Permaculture Forestry Course

I'm lucky to be at Melliodora during the first ever Permaculture Forestry Course, with David Holmgren and Darren Doherty!

David Holmgren has a big passion for forestry and even though I'm not assisting the whole classes I'm lucky to get the after dinner personal lessons - today about his book "Trees on the Treeless Plains - a manual for broadacre Permaculture" - AMAZING STUFF!

It's good to be around so many people committed to being of benefit to the planet!

My perspective is changing regarding eucalyptus trees, not regarding intensive monoculture plantations of eucalyptus like those we have in Portugal and in other parts of the world.

Any tree monoculture is ecologically unviable and unsustainable. And the intensive eucalyptus monocultures that we see are indeed a big threat for our soils and biodiversity.

I recognize that the problem in not the tree itself, the problem is in the way we plant it and intensively explore it (with cuts every 8-10 years).

In one of my conversations with David I was telling him how, at my aunt’s farm, we have been reconverting the eucalyptus forest towards the native oak forest. The oaks – Quercus faginea and Quercus suber - and “friends” are spontaneously growing in between the dense plantation of eucalyptus and we have been selecting the best oaks and cutting the eucalyptus around them as well as leaving the best eucalyptus to grow into bigger trees.

Selective cuts of eucalyptus trees in the monoculture plantations will allow our native forests to come back and slowly restore the ecosystem and at the same time will allow some eucalyptus trees to growth bigger so that they can be later used for fire wood or timber.

David also made me think about the new ecosystems possibilities in the “transition” forests of eucalyptus and oaks as nature is always evolving and it can be interesting to look at this new systems and their characteristics.

So far, I’ve always looked at eucalyptus plantations in Portugal as something odious. And in my conservationist point of view I would defend that we should get rid of the eucalyptus out and let the oaks grow back… The same for Pine forests.

But now I’m acknowledging that, as we have so many eucalyptus in Portugal, we better start looking at them from another perspective. I’m not saying we should be planting more, but that we could look at the ones we have with different eyes “permaculture eyes” - seeing the opportunities behind the problem.

Whether we like it or not, the eucalyptus trees are already planted and this means that the big input of money and energy is already done. So, if we want to plan for a future of energy descent we may start looking at the eucalyptus trees that we have all over Portugal as valuable resources - sources of firewood (to replace non-renewable resources), sources of timber for houses, structures, furniture, etc.

We need to learn how to manage the reconversion of the forests – the transition from eucalyptus monocultures to native oaks forests. We should also learn how to manage these against fire. And as David pointed out, be attentive at the new ecotones that may appear, because they may bring new biodiversity possibilities – for example: bees like eucalyptus flowers, so who knows if a combination of oaks, heathers and mature eucalyptus might be interesting for new insect niches…

Milling eucalyptus is comething we need to learn about. See bellow Darren Doherty, Zane Doherty, Oliver Holmgren and David Holmgren milling a 25 year old Eucalyptus globulus (the same Eucalyptus we have all over Portugal).

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