in Aughavannagh, although, I can’t use the chainsaw now as easy as I used to. Apart from cutting the trees and logging them and looking after the forest, just the sheer experience of being in the trees is wonderful.
There is that magical moment when you turn off the chainsaw and are surrounded by the silence of the wood. It certainly pays back more than you put into it.
It’s almost a soulful, spiritual thing, that side of the forest. There’s a pleasure, a satisfaction when you light the woodstove here in Dalkey and it is fuelled by wood you’ve grown and cut down yourself.
Anybody with a bit of land should plant trees on it, and now with the cost of other forms of fuel it is really becoming a valuable crop. I certainly won’t see the end of my forest. It will be there after me and I tried to design it to be as attractive as possible. I want to leave something looking well and well cared for. A forest is a long-term thing.
I studied radio and television production in college and worked in construction in Dublin, earning good money, before coming back to Longford to build a house near the forest my parents planted in 2,000 around the Shawbrook Dance School.
When the trees were ready for thinning, I realised that the ash and larch were worth far more as firewood than as pulp for a mill, and so I set up Shawbrook Wood, supplying sustainable, seasoned firewood from our own trees. It is labour-intensive, but I only do it for half the year. A day in the forest is a special experience. It’s exciting to see the results from season to season, to feel part of nature’s cycle.
It’s a great way to earn, selling a natural, sustainable, carbon-neutral product that lessens Ireland’s dependence on oil. Each load of wood I sell helps Ireland deal with its Co2 issues, leaves behind a healthier forest and keeps money in the economy.
People should ask if their firewood is local, and if it comes from clear-felling or managed forest, where removing individual trees actually helps the surrounding forest. Heating your house with timber is now extremely efficient thanks to improved stove design, and it provides safe, healthy work for local people, while also beautifying the countryside and benefiting wildlife.
In the summers I travel to forests in Europe, and we run festivals in our own forest. I’ve built a dance stage here and a sound booth. Last year Liam Ó Maonlaí played; the year before it was Gemma Hayes.
I also hold nature trails.
On any day you might stumble upon a ballet dancer doing warm-ups in the wood or a forestry researcher measuring bark growth.
My one love was livestock, but I couldn’t cope with the hassle of TB tests, brucellosis, John’s disease, etc. Every week there was a new disease that was contagious or deadly dangerous. That was the principle reason I planted forest.