Woodside Farm

August 2006
Indigenous forest management has been the subject of public and political debate in New Zealand over the last 30 years, with a strong lobby against harvesting of any indigenous forest.

John and Rosalie Wardle believe in conserving indigenous forests through active and adaptive management.

John has dedicated his career to studying the ecology, utilisation and management of New Zealand beeches, first as a forest ecologist then since purchasing Woodside Farm in 1973 as a hands-on manger with help from Rosalie and their son, Bruce.

Historically, over 80% of the indigenous sawn timber produced in New Zealand has been kauri and podocarps (principally rimu with smaller quantities of miro, matai, totara and kahikatea) with the remaining 20% comprising hardwoods, mainly beech and tawa.

Since Government ended selective logging on state land on the West Coast in 2002, indigenous timber production has been confined to private land. A Sustainable Forest Management plan or permit is required for the timber to be milled (with exceptions including dead standing trees, windfalls and timber for private use).

About 90% of Sustainable Management Plans cover beech, which is set to become the principal indigenous timber produced in New Zealand.

Woodside Farm gained New Zealands first Sustainable Forest Management plan or permit, in 1994.

SFM plans and permits now cover 119,679 hectares of indigenous forest with a further 16,247 hectares in the pipeline.

Woodside Forest comprises 70 hectares of indigenous black beech production forest, 14 hectares of black beech forest reserve, 29 hectares of exotic plantation (predominantly Pinus radiata) and eight hectares of agricultural and residential areas.

When the Wardles purchased the property, predominantly regenerating beech forest with grazing pressure having reduced as a result of the 1930s depression. At the time, it was a run-off block supporting around 100 sheep in the summer.

Some of the first timber milled on the property was used to build the familys home, and they have lived there fulltime ever supporting themselves solely from income from their forest.

Because they live on their block, John and Rosalie have been able to constantly adapt their management to achieve best results.

Harvesting systems are designed to simulate the natural cycle of wind disturbance which flattens areas of forest then replaced through regeneration, when possible.

Over 90% of beech timber harvested is from wind-thrown or dying trees. The remaining area is selectively logged by thinning individual trees or small groups. The forest canopy is maintained, providing protection from winter desiccation, wind, and the sunburn effect of hot, dry winds.

Sunburn causes the cambrium to die and the tree to become unstable and susceptible to breakage, John explains.

Up to one metre square patches of dense crown fern are cleared by hand-grubbing pre harvest, to provide sites for seedling germination. Seedlings are planted only if regeneration fails.

Initially the Wardles intended to harvest small blocks of beech every six years over a 48 year rotation, but this proved impractical making the forest extremely vulnerable to wind-throw.

The management priority is to improve the stand to increase veneer and furniture grade logs and reduce firewood production, in the next generation of trees.

About 1.5 hectares of regenerating beech is thinned and pruned each year. Selected stems have all woody competition removed, initially out to a radius of one metre with the cleared area increased at subsequent thinnings. These selected trees (about 800/hectare) are pruned to about four metres height.

In addition to forest protection, this reserve provides a baseline for comparison with the production area will silviculture and harvesting has been carried out.

Each beech species has its own property and character. Black beech is strongly coloured with a lot of character, including darkening caused by pinhole borer which is quite popular on the New Zealand market.

Traditionally, millers favoured rimu which does not have the hidden rot defect incipient in beech. Later, silver beech which has a lower density than other beech species and is easier to mill reached the market but was still not favoured except for special purposes like turning.

The Wardles have not actively marketed their timber, readily finding local buyers, especially small furniture making businesses. This could now change with John and Rosalie now selling their logs to Bruce who has imported a state-of-the-art Wood Miser Mill from the US. Using a band rather than circular blade, it wastes less wood and easier to use (turning logs over mechanically) than the mill previously used.

Well now focus our efforts on silviculture.

Uses for their beech timber have included panelling, flooring, turnery and tool handles (although this market has gone kaput with Indonesian and Asian woods having been substituted). Wood which doesnt make the grade is sold as firewood.

John would like to see New Zealand architects educated about the quality and character of especially the beech woods which will make up such a large proportion of indigenous timbers available.

