Group certification is an alternative to individual forest certification, allowing many smaller forest owners to become certified as a Group and share the financial and administrative costs involved. Given the fragmented nature of private forest ownership in Ireland, Group Certification would be the most cost effective option for private forests and would facilitate better access to timber markets.
The Pilot project focused on the following elements:
- General Group Structure - what elements are required to run a group effectively.
- Group Certification Process - a brief outline of the group certification process from joining a group to achieving forest certification.
For a Webinar presentation on Groupcertification, see FORESTRY.IE Insights Webinar entitled 'Forest Certification – Requirements & Solutions' dated 25th November 2021
The following General Group Structure was identified as part of the pilot project:
A group needs to be managed by a qualified Group Manager/Administrator who is responsible for all aspects of the Group membership, such as decision on entry to the group (withdrawal from the group if necessary), implementing group rules, audit checklists, recording and closing of any non-conformities, internal monitoring and identifying training needs.
The Group Manager communicates with Group members, Group Auditors and Certification Body, as required.
The external Group Auditors are responsible for Confirming group Member audits, performing audits in compliance with the current certification standard, reporting of audit findings to Group Manager, review of any non-conformities and proposal for closure and Trademark approval.
Group Auditors communicate with Group Manager, Group Members and Certification Body, as required.
Group members are responsible for all aspects of management of their forest (unless the group is Resource Managed, see Group Types), which includes management planning, monitoring, harvesting, quality control, marketing, timber sales and all documentation and actions necessary to ensure on-going compliance with the standards referred to in the Group Rules.
Directors of the Group scheme
The Directors of the Group scheme legal entity are responsible for submission of accounts and payment of due fees, etc for the legal entity.
Group types are generally based on the assigned member roles and the level of responsibility for certification compliance, as set out in the group rules, signed and agreed by the group member. At the time of the DAFM pilot project, two models of certification groups were identified:
Type I: Groups with shared responsibility for FM Certification compliance
In this type of group there are shared responsibilities between the group members and the group manager. The group manager would typically be responsible for compliance with the group certification standard, in terms of the management of the group, internal monitoring, communication with members, auditors, etc. Where members would be undertaking forest management operations, they would be responsible for compliance with the FM certification standard, through use of the Forest Management Templates and compliance with the group rules.
The two participating KTGs in the DAFM Pilot Scheme set up Type I group schemes as part of the project.
Type II: Resource Managed Groups
In a resource managed group, the members do not undertake any forest management operations themselves. The 'Resource manager (RM)', who can also be the Group Manager, has overall responsibility for ensuring conformity with the FM certifications standard and the group certification standard. The RM would be reponsible for all forest operations in the Resource Management Unit (RMU), which in a Type II group can consist of the entire group. The homogeneous management of a resource managed group can reduce the need for internal monitoring.
Originally the above definitions of Type I and Type II referred to models for possible setups, but there were in reality more options in the way responsibilities could be shared within groups. These other possibilities were further defined in the new group certification standards that came into force since the end of the Pilot Project in 2018.
New Additional Group Types:
A combination of the above
The new Group Certification Standards (post 2018) allow for the original type of groups as outlined above, and also for a combination of these types.
You could therefore have the following type of groups:
- Only Forest Management Units with shared responsibility (formerly Type I)
- Only Resource Managed Units under one Resource Manager (formerly Type II)
- Forest Management Units with shared responsibility plus some Resource Managed Units under one Resource Manager
- Several Resource Managed Units with different Resource Managers
- Forest Management Units with shared responsibility plus several Resource Managed Units with different Resource Managers
For further information on Group Management Standards, see FSC-STD-30-005V2-0 FM Groups Standard and Group Forest Management Certification, PEFC ST 1002
The inclusion of Contractors as Group Members (optional)
The FSC-STD-30-005V2-0 FM Groups Standard includes provisions for the optional inclusion of forestry contractors into the group scheme, under certain conditions. The Group Forest Management Certification, PEFC ST 1002 only potentially allows for this inclusion, where the condition “ability to implement the requirements of the sustainable forest management standard” has been met.
