Heartwood Plantations: Doing Things a Little Bit Differently

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Layering Biodiversity into the Plantation Forestry Method.


We were lucky to have the chance to sit down with Jon, Heartwood Plantation’s Managing Director, to chat about their unique niche in the market. Heartwood joined the CFF flock earlier this year, when they approached us to do some initial feasibility work to assess the financial viability of layering carbon farming on three properties that they acquired in the Gippsland area. A company that keeps environmental stewardship at the core of their values, we were intrigued by their approach to plantation forestry and eager to tackle the challenge of seeing how carbon could stack up in their operation. The interesting point of differentiation for this project? Their desire to make the plantations more biodiverse and manage the project so that it fit in more harmoniously with its surrounding environment. 


Why? And how did they do it? Let’s find out. 


Before we dive in, here’s a few facts about the Heartwood Plantation Project: 


Location: Gippsland, Victoria  

Annual rainfall: 850 mm per annum  

Project type: Plantation forestry method 2022. A combination of Schedule 1 (newly established) and Schedule 2 (short rotation to long rotation) 

Species list: 

  • Spotted gum (Corymbia maculata
  • Yellow stringybark (E. muelleriana
  • Red ironbark (E. tricarpa
  • Coast grey box (E. bosistiana

Permanence period: 25 years 

Crediting period: 1- 17 years 

Project area: Originally 152 Ha, initially spread across 3 farms. A project variation submitted in April 2023 added 7 additional properties to the project, bringing the total size to 452 Ha.  

Scope of services delivery: Feasibility, project registration plus ongoing management for compliance and maintenance, some design reviews and variation. 

Modelled cost per credit: $11.70 – $39.30  


The Heartwood Model 

A pioneer in the timber production industry, Heartwood Plantations does things a bit differently. In addition to growing mixed eucalypts for hardwood production, they also run livestock through their plantations and work with local conservation groups on ecological restoration projects. Working symbiotically, these three arms have contributed to a unique business model. Livestock play an important part in managing the grass and understorey, mitigating fire risk and controlling unwanted weeds. Areas of conservation (such as fragile riparian zones) have been identified on each property and managed to connect wildlife corridors, protect waterways, and preserve indigenous vegetation. The trees benefit from reduced competition for moisture and nutrients, minimised fire risk and the faster breakdown of pruned branches and thinned stems from the livestock browsing and trampling the debris. The livestock also provide important nutrient cycling in the topsoil and the entire system remains carbon positive with the trees absorbing far more CO2 than the animals emit. Given their existing model, it was a natural fit for the company to explore where a carbon farming project could fit into the puzzle.  


Jon, it sounds like environmental stewardship has always been central to your strategy at Heartwood, where did the motivation to work carbon into your business model come from?  

Our model has a goal to bring farming, forestry and conservation together for mutual benefit on each property we manage. Carbon was a natural fit to add further value to what we are doing. 


When planting, your team used a biodiverse species mix. Tell me a little bit about why you did this and your strategy behind working biodiversity into your plantations?  

The initial reason behind multi-species was to mimic nature more accurately. With hundreds of eucalyptus species existing across Australia, growing mono-culture plantations didn’t seem to be wise, even though it might be easier. Each eucalyptus species has different advantages and disadvantages. We needed to consider different rainfalls, soils, aspects, elevation and the potential for exposure to frost, water logging, drought and wind. We selected about 6 species that had the timber qualities we were looking for, and that we felt could thrive in the Gippsland region we were working in. We then matched these species to each property, accordingly. Sometimes this led to three or four compartments of different species on a property. In recent years, we have gone a step further and planted a mix of two species in each compartment to reduce our risks even further and to create greater competition between the trees. As a bonus, this has led to greater biodiversity in tree species across our properties. In time, we hope to be able to measure greater biodiversity in fauna on these properties as well. 


Did you consult with any experts, scientists, or special interest groups to get advice on what to plant and where to plant it?  

As Foresters we are trained to grow and manage forests and to consult and learn from others. Unfortunately, a lot of what Heartwood is doing is trailblazing, so while we have consulted where possible and learned from the research available, but most of our learning has been through trial and error over the last 25 years. 


What were your priorities in getting the project off the ground? 

We first started setting up private plantation projects in 1997. In the early days these were prescriptive on exiting farms. Over the years we have developed our own brand. This has enabled us to be involved in setting up projects from the start, including buying the land and designing the project over a 25-year term. Our vision – and priority – is to create a profitable model that provides food and fibre while improving the landscape they are being grown on. 


Have you noticed any additional benefits in the area stemming from your choice to invest in biodiversity?  

We have been looking into apiary, and the advantage of multiple species means more times of the year that trees are flowering. We are noticing more fauna in our plantations, which may be related to the same thing – plenty of variety in nectar, pollen, insects and sap. 


What have been some of the key learnings from the process of establishing the carbon projects that you will apply to new areas?  

One of the key learnings is to plan well. Carbon is still in its infancy in Australia, and it takes time to get the registration completed and understand all the rules. Therefore, it is important to get good advice. CFF have been fantastic in working with us to meet our goals and trailblaze alongside us. They have been able to answer most questions and enable us to plan accordingly.


Thanks Jon!  


Ready to find out more?

Interested in learning more about the plantation forestry method? We have some great resources on our Education Hub to get you up to speed. For a quick heads up, check out our Plantation Forestry 101 blog post. Looking for something more substantial? Our Plantation Forestry Guide is a detailed, thorough run through of everything you need to understand before undertaking a project.


Explore our range of educational resources in our Carbon Farming Education Hub where we frequently publish educational articles, webinars, and guidebooks. 


When you’re ready to explore the feasibility of undertaking a carbon project on your property, email us at hello@carbonfarming.org.au or give us a bell at (08) 6835 1140 to be connected with one of our project facilitators.

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