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Swedish company promoting natural forest not clearcutting

The popular image of Sweden as a forest-rich nation is no myth: 58% of the land area is productive woodland. But beyond this statistic lies another disturbing one. Nearly three-quarters of Swedish forests are less than 60 years old, and most of the woodland comprises spruce and pine plantations. Source: Timberbiz

According to the Swedish Species Information Centre (part of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) 1800 forest species are threatened, mostly because of Sweden’s dominant forestry model, which relies on clearcutting and has led to monoculture plantations replacing vast swathes of the country’s boreal old growth and natural forest.

Today, natural forests are so rare that many Swedes have never seen one in their own country.

Plockhugget is a new Swedish company promoting close-to-nature forestry. In practical terms, this means producing quality commercial timber while retaining forest cover and ending clearcutting, through a system known as continuous cover forest management (CCF).

This allows production of more timber of sufficient quality to build wooden products, such as furniture and houses, rather than focus on low quality wood for making pulp and paper products.

Around 70% of the Swedish wood harvested for material use ends up in pulp and paper products, whereas roughly 30% is used as sawnwood or panels. The company’s goals are to improve individual forest owners’ incomes, and for buyers to have access to varied, good quality timber, which they can trace to its source.

Plockhugget helps bring together buyers and sellers of timber produced under the CCF system and organises courses and provides services including support in the development of forest management plans and natural forestry management.

All the wood is traceable to the stump and each plank comes with a story about the forest and its owners.

Another aim is to reduce transport distances and help to revitalise the Swedish countryside. Therefore, the company deals with small and medium-sized sawmills, as close to the harvesting site as possible.

The company promotes close-to-nature forestry as part of its advising and education programs. However, they deal with timber harvested by other methods as well, as long as they meet its CCF standards, including not using pesticides or fertiliser or planting exotic tree species.

Continuous cover forestry reduces soil erosion. As the forest grows, it sucks carbon dioxide and stores carbon in both trees and particularly in organic matter in the soil. Two thirds of the carbon stored in the Swedish forest is found underground. Since no large areas are clear-cut, almost all the carbon stays in the ground and the forest can act as an effective carbon sink.

Over time, close to nature forestry provides better quality timber, with dense annual rings and small twig marks. Although the trees grow more slowly, and therefore deliver smaller volumes of timber, the timber is worth more.

Studies by the Finnish forestry professor Timo Pukkala and his team have shown that timber from continuous cover forestry gives lower costs and greater profitability for forest owners.

Those cultivating forests according to these standards choose which trees to harvest and when, only cutting them when they are likely to receive a good price. If, for example, interest in buying aspen timber is low, you wait for demand to rise and prices to improve.

Each year you have more wood to supply compared with conventional use, and as a result, the value of woodland increases.

One of Plockhugget’s founders, Erik Kullgren, is a forest owner. His desire to change Sweden’s forest model is based on personal experience.

“In the early 2000s we allowed part of our forest to be clear-cut,” he said.

“We were shocked and ashamed of what we’d done to nature, and sought a different path. I started to learn about other ways to manage forests. In the beginning it was hard to stop interfering with the natural processes, because it goes against what you have been taught to do, but with a more natural forest comes resilience, beauty, less work and the good feeling of not wrecking the ecosystem we depend on.”

More natural, beautiful forests can also benefit Sweden in other ways. Eco-tourism is growing, and according to a survey by the organisation Visit Sweden, nature is the country’s second biggest attraction for foreign tourists. In a natural forest, forestry and tourism can be combined.

But for this change to happen more money needs to be invested in research and the government must offer incentives for encouraging owners to help create natural forests, rather than plantations.

The EU also has a role to play it could incentivise this through the Biodiversity Strategy, upcoming Climate Laws, funding under the Common Agricultural Policy or even the Green New Deal.