Two extensive sets of manuals have been produced as part of this pilot project:
- Forest Management Manual - to assist in the Forest Management of Certified Forests
- Group Management Manual - which sets out guidelines for the Management of a Group for Forest Certification purposes
Both manuals consist of a range of documents and templates designed to aid in the compliance with forest certification.
Disclaimer: All templates and documents developed for this project were designed for use with the Irish certification standards valid at the time of the project. The templates featured in the above manuals may require updating to ensure compliance with changes that came into effect after this project was completed. No liability will be accepted by DAFM or the project partners for the supply or use of these templates and documents. Forest owners are advised to get independent advice in relation to forest management and forest certification.
A review and revision of templates and documents featured on this website is currently being undertaken with funding support from DAFM under the Woodland Support Projects 2021/2022. Any new or revised documentation will be uploaded as soon as this becomes available and will contain a revision date in the document-footer. The above disclaimer includes any new or revised templates or documents developed as part of the Woodland Support Projects 2021/2022.
Outline of the general Group Certification Process (as identified and employed as part of the Pilot Project Initiative).
Step 1: Enquiry from Applicant
Group Manager will issue Application documents (Group Rules and Group Member Application & Consent Form).
Step 2: Receipt completed Application
Group Manager receives completed application and may request additional information from Applicant before entry to the Group can be accepted. A field inspection could also be required.
Application is processed and , if successful, accepted.
Step 3: Request for FMP & location map, Invoice for Yr 1 raised
Group Manager will request completion of Stakeholder List by Applicant member and will request copy of long term Forest Management Plan (FMP), Forest Inventory & Work Plan and location map. Group Manager will supply Site Notice to Applicant member and will raise Invoice for Yr1 Initial Audit fee. Stakeholder consultation may be required on any new FMP, but the Group Manager/Certification Body can decide to combine the Stakeholder consultation of new FMPs with the initial or subsequent Group Certification Stakeholder consultation period.
Step 4: Receipt of Audit Fee, FMP & location map
Payment for Yr1 Initial audit fee received and stakeholder list, FMP and location map received [additional stakeholder details may be requested by the Group Manager].
Group Manager will prepare Forest Data Record in readiness for Initial audit.
Step 5: Stakeholder Consultation
Commencement of stakeholder consultation period. Applicant member will be notified of commencement date of stakeholder consultation.
Group Manager will require confirmation of display of Site Notice at key woodland access point(s) [photo of site notice in place].
Step 6: Audit
In Year 1 the Initial audit or Main Audit (MA) is carried out against one or both (for dual-certification) of the full endorsed Ireland standards [after stakeholder consultation period]. This will include, but is not limited to, review of 20 Year FMP, 5 Year work programme, and associated management and sales records, Review of Forest Data Record, Review of stakeholder responses [follow up/feedback/meetings - as required]
Presentation of initial findings on site [additional information may be requested]. Audit report will generally be supplied within a defined period of time.
NOTE: All Audit Reports are made Publicly Available.
Step 7: Confirmation of Group Entry
The Group Manager will review Final audit report and Group membership registration will be confirmed when any identified issues have been addressed.
The Applicant member will receive Confirmation of Membership after successful registration.
Surveillance Audits (SA)
After the initial Main Assessment (MA) in Year 1, an annual Surveillance Audit (SA) of the Group takes place for the next 4 years [after stakeholder consultation period]. During a Surveillance Audit a sample of the group is visited and audited against approximately one-third of the National Forest Certification Standard (or both National Standards for dual-certification). The aim is to visit different members of the group over the 5-year validity of the Certificate, unless there is a requirement to revisit a particular property to close out a previous Non-Conformity.
NOTE: All Audit Reports, including Surveillance Audit Reports, are made Publicly Available.
Reassessment Audit (RA)
When the Certificate comes up for renewal or reassessment after 5 years, a Reassessment Audit (RA) of the Group takes place. This is effectively the same procedure as the Main Assessment described above, as this is carried out against one or both (for dual-certification) of the full endorsed Ireland standards [after stakeholder consultation period].
NOTE: Group Certification does not only audit the member forests against the National Forest Certification Standards, but also audits the Group Manager and the Group Management Procedures against the Group Certification Standard.
As there are periodic changes to International Certification Requirements, the Group Management Procedures may require updating from time to time to reflect these changes.