French forests

French forests account for nearly 31% of national land and cover nearly 17 million hectares, twice as much as 200 years ago. The forests provide rich biodiversity, improve water and air quality, provide wood and energy, and store carbon.

Composition of French forests

French forests are exceptional. as the fourth-largest wooded area in Europe, they span a wide variety of land types, providing the most diversified forest. There are 64% deciduous trees, with oak the most common (pedunculate oak, sessile oak, green oak, pubescent oak), accounting for 27% of the volume of wood. In addition, this French oak is particularly well-known and sought-after, notably for cooperage. Diversity of species is synonymous with diversity of uses: parquet flooring, framework, carpentry, marquetry, pallets, packaging, paper, chipboard, fuel wood, firewood, etc. – the applications are numerous. Although 98% of the stems are less than 50 cm in diameter, the average volume per hectare is high, at 170 m³, particularly in public forests and in eastern France. Lastly, the Forest area is healthy, with 2% of trees showing deterioration in their crown.

French forest logging

The wood stock in forests has risen by 60% over the last 40 years. The organic production of forests, i.e. the growth of trees, is 91.5 million cubic metres per year, while the average harvest is 46.4 million cubic metres, or 51% of the natural increase in stock. Oaks account for 15% of withdrawals while totalling 27% of standing volumes. The most withdrawn and therefore the most replanted species (replanting being mandatory) is maritime pine, especially in the Landes. There are no more primary forests in France, all of which have been remodelled by humans. However, there are many natural forests, i.e. those that have naturally re-established themselves. In France, any forest over 25 hectares has a simple management plan approved by a State agency, which covers forest logging and supplies the industry with wood (rather than importing it), under a considered approach. France Valley’s practice is to have all its forests PEFC (Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) certified.
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The wood sector in France

With €9 billion in revenue and 440,000 direct and indirect jobs (more than the automotive and aerospace industries), the forest and wood sector in France is substantial. It is also in difficulty: wood construction, the main and most logical growth driver, uses coniferous trees. However, 64% of the French forest is deciduous. Although sawn timber in France is mainly coniferous, construction timber is largely imported, with a small amount coming from Canada and a large amount from Finland, Germany and Belgium. Oak is sometimes exported, particularly to China, as it is rarely used in construction due to its high price (owing to the fact that it takes at least four generations to achieve a mature oak), and the furniture industry has in large part relocated. As a result, many sawmills are shutting down. Every year in France, the wood sector’s trade balance is in deficit, while French forests are under-utilised. In this context, Forestry Funds modestly contribute to this sector’s resilience, especially as their strategy involves developing high-quality, productive and sustainable forests.

How does France Valley choose and assess a forest ?

Species

Search for species with an outlet (staves, parquet floors, furniture, construction, agglomerates, energy wood, etc.), planted or implantable species adapted to the soil and climate.

Soil

This is the most important element. The nature of the soil determines the capacity to build a forest. This is productive capital. Mineral wealth, acidity, capacity to filter or store water, their depth before the parent rock, the nature of this parent rock,
will allow us to know if the existing stands are in place and are likely to be of quality. A simple measure to find out: look at the height of the trees, because the higher they are, the better the soil.

Climates

The rainfall history makes it possible to verify that the species in place will benefit from enough water. The average annual rainfall in France is around 600 millimeters, but much more can be found, for example, in central Brittany, and generally at altitude. The regularity of precipitation,
without a big gap during the summer, is also important. The climate is also the temperatures in winter and summer, which will vary according to the continental, oceanic and mountain influences of each station. The exposure of the forest, in the case of a slope, will also determine the forest atmosphere.
Global warming is data integrated into the analysis of a forest. If, for example, today the pedunculate oak is “in station” in the Vienne department, it will be appropriate to renew the stands by choosing sessile oak instead, which is more frugal in terms of water.

Volume

Although this cannot be considered as a rule, we often see that in production forests the value of standing timber represents around 75% of the total economic value of the forest. This is the value of the harvest possible in the forest. To determine this volume,
it will be possible to make a foot-by-foot inventory of stems over 30 cm in diameter. It is also possible to make a statistical inventory, based on several surveys carried out in sufficient numbers in the forest. Each tree counted will have a diameter, an operating height (before branches) and a taper factor,
which will allow its volume to be determined. Once the volume of timber has been determined, the volume of the crowns and coppice (fuelwood and energy wood) will be evaluated.

Quality

A single tree will have several uses. The first meters of the trunk, up to the first major branches, will be used for lumber. This is the log. The longer it is, the more lumber we will have. The straighter this log is, the fewer defects it will have (twist, cracks, frostbite, damage), the more sought after it will be.
The most beautiful specimens will go to cooperage, sometimes to carpentry. Then going up in the log, it will go into parquet floors, frames, pallets then crushed to make chipboard or cardboard and paper. The crown will make it possible to make firewood, energy wood, which will sometimes be sold separately from the log.
All these qualitative elements are assessed to determine the value of the standing timber.

Maturity

A forest is rarely something uniform. There we find stands which will often be of different ages. When visiting a forest, we can therefore ask ourselves what exploitation program will be applied to each forest plot, therefore what income could be received and what investments should be made,
according to the maturity of the forest, according to the operations already carried out. It will be necessary either to respect the current Simple Management Plan (obligatory for any forest of more than 20 hectares), or to have a new one approved. To obtain income as regular as possible, it will be interesting to diversify the maturities,
what a Forestry Group can do, with several forests. During their evaluation, mature stands will be retained for their immediate consumption value, and the discounted future value of younger stands will be retained, the discount rate used determining the expected return on the operation.

Access

A beautiful forest, rich in mature wood that can bring immediate income is very good, but if it is not possible to find this wood, it is useless. The means of access to this forest, the proximity of major roads, but also the means of circulation within the forest (density and quality of the paths) are determining factors.
In mountain forests we will pay particular attention to the slopes, which can increase the cost of harvesting the woods.

Land

The bare land value depends on the quality of the soil, but also on the configuration and location of the forest. A large area in one piece, without roads or communal paths, close to major roads and dense residential areas will obviously have more value than a small, fragmented forest far from everything.

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