A passion for planting trees

IT began when Michael Hyde went to plant trees on scrub land in the estate he inherited from a cousin in Co Galway nearly 60 years ago.

A passion for planting trees

The location was not far from the main site of the 1691 Battle of Aughrim, which changed the course of Irish and European history for 200 years. During a much later conflict, the Second World War, a lot of the timber was cut on the estate and all over Ireland.

But the estate land was never replanted and that posed a dilemma for Michael Hyde when he applied to the Department of Lands for a felling licence in 1959.

He was told he could not be issued with one because the plantation had not been replanted after the trees had been cut 14 years earlier.

“We had to clear the timber that was cut in 1945 and all the birch and scrub that had grown up. We had to clear 30 acres in all. At the time we were employing 13 men to cut it by hand,” he said.

Michael Hyde, a cattle and sheep farmer, began the task of replanting, and developing what is now Aughrim Saw Mills, which was grant-aided by the Industrial Development Authority in 1982.

Today, the mill not only sells treated timber fencing stakes, posts and rails to the public, it also provides wood chips for the solid fuel boiler market.

The use of forest-based fuels for energy production and heat continues to grow nationally and now accounts for over 1m cu m annually — over one third of the total wood harvest.

According to Forestry Minister Tom Hayes, the firewood market was estimated to have been worth over €3m in 2012 with a lot of the supply now coming from the first thinning of farmer-owned plantations.

Michael Hyde said the man who started him off with the planting was the late Malachy Sharkey, who set up a timber mill in Mountrath, Co Laois, and greatly helped to modernise the Irish saw milling industry with his colleague Sean Campbell. But there were many sceptics among other farmers when he first started planting trees on his land. “They thought I was mad,” he said.

That gradually changed over the years, however, as statistics from Teagasc, the State agriculture and food development authority, clearly show.

Since 1990, over 1,250 Galway farmers alone have taken the step to change part of their holdings to a forest enterprise.

The outlook for timber production in Ireland generally is regarded as excellent, with ideal soil conditions, high rainfall and a mild climate, coupled with a low incidence of environmental pollution and a high growth rate.

Michael Hyde’s early wish was to work with elephants in Ceylon, before beginning his challenging adventure at Carrowmore, Aughrim, in 1955.

He expanded his forestry plantation in the early 1970s by planting more marginal and boggy land with Lodgepole Pine and Sitka Spruce.

Hailed as a pioneer of the industry, he was honoured at the National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska, Co Laois, by Forestry Services Ltd.

A private company, it helps to establish and manage forests in accordance with the principles of sustainability and the code of best practice.

Forestry Services managing director Paddy Bruton, presenting Michael with a specially commissioned wooden wall clock, described him as “a great example and ambassador” for the sector.

Michael Hyde and his wife Anne now have two of their five sons involved in running the 700-acre farm and sawmill.

Anthony looks after the forestry and livestock farm, which has a suckler Limousin herd, while David runs the sawmill and timber business.

The land comprises 350 acres of forestry, 300 acres of farm land, 70 acres of scrub land and eight acres of oak woodland.

Michael is particularly pleased the scrub and woodland is used as a nature reserve where 48 different types of bird have been identified. That’s all part of an environmental policy which also includes the planting of certain different species of trees on wet land.

A member of a family which has farmed the land for the past 261 years, Michael said he was delighted to accept the presentation from FSL on behalf of the Hyde family and all at Aughrim Saw Mills. He particularly thanked Dermot Slevin, main forestry adviser, for all of his fantastic advice, expertise and experience over the years, backed up by his team of dedicated employees.

“We have a great ongoing working relationship. He has been a huge help and support and has been great at sourcing top class plants,” he said.

Paying tribute to the Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, he said its help and advice from the start was invaluable.

Michael has seen many developments in the Irish forestry and timber sector, not least the growth in wood chips for the solid fuel boiler market.

That is now part of the family’s sawmill business, with the wood chips certified by the Wood Fuel Quality Assurance Scheme (WFQA) as being from sustainable resources.

Despite all the changes that have taken place, Michael Hyde has never lost his passion for planting trees.

“He loves his forestry, much more than farming, I think,” his wife Anne remarked, after his lifework was formally recognised at the ploughing championships.

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