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.
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 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, 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.
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.
Application is processed and accepted or otherwise
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.
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 review of 20 Year FMP, 5 Year work programme, and associated management 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.
Currently, one of the original groups who participated in the Pilot Project remains certified, having successfully completed annual surveillance audits:
North East Forestry Certification Club
Presentation of Group Certificate to North East Forestry Certification Club by Andy Grundy of Soil Association Certification in the presence of Minister of State for Forestry, Andrew Doyle, TD on 30th April 2018 in the Royal Marine Hotel, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin
Other Group Certification Schemes established in recent years:
- Forestry Services Ltd (FSL) Group Certification Scheme - Established 2019