There are nearly 200 hectares of woodland at Ballykilcavan. Much of this is mature hardwood and is managed under the Native Woodland Scheme. The main wood contains significant blocks of ancient pedunculate oak and has been designated as a proposed Natural Heritage Area (NHA).
All of the forestry is managed using close to nature (continuous cover) principles. We do not clearfell anything. Instead, there is continuous management and gentle thinning of all our forest stands to promote the best trees to full maturity.
We also use natural regeneration throughout our woodland, so that the trees of the future will retain their link to their ancient ancestors.
The farm as landscape
In the drive for efficiency in farming, there can be a temptation to remove anything that gets in the way. At Ballykilcavan, successive generations have managed the farm as a landscape feature, and not simply as a tool.
In the 1850s, Sir Hunt Walsh decided to mark out townland boundaries and other features by planting a series of oak trees in the fields surrounding Ballykilcavan House. Those trees are still there, 160 years later, in the middle of our tillage fields.
They make for inefficient farming, but they are beautiful and they also act as a nature corridor which gives our red squirrels a means of getting from one block of woodland to another.
We hope they last another 160 years.
Napoleonic ships. Whiskey barrels
Parts of the Kylebeg wood appear on the 1754 estate map, which may indicate that it is a remnant of the very earliest forestry that returned to Ireland after the most recent ice age. In the early 1800s, some of these trees were cut down to make ships for the Napoleonic wars.
When Irish Distillers were looking for trees to make the first whiskey barrels from Irish oak in over 100 years, the Kylebeg was one of the places they fell in love with. In early 2015, we felled 10 of the trees that had been planted to replace the Napoleonic trees. They will make their way, via Galicia and Andalusia, back to Midleton, where they will be coopered and filled with the best Midleton Dair Ghaelach whiskey.
Each of the ten trees that is heading for the Midleton cooperage has been replaced with four new oak trees. It will take at least another 160 years before they reach full maturity.
You can read more about the Irish Distillers open day at Ballykilcavan here.