Trees as an investment? Why not! In order to manage a forest independently and sustainably, Susanne Braun and her husband needed money. So they started looking for partners.
What if they just bought the forest? What Susanne Braun suggested to her husband Pierre sounded bold. You had just moved to France and you didn't have a lot of money. He worked for a forester, she was pregnant, and her prospects as a forest engineer seemed bleak. "In France you just sit in the office and do the administration." But she wanted to get out, work under the trees, "design the forest in a way that I consider sensible and ecological." But how should they live on it? Asked Pierre. "By not doing it alone," said Susanne.
Today, seven years later, 180 people already belong to the forest group "Avenir forêt" (Future Forests). Most of the partners come from France, some from Germany, Holland and the USA. "They are completely normal people who want to protect the forest as a cultural asset, but often have little knowledge of the forest at first," says Susanne Braun. Including a musician from the neighboring village and a retired couple from Bordeaux. People interested in nature who have saved a bit of money – The minimum deposit is 12,000 euros – and would rather invest it in trees and soil than in stocks or in savings accounts at a bank.
500 hectares of forest belong to the forest group
This is how the two tell it on a Sunday afternoon in the garden in front of their house. It is right at the entrance to Coulié, a village in the Massif Central in south-western France. All around meadows, trees, rolling hills. "Ecological forest group" is written on a sign on the road. Her house is also her office, the work materials are stored in the shed. The group already owns 500 hectares of forest, which corresponds to around 500 soccer fields, which are scattered within a two-hour drive from the place where the couple lives with their three children. Close enough that the two of them can still do the forest work from there. If the journey to the woods takes too long, you can sleep in the car or in one of the huts that you have now expanded.
Of course, 500 hectares is tiny compared to the total forest area of over 16 million hectares in France. Almost three quarters of them are privately owned, distributed among countless owners, often with only one to two hectares – in Germany only just under half of the forest belongs to private individuals. "But we grow every year," says Susanne. And they are now also convincing others with their concept of sustainable management. They advise a crowdfunding group in the south of the country. And some neighbors have asked them to search their woods according to their principles.
Not dreamers, but classic foresters
But there are also the others in the village. "They think we're hippies," says Pierre Demougeon and laughs. Maybe there is actually a bit of hippie in them, considering the fearlessness with which they have made a lifelong dream come true. But they are not dreamers, but foresters in the classic sense who use and preserve the forest. The two manage the forest group, do the balance sheet reports, buy the forest, organize the harvest and sale of wood and take care of everything else that makes a forest crisis-proof. "I'm not claiming that we have the ultimate knowledge of how to save the forest," says Susanne. "But my wish or my call is to be interested in the subtleties of the forest. This assumes that the forest owners are sensitized and acquire a minimum of knowledge and that these rules are understood and applied."
Preserving the forest hand in hand
The two complement each other well. Susanne, 39, is the visionary, a woman enthusiastic about her subject, who says things like: "I was passionate about wood-decomposing fungi when I was studying." Pierre, 38, is calmer, a pragmatist. They wouldn't buy clear-cut areas, he says. This is still common practice in France. As soon as the planted trees are thick enough, they are shaved off. However, no mixed and multi-generational forest can grow in which the younger trees are protected by the canopy of the older ones and which is less susceptible to the consequences of climate change or pests than a monoculture of the same age. The ground is also ruined by the forest machines after clear cutting, and the poisonous bracken can spread, whereas again only pesticides can help.
"It is not profitable for us to buy forests that are in a massacred state. We always have to weigh up what it gives us and how much work we have to put into it. Even if it would of course be good for our image if we were to save such forests, "says Pierre. His wife adds:" Here in the Limousin we have no jungle like in the Amazon that could be saved. The local forest is a cultural asset that we humans live on. He gives us wood, oxygen and water. And we preserve this forest. "
The utilization logic
The next day, in a small forest, ten minutes away from her home. A hornbeam falls with a crash into the surrounding trees, for a moment it looks as if the birches and oaks are catching it with outstretched arms. Then the six meter high trunk falls to the ground. Pierre, who is a bit reminiscent of a Lego figure with his orange-red helmet and gasoline tank on his back, saws off a few branches from the felled trunk so that it lies closer to the ground. "This way the tree will rot faster. And in three years, thanks to the fungi, insects and bacteria, it will all be fertile humus ", screams at Susanne against the noise of the chainsaw.
The forest does not belong to them, but to a man from the neighboring village who has asked them to search through it according to their ideas. An important extra income for the two of them, because they only pay a small salary for their work at "Avenir forêt". Pierre is already sawing the next trunk, "a beastly job," he curses. Susanne uses a red spray can to mark more trees that she must cut down. She is sober about it; if the trees are too dense, as is the case here in this relatively young grove, they have to create light for the "good trees": straight trunks with a wide and airy crown that later produce beautiful wood. Wait a minute: Didn't this recycling logic destroy the forest? And then they just leave the logs lying around and rotting away, so you could still build something out of them or at least use them as firewood.
Susanne laughs. "We hear that a lot." Then it says: are they too lazy to put things in order? And it's true, the hilly forest really doesn't look like a well-tended forest park. He shouldn't either. But the people in the village have to learn that first. Then the Bavarian explains to them in almost accent-free French why it can make more sense to leave cut trees lying around than to drag them over the steep slopes and injure young trees in the process. Or they can be towed away in forest vehicles weighing several tons, which compress the soft forest floor and thus damage it in the long term. For the wood that they actually fetch from the forest, they have created a careful network of paths, so-called "back alleys", which are laid out at least 30 to 40 meters apart. The forest vehicles are only allowed to drive here.
An endless cycle of give and take
Very few people have any idea how a forest works. How important, for example, the airy soil structure is so that the trees can take root deeply. And what all the dead wood on the ground can do. The forester kneels down and exposes a few young oak leaves in the leaves. The felled trunks lie protectively around the oak nursery. "Wild animals don't just trudge in there when they want to get to the tree trunks."
Basically, the forest is an endless cycle of give and take – if you let it and only intervene carefully. We are standing in a sunny clearing with chestnuts, beeches and birches that are still young. When they get bigger, the forester explains, some will have to give way so that others have enough light. A selection that nature also makes. "But that takes a lot of time. We are accelerating it." Is it sometimes difficult for her? "Sure, especially when it comes to the old trees, that matters to me." She looks up at a gnarled, partly dead oak at the edge of the clearing. "Methusalems is also what we call habitat trees with woodpecker holes where owls, bats and insects settle." The tree is already bending dangerously over the others. Susanne Braun puts her hand briefly on the trunk, leaves the spray can in her jacket pocket, then she walks on.
Become a forest owner?
This is possible: With a deposit of 12,000 euros, "Avenir forêt" gives you 1,000 shares of twelve euros each – initially it was ten euros per share. In the meantime, the group's forest has been reassessed and its value has already increased by 20 percent. You can end your membership after five years at the earliest and sell the shares at a higher value.
Who writes here: Ariane Heimbach
Rethinking moment: A starving polar bear in the film "Our Earth" (2007), who jumps from ice floe to ice floe – because of the melting glaciers he can no longer hunt seals.
Current Challenge: Avoid buying new clothes if possible. Current status for 2020: three t-shirts made of organic cotton and a pair of recycled sneakers.
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