Forest owner Sebastian Sohlberg: “Continuous cover gives flexibility and versatility.”

Sebastian Sohlberg

Photo: Private

The planned expansion of the nearby city made the future uncertain, so an innovative approach was needed – the solution was continuous cover forestry. Sebastian Sohlberg runs the Malmgård Sjundeå estate in Finland, and sees continuous cover as a way to ensure long-term production, promote diversity and spread the risks.

Together with his family, Sebastian Sohlberg runs a forest property of approximately 700 hectares, Malmgård Sjundeå, 40 km west of Helsinki. The forestry enterprise contains many different environments, from boggy areas to urban forestry close to the city of Espoo. It was the location of one of the properties close to the urban area that lay behind the family’s decision to try continuous cover forestry.

“One of our forest properties lies very close to Espoo, a city that will grow considerably in the future, so we were looking for an alternative to traditional final felling,” explains Sebastian.

“The situation is uncertain, we don’t know when and how the city will exploit the forest land – all we know is that it will happen. Sometime in the future, we’ll be dividing up the area and selling plots. We want to retain the environment as much as possible but still use the forest for production in the meantime. Already 30 years ago, it was assessed that the uncertain future meant that a rotation would not be completed with a final felling, so the forest has been left relatively undisturbed. This has produced a mixed-age forest with a variety of tree species, which is favourable for starting continuous cover forestry.”

Planning for the future

After seeing the local plan for the city’s expansion, Sebastian Sohlberg, working in collaboration with Skogssällskapet, has been able to plan felling with the future needs for plots, roads, and other societal functions in mind.

“We wanted a forest that is attractive from the perspective of plot planning when the time comes to sell the land, but at the same time ensure that we don’t leave unreasonable amounts of wood in the forest. Through well-considered harvest plans, we’ve been able to save trees that can be valuable for future plots, and harvest more in areas where roads and apartment blocks will be built. In forest areas that will probably be made into parks eventually, we’ve felled individual economically valuable trees, while retaining a varied undergrowth.”

What advantages do you see with continuous cover forestry?

“Continuous cover forestry allows you to think beyond a single rotation. You get a more varied type of forest that is more resistant to storms and insect attack, you get a more even harvest, and a more diversified wood assortment. Also, you avoid large clearcut costs, while also adding value in terms of biological diversity,” says Sebastian Sohlberg.

“Quite simply, it gives you greater flexibility and versatility. With traditional clearcut forestry, you’re more restricted. A traditional harvest with a clearcut gives a big revenue and is very predictable in terms of yield, but is tied to a certain point in time that you have no control over. Continuous cover forestry means you can hold back from a felling if it’s
financially favourable to wait, or harvest more if there’s market demand for a certain tree species.”

Requires time, interest, and knowledge

However, Sebastian Sohlberg emphasises that continuous cover forestry is not a patent solution for forestry in general – it requires time, interest, and knowledge to attain goals and make it financially viable.

“The general debate on continuous cover forestry often tends to be very black and white, polarised. For me, continuous cover has many aspects, like most things when you look at them in depth. In most situations, continuous cover methods are feasible if you’re in a position to think long term – but it does require a lot of knowledge and awareness of the goals throughout the chain. Then it can have both economic and environmental advantages.”

Sebastian Sohlberg commissioned Skogssällskapet to help identify his goals for the forest property so close to the city. He describes it as a collaboration where the initiative lies with Skogssällskapet but, as forest owner, he sets the goals.

“Skogssällskapet first comes with proposals for goals that I can consider and incorporate in my own goals and ideas. We’ve specified both soft and hard goals that satisfy both recreational interests and the need for economic return, and cover everything from biodiversity to hunting and park forest. Quite simply, it’s a comprehensive approach for our property. Together we’re doing what’s best for the forest and future generations.”

Text: Therese Johansson

Interested in continuous-cover forestry? 4 tips from Sebastian Sohlberg

  • Hold continuous discussion about the status of your forest and what methods could be suitable – monitor developments and consider alternatives without preconceptions. By carefully considering the forest background, you have a bigger chance of making the right decisions, both now and in the future.
  • Think about what stage your property is in. If you’ve just prepared for a second thinning, you’re not in the best place for continuous cover forestry. The same applies if you only have a few years left before final felling, where the stand is even-aged with no undergrowth. Continuous cover forestry requires long-term planning.
  • It’s easy to lose focus. Intense pre-commercial thinning at the wrong time puts you back at square one, with a financial loss round your neck. If it’s going to work, it’s about applying thoughts and goals with all stakeholders on board, everyone from employees to hired forest contractors. And the goals must be a common thread from generation to generation.
  • Be prepared that it requires time, interest, and knowledge to succeed with continuous cover forestry. You must be prepared to rethink and think long-term.

Aki Mattila, Forest Manager at Skogssällskapet Finland:
“We’ve used a mosaic of measures.”

“We’ve used a mosaic of measures, working quite broadly with different types of continuous cover methods. For example, we’ve used compartment cutting, with a maximum opening of 0.3 hectares, and selective felling. We’ve thinned the forest according to quality, harvesting large, economically valuable trees, while also creating space for smaller trees to grow. The goal has been to maximise the proportion of timber in the harvest.

“My role has included planning forestry activities, managing the stand, selling the wood in a competitive process, and finding skilled contractors for felling and transport. The latter have perhaps been extra important, as one success factor for continuous cover is that all contractors have the necessary knowledge and motivation.

“We’ve received positive feedback, both from neighbours and people who visit the area for recreation. They feel we’ve preserved the landscape and the recreational aspect by keeping the forest atmosphere and keeping the hiking paths in the area. We’ve also received positive reactions from public agencies – the Finnish Forest Centre, Skogscentralen, has even declared it a model area for continuous cover forestry.”