The book can be ordered in English language via the Website of Phil Morgan
The first International Days of the Association Futaie Irrégulière (AFI) have just been held in Burgundy (France). More than sixty participants representing twelve different nationalities have been debating the benefits of close to nature sylviculture.
Roland Susse, chairman of the AFI, and Phil Morgan, chairman of ProSilva, have good reason to be satisfied with the results of this meeting. They were responsible for organising the first AFI International Days conference and field day to promote the sylviculture of irregular high forest. This brought together more than 60 foresters from a dozen different countries at Macon in the heart of Burgundy in November this year. According to Phil Morgan, « this event has assembled silviculturalists from many parts of Europe, from the East coast and the West coast of North America, from Africa and from Brazil ».
The advocates of irregular high forest silviculture believe in the benefits of harnessing the dynamics of natural systems. Although the fact that irregular systems deliver multiple benefits is now widely accepted, one of the aims of the AFI, and of its partner organisation ProSilva, is to provide scientific evidence of the advantages of irregular forest structures working in harmony with complex natural systems. « This type of management aims to guarantee commercial returns, to favour biodiversity as well as to respect the social functions of the forest», says Roland Susse.
 Phil Morgan is also Vice-chairman of the AFI
The AFI Chairman explains that two main principles guide this type of sylviculture known as « jardinage ». It consists, on the one hand, of the long term management of the whole forest ecosystem and, on the other hand, on attention being given to individual trees. The first principle, applied at the smallest possible scale, assumes that the state of the ecosystem is constantly improved by relying on natural processes. This silviculture relies on the careful use of exotic species, avoidance of clear felling, low impact harvesting operations, patchy regeneration under the canopy of high value trees, retention of deadwood and cavity trees…
Selective marking is the principal tool that enhances the growing stock and « protects biodiversity». Roland Susse adds that the method aims at diversifying production, at favouring mixtures and at encouraging natural regeneration. He also describes the requirement of a vertical structure to favour an effective light regime without large canopy gaps for better crown and root development…
In order to gain credibility these laudable principles require scientific endorsement. This is why the AFI has set out to study and to quantify these techniques since its foundation in 1991. Over the last 20 years the Association Futaie Irrégulière has created a network of over 100 research stands where regular monitoring and data collection is undertaken. « These have demonstrated that close to nature silviculture is viable on almost all site types», says Roland Susse.
The AFI is now opening up to new contacts across the world. « I am intrigued by your methods and am very pleased to discover them», says Theresa Jain a researcher from the Rocky Mountain Research Station based in Idaho (USA). Her Irish colleague, Padraig O’Tuama from the state forest company Coillte, points out that his country is now in need of alternative irregular silvicultural systems after a phase of woodland re-establishment with plantations. «Which is why, since 2007, we have set-up a network of 7 AFI Research stands to promote irregular silviculture in Ireland. »
Other countries are convinced of the benefits of continuous cover forestry. «The region of Wallonia in Belgium will be making an official announcement endorsing the choice of AFI/ProSilva silvicultural systems», points out Patrick Auquière, from the nature and forest division of the Walloon central office.
Other participants made presentations on the economic aspects of irregular sylviculture. Andy Poore, consultant from SelectFor Ltd, experts in continuous cover forestry, is seeking to promote irregular sylviculture in England. «Our challenge is to show that this type of sylviculture provides multiple benefits, in particular ecological ones, while at the same time providing a sustainable economic value to our forests. »
This financial aspect also interested the American Theodore Howard. This professor of forest economics at the University of New Hampshire believes that irregular sylviculture is suited to the broadleaved forests on the East coast of the USA. «We need to find viable economic returns for forest owners within a mix of economic, ecological and social benefits. »
The Frenchman Max Bruciamacchie, research professor at the AgroParisTech-Engref, showed the economic results of 20 years of AFI studies; enquiries drawn from 45 research stands provided by 4 repeated sets of measurements. The important point of view from forest economics is that irregular sylviculture concentrates production principally and progressively on the largest quality trees.
According to this researcher, financial returns average 214 euro/hectare/year. If costs are included, (costs are usually less than 50 euro/hectare/year), most research stands produce a net return in excess of 200 euro/hectare/year. «These results demonstrate the economic value of irregular high forest management», affirms the French researcher.
Bernard Rérat - Agence de Presse Forêt-Bois/Wood & Forest Press Agency