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THE TREE CYCLE
© Mawddach Permaculture Group (2000)
The Mawddach Permaculture Group was formed in 1992 for the purpose of investigating and developing ideas and strategies for sustainable practices in our own locality.
The Mawddach Permaculture Group has a core of six people whose fields of expertise and experience include the areas of FORESTRY (management, harvesting, processing, milling) TIMBER PRODUCTS, HORTICULTURE, PERMACULTURE DESIGN, ECOLOGY, EQUESTRIANISM, ORNITHOLOGY, EDUCATION, CONSERVATION, COUNSELING AND COMMUNICATION SKILLS.
The policies and practices of this group are firmly based upon the permaculture ethics and principles which promote organic, environmentally sensitive communities working in both sustainable and profitable ways within their local landscapes.
The Tree Cycle provides an innovative initiative which would bring a wide variety of benefits to a large proportion of the population. In particular it is aimed at anyone in the locality who is involved in timber, trees or associated species or activities, whether they are managing or planting woodlands, buying or selling products or materials or designing complex forest systems.
The Tree Cycle is concerned with maximising local use of local resources in ways which benefit both the community and the environment. It considers the whole cycle of the tree as a series of connected operations or activities (such as seed collection or milling) each of which represents an opportunity for local, environmentally sound, business activities.
The Tree Cycle has been designed with our locality in mind (Mawddach and Union catchment areas) but is inherently flexible and thus adaptable to other localities (for details, please contact the Mawddach Permaculture Group).
Each of the operations or activities in the Tree Cycle can be thought of as a productive branch. Each branch is capable of producing something, thus generating profit and functioning as a small business.
Other essential branches, such as research, may not be profitable immediately and are termed support branches. Support branches receive funding from more productive branches or other sources initially but can develop their own markets and become productive branches over time.
Some functions, in particular those dealing with optimisation, policy and forward planning, are seen as core functions and involve members of the wider community as well as representatives from the branches.
The structure encourages individuals to be involved in more than one branch, leading to fruitful interconnections, a greater sense of involvement and an adaptable, multi-skilled workforce. The people operating each branch of the Tree Cycle make independent decisions in relation to the running of their branch and feel a sense of ownership and responsibility. This encourages an awareness of community and achievement, qualities which are particularly valuable for young people and offer hope of a worthwhile future
Limits to actions are provided by stated ethics and a constitution and also by objectives and targets relevant to each particular branch. Formulating objectives and setting targets would involve consultation and negotiation, with and between branch members.
4. MAIN BRANCHES
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4.1 SEED COLLECTION
There is increasing awareness of the need to conserve local biodiversity rather than just national biodiversity. Local seeds are adapted to local conditions. There are also examples of useful exotics which do well in local conditions.
At the moment local tree planting may contain a high proportion (up to 100%) of imported plants (from other areas or even other countries). These may include species detrimental to bio-diversity (western hemlock for example).
As the crucial foundation of the Tree Cycle, seed collection involves the community in the identification of local trees suitable as seed sources, the collection of those seeds and associated species, their storage and sale to local tree nurseries.
A further vital aspect of this work is the accumulation of data, regarding parent trees in particular but also local trees in general, such as variations in growth, aspect, rainfall, soil type etc.
This branch of the Tree Cycle is ideally suited to community involvement and education and may need to be considered a support branch initially.
4.2 TREE NURSERY
The topography of the locality is varied and ranges from flat, sea-level, salt-wind plantation sites to high, mountainous, rocky areas of potential woodland/forest. Climate ranges from mild, south facing estuary tributaries to sub arctic, north facing Cader Idris. There is an extremely wide choice of sites for nurseries to produce an equally wide variety of plants and in particular, locally adapted varieties of native species.
Young trees are imported into the locality from other areas (and often other countries). Although native, these plants are not as suited to the area as our own local varieties and may produce poorer growth or be more susceptible to disease. Through cross fertilisation with local varieties they contribute to the degradation of the local bio-diversity.
The widely varying sites for planting within our locality allow for a large number of small tree nurseries. Some of these might be very small (such as a school producing one hundred plants per year as part of an educational project), others would be larger. The nurseries work in cooperation with each other (for example bulk orders, specialist plants) and with other aspects of the Tree Cycle.
Seed is acquired from the seed collection branch thus ensuring that local bio-diversity is preserved. Materials such as compost and mulch are obtained from the composting branch.
