Trees: From Seed to Sawdust - Episode 13 - Tree Research in Teagasc

In this programme, recorded at Oak Park research centre in Carlow, Frances McHugh, Forestry Advisor and Ian Short, Dheeraj Rathore and Oliver Sheridan, research scientists, talk about how the work that they do and how it is translated into practical measures in the forest.
Over the years humans observed and studied trees and this research continues in Teagasc where scientists explore the different aspects of trees to maximise their potential in relation to timber and biodiversity attributes.  

This programme begins by using the Marteloscope Training plot to determine how the decisions a forestry owner makes during the thinning processes will impact on the objectives they have for their forestry.  Sometimes a tree will be thinned based on its height and diameter which may be smaller than another tree close to it.  By removing the smaller tree, the other tree will have more room to growth and therefore it will be more valuable in relation to its timber.  In other situations that same small tree might be kept if the landowner wants to maintain a certain biodiversity level and that tree, though small, has lots of little nooks and crannies for insects and birds to live in and feed from.  

Biodiversity is an important part of forestry and the more diverse a system the more resilient it will be in the face of shocks in the form of pests or storms.  Farmers who planted monocultures of ash trees are realising this now because so many of the ash trees are dying from ash die back disease.

There is ongoing research into ash die back and results show that 15% of ash trees currently being monitored by Teagasc have a certain degree of tolerance to the disease.  The work now is to breed these trees and test them to make sure that their progeny is also resistant.  Research is also investigating the possible role of the trees microbiome in defending the fungal infection from gaining too strong a foothold in the tree.

Other research projects at Teagasc involve the improvement of the alder and the downy and silver birch trees.  Birch trees weren't traditionally known for their timber value but due to the tree breeding programme at Teagasc the researchers have been able to select for trees that tick all the boxes in relation to timber and biodiversity attributes and these birch seeds are now being used by farmers who decide to grow them as part of the forestry grant scheme.  

For landowners, making the decision to grow trees is not a simple one.  Teagasc provides an advisory service to support them in this process and the tree research helps to refine this advice.  Farmers can then feedback to the advisors on how they got on and this can then help the researchers to refine their processes even further if needs be. 

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