Grow your own
No-one can say for sure just how much tree cover the earth has lost, but everyone knows that a vast area once covered by living, breathing forest has vanished. Australia, America, Greece and Russia are all countries that have over the past two years experienced huge losses in tree cover due to wild fires. Raging out of control and spreading at a speed set by the wind, the flames quickly destroy the lush green cover of the forest, reducing the landscape to a charred remain.
Here in Ireland, a country once covered almost entirely by woodland, less 10 per cent of the land is now protected by trees. In Éireann’s case, the loss of the forest was not due to fire but the failure to re-plant. Timber being felled for shipbuilding, construction and other useful purposes just wasn’t replaced, but clear-felled. Because of the lack of managed woodlands now at our disposal, we have to import most of our fuels and timber. The disadvantages of having to pay foreign interests for resources of finite fuels like coal and oil when we could be burning home-grown wood are fairly obvious, but the hard-thinking politicians seemed to have missed this point and have done little to encourage the planting of trees. If the effort that went into building thousands of houses that weren’t needed had instead gone into forest and copse establishment we would be better placed to face the future.
Trees create employment (I hate to use the term ‘jobs’ because this word has been used so often in the past to influence against sound planning judgement), needing skilled people to plant and manage them.
To establish manageable woodland starts with fencing. Although trees don’t escape like a gang of sheep might, it is important to keep goats, deer, rabbits and a whole team of other animals from entering and eating the vegetation – a bit like the vegetable garden. This is followed by ground preparation, planting then protection until they are ready for harvest. I know this takes many years to reach fruition, but we have responsibility to plan ahead for today’s children’s future.
What to plant
Nature knows best and forests evolved containing many different kinds of tree, not just one or two types. Most plantations of the recent past in Ireland have generally contained just two species – Sitka Spruce and Lodge-pole Pine. Both are fast growing and exotic (not native to Ireland), but neither are good choices if the establishment of permanent forest is the aim. They are clear felled and used to make pulp, because they don’t produce timber of high enough quality to be used for construction purposes for example (or so we are told).
Oak, Ash, Alder, Birch, Larch, Willow, Beech, Sycamore, Silver Fir, Scots Pine, Cherry and Sweet Chestnut are all species that are suitable to make permanent plantations.
One of the best choices is Willow, which provides a crop after only three or four years and each year from then onwards. Yet Willow was singled out by the Irish Forestry Authorities as a species you couldn’t get grant aid for, preferring instead to encourage species like Hawthorn (aka Maythorn) to be planted, sometimes exclusively. I know Hawthorn is handsome, but it is a slow-growing species with nasty thorns, and I’m sure that the decision to grant aid ‘thorn’, therefore demanding its establishment, has been made at a lovely warm meeting at some cosy suite in Brussels, or similar city, rather by anyone who has to actually handle it! There is no fruit to speak of and no potential to produce timber or fuel – a desperate choice!
There is plenty of land that would be improved by the planting of trees; commonage comes to mind (commonage is land shared by a group of people) and is currently much under-used. To plant such areas could provide timber, fuel and employment into the future. And its sustainable.
Next time Local trade
Chris Brown runs Brown’s Farm, a small farm in Louisburgh. He is an advocate of sustainable, natural farming methods and buying local.