The nurseries supply young trees and associated plants to planting schemes members of the general public and other organisations.
4.3 PLANTING SCHEMES/TEAMS
Complex, native forest systems allow for multiple yields that are ideally suited to the needs of communities. Public lands (verges, parks, industrial estates) provide opportunities for productive plantings of trees and associated plants. Yields include food for humans and livestock, timber, furniture, textiles, dyes, medicines, soft fruit, preserves, wines, honey, foliage, withies, weaving materials, seed etc. etc.
Current trends towards highly mechanised harvesting require simple planting schemes (monocultures) that bring little of value to the local community. Public lands are generally planted with no thought to a yield hence maintenance operations are a continuous and expensive drain on resources.
The planting branch originates designs suited to the specific locality and the clients needs. A proportion of all plantings would include local native stock. Where appropriate, this branch encourages community involvement in the design process and includes species suited to needs (for example, apples, soft fruit, coppice trees for cider, jams and rustic work).
This branch draws on the seed collection branch for seeds and data, the tree nurseries for plants and the composting branch for mulch.
It is envisioned that while undertaking projects such as low maintenance, productive systems for public buildings, the primary objectives of this branch will involve designing and planting complex native forest systems with additional high yield species for direct community management. There is the opportunity for farmers and other landowners to become involved in the creation of diverse, productive systems.
The locality is rich in forest cover with much first class commercial timber. This is an important economic resource which could provide the raw material for all our local timber requirements.
Thinnings are often late, leading to premature clear felling. Contractors operate under competitive tendering systems benefiting neither the environment nor themselves. Trends are towards large, expensive, environmentally unfriendly machines with minimal benefit for local communities; the onus is on speed rather than quality. There is a lack of long term vision in restocking and a lack of continuity and security of work. More experienced, older contractors using traditional and proven harvesting methods are being forced out of the industry and their skills are being lost.
Local teams of contractors manage small plantations, currently only marginally economical or even non-economical. Management operates from first thinnings onwards in continuous rotation (perpetual cycle management) generating a consistent flow of timber. Harvesting teams take responsibility for their own areas of forest, thus encouraging a sense of stewardship, best practice and management for the future. Harvested timber is of high value (for buildings, furniture).
Community involvement through branch members allows for specific harvesting for specific tasks (such as an item of furniture or repairs to a fence) and harvesting at many levels (jam from soft fruit, bees). The harvesting branch benefits from careful planting designs (such diversity of tree size within the plantation, creating denser timber for specific uses, multiple yields etc.) and supplies the processing branch and some workshops directly.
The resources range from small diameter trees (fencing material etc.) to mature stands of a range of useful species (eg. Douglas fir, Larch, Cedar). Forest residue (which in places may become a problem due to changing harvesting methods) is an unutilised source of sustainable energy. Processing is a crucial operation in the Tree Cycle and significantly increases the value of the wood, making material available to subsequent branches that add yet further value (workshops, construction).
Almost 100% of felled and extracted timber is exported from the area for processing. Processed timber required in the locality has to be imported thus incurring transportation costs. A piece of timber which has been grown locally will have to travel hundreds of miles on a round trip to be seasoned and processed and ready for use. This is not sensible practice either economically or environmentally. Despite the fact that local stress graders are now available, there is only one saw mill in the area and that is in need of upgrading.
The Tree Cycle encourages the initiation of cooperatively owned and worked processing facilities in the locality. This includes the purchase and upgrade of the one local saw mill. The Tree Cycle will seek to encourage innovation in processing practices and ecofriendly preservation treatments and techniques. Due to the work of other branches of the Tree Cycle (planting, harvesting) a wider variety of raw materials will become available over time (coppice wood, for example) offering wider processing opportunities.
The rural communities abound with skilled, creative talent.
By far the bulk of finished goods are imported into the area
To create and support tree/timber based workshop industries. The workshop branch or branches obtain materials from the processing and harvesting branches.
The workshops produce specific items (such as sheds, stables) and/or work to order (window frame, rabbit hutch). Distinctions will arise between the various workshop branches, resulting in specialisation (kitchen furniture, boat building). There are also niche opportunities for individual specialists such as craftspeople, sculptors, garden ornamentors. Close contact with the planting, harvesting and processing branches will allow for the development of innovative yields, processes and thus product, in particular, high value, unique items.
The workshops produce finished products for supplying local needs such as furniture, buildings, gates etc. and also high value products for sale outside the locality. The export of high value products (unique items) whether to other countries or within Britain, draws money into the locality.