Markets for New Zealand made furniture crafted from indigenous wood are being cut into by imported furniture made from non-sustainably harvested timbers.

We are in the same position as local clothing and footwear companies, competing with made-up items produced in third world countries.

Over time, John has developed a unique-for-New Zealand approach to pine forest management, favouring mixed species/mixed age stands and selective logging.

The 29 hectare plantation is being inter-planted, mostly with coastal redwood and Douglas fir as well as larch, Leyland cypress (especially ovensii and Fernsdown), deodar cedar and Cryptomeria. Black beech also seeds naturally. Having a range of species protects against both market and biosecurity risks such as pine pitch canker already present in Chile which could devastate New Zealands pine industry, says John.

Size, form and spacing are the main selection criteria when logging, with the canopy kept intact as with the beech.

Properly managed, radiata pine is a good basic timber tree which does return well, John says. Depending on management, returns can range from virtually zilch to an average of about $60/m3, under the selective felling regime followed at Woodside Farmorest.

The Wardles predict that ultimately they will be able to harvest 1100 to 1200m3 of pine annually on a sustainable basis (about 40m3/hectare/year). This compares with about 700m3 (8-10m3/year) from the pinebeech, with their total value roughly equal.

The quality pine logs are sold mostly to a West Coast mill through a buying group and the sawlogs are bought locally.

Trees are pruned to a height of six metres and thinned to a high stocking rate of about 400-500 stems/hectare at maturity, about double what is normally retained. The extra stems act as insurance for snow and wind damage, and provide leeway with harvesting.

Trees are removed when they reach 600mm diameter, when their value is greatest. Regenerating stems which come up in the gaps formed by harvesting are released by thinning and again pruned to six metres.

John and Rosalies son Bruce , who lives nearby, on his own nearby property with his wife Chris and family. A beekeeper, he harvests about 20 tonnes per year of honey each year from Woodside Forest, mostly beech honeydew exported to Germany. Hive numbers are limited to 400 (with a similar number off the farm), to ensure there is plenty of honeydew left for insects and birds.

Associated with beech forests in this part of the country is an indigenous insect that lives in the bark of the trees. During the intermediate stage of its lifecycle, the insect exudes excess carbohydrate from the tree cell sap. This honeydew provides food for various birds, possums and insects.

"Honey bees use the carbohydrate as an alternative to flower nectar and produce beech honeydew honey, similar to maple syrup."

Honeydew production varies from year to year in response to weather conditions, but is generally sufficient in Woodside Forest to support 300 beehives with sufficient surplus left for birds.

Damaged trees are prone to attack by pests and diseases, particularly pinhole borer and associated fungal pathogens. Fortunately, New Zealanders like the dark stain effects these pests create in the timber.

Windfall and snow damage means the forest comprises a mix of ages of trees. Management has been adapted to take account of this.

Introduced red and fallow deer, possums, stoats, cats, rats and wasps have caused a number of extinctions of indigenous birds, reptiles and insects, in and around Woodside Forest over the last 30 years.

Deer damage and kill many young trees each year by rubbing their antlers on them.

The Wardles control most of these pests using traps and bait stations. They reject broadscale application of 10-80 poison, as when it was used at Woodside Farm in the past they observed marked reductions in insect and birdlife.

Looking back, John says there is little he would do differently if starting from scratch. One change however would have been planting more Douglas Fir which are better suited to the wet climate and snow than pines, especially in damp gullies.

John and Rosalie estimate that they commit 15 to 20 days each year to hosting around 200 visitors at Woodside Forest, demonstrating and discussing their methods of sustainable beech and plantation forest management. Visitors have included forestry students, foresters from around the country, overseas groups, members and committees of Parliament, and recently delegates at a United Nations Forum on Forests.

They also welcome research projects on their farm.

Last year Woodside Forest was one of three in New Zealand recognised by the United Nations Asia Pacific Forestry Commission as demonstrating exemplary forest management.

The Wardles won the 2003 Transpower-Landcare Trust Award for Innovation in Sustainable Farm Forestry, and in 1995 the Husqvarna South Island (of New Zealand) Farm Forester of the Year award.