It is envisioned that although workshops may produce high value sales items (gazebo, boat) the branch objectives will encourage the development of high quality, low energy, affordable dwellings in a range of designs, suited to the historical and current surroundings.
4.7 COMPOSTING SCHEME
Large amounts of forest residue and community green waste are available in the locality. The Council are charged with reducing the amount of green waste which is landfilled. The community composting can be accommodated on a site which may otherwise be regarded as an eyesore (eg. abandoned quarry, reclaimed refuse site etc.).
Gwynedd Council contractors are seeking ways to avoid green waste going to land fill sites and thereby incurring land fill tax costs. Forest Enterprise are faced with disposing of thousands of tonnes of forest residue. Roadside green wastes are often chipped or shredded and left on site, thus mulching out regenerating local species (primrose). There is currently no serious, coherent attempt to recycle green waste in the locality.
Composting is a vital part of the Tree Cycle and a badly needed local facility. The composting scheme would provide an opportunity for a sustainable business with excellent prospects for growth. It is able to both provide a service to the local community in that it caters for the disposal of green waste and also produces a valuable, saleable product in the form of compost. It fulfills government objectives with regard to reducing the amount of green waste currently going to landfill and would be in line to receive a proportion of the landfill tax in payment for its services.
The composting branch also receives waste materials from most of the other branches which it process to create a variety of saleable products, including mulch, shred and wood chip (paths, all weather surfaces) as well as compost. There are also opportunities to develop worm compost systems and harvest worms as an additional yield.
This branch provides materials for the nursery and planting branches in particular. In cooperation with these branches it allows the creation of diverse plant systems for enhancing the value of its own site and the other branchesí sites.
5. SUPPORT BRANCHES
To allow members of the productive branches of the Tree Cycle to focus their energies and attention on their own roles and responsibilities, some of the functions essential to successful businesses are provided by support branches. While support branches are subsidised by the larger organisation their objectives encourage them to develop additional markets and move towards becoming productive branches in their own right.
A major benefit of co-operative working is that all Tree Cycle products could be marketed under the same logo. The marketing support branch assists branches with the sale of their products, through advertising, contacts, trade fairs etc. In some cases it may itself become the market for Tree Cycle products (buying in quantity and selling to outside areas or abroad) and so generate its own profits. The combined marketing power of all the branches (buying and selling) allows for bulk orders and reduced costs.
There is scope for large areas of research throughout the Tree Cycle. The seed collection branch in particular coordinates extensive research relating to local trees and local seed sources. However, it may be useful to devote a support branch to this function and collate information relating to all branches. This could be immediately available to all branches via the Internet (see communications, below).
The Tree Cycle provides many opportunities for education and training. The skilled, flexible workforce that is envisioned needs careful induction and subsequent training. Opportunities for personal development and the learning of new skills abound. There are also multiple work placement positions for local educational establishments and opportunities for in house training for recognised awards (Vocational qualifications, RSA, Clait).
The complexity of the Tree Cycle makes good communications essential. The communications support branch facilitates communication and co-operation between branches. Communications benefit from traditional local channels (grapevine) and modern technology. The Internet enables immediate communication and transfer of information between branches. The web site hosts "offers and requests" pages to allow all branches to advertise current surpluses and bid for resources.
6. CORE FUNCTIONS
Core functions are required for managing the Tree Cycle as a whole and its interactions with the outside world and for mediating in the relationships between the branches. The core functions are fulfilled by groups.
6.1 OPTIMISATION GROUP
This groups deals with optimising both the larger processes of the cycle and the productivity of the branches. It works with branches to monitor targets and objectives and makes suggestions for improvements. It also deals with the interactions between branches and assists when disputes arise. It receives guidance from the forward planning group.
6.2 FORWARD PLANNING GROUP
This groupís function is to monitor external trends and patterns and identify changes to markets and new market opportunities. It passes information to the optimisation group.
This group is instrumental in the implementation of the Tree Cycle, recognising that branches come into operation at different rates; for example, processing is required before workshops as it provides the materials to build them.
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6.3 POLICY GROUP
This group provides the highest level function in the system and thus includes all members and external representatives. It is envisioned that a board of trustees would fulfill general roles and that the larger community would meet regularly for the exchange of ideas and feedback.
Stability is provided by the permaculture ethics and principles and the Tree Cycle constitution.
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