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Independent.ie

Thursday 8 December 2016

Tree Week can help us appreciate their value

Joe Barry

Published 08/02/2012 | 06:00

Timber growers tend to focus mostly on the financial aspects of owning woodland, but as trees bring us so many benefits that we often ignore or take for granted, we should take a more rounded look at trees and how we could not exist without them.

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In order to remind us of how trees are basic to our survival, each year the Tree Council of Ireland organises a national tree week. This year, it will be held on March 4-10 and, with the help of the 50 or so groups that form the council, this week-long festival will celebrate all the positive aspects of trees in our lives and the environment, and I am grateful to the council for much of the following information.

Humans have always depended on trees for food, medicine, shelter and materials. They provide oxygen and absorb pollutants, improve air quality and offer us clean air to breathe. Trees enhance wildlife habitats, beautify landscapes, prevent flooding and soil erosion and reduce the impact of climate change.

They contribute the essential raw materials for our sawmills, joinery works, crafts and many other industries, providing a source of livelihood and employment which is especially valuable in rural areas where jobs are often scarce.

Trees provide wonderful recreational opportunities for both young and old and have a positive impact on physical and mental wellbeing. A walk in a woodland is proven to reduce blood pressure and provides essential relaxation.

Importance

From the moment they are planted, trees grow in importance, visibility and value and, as the years pass, they improve our quality of life in countless ways. But, even if all this doesn't convince you of the merit of planting them, how about the following?

As connectors with our past, trees are among the oldest living objects on the planet and serve as a link between our ancestors, ourselves and our future descendants.

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A bristlecone pine in California was measured by core samples in 1957 and found to be 4,789 years old, while the oldest Coastal redwood in the Sequoia National Park, California, was found to have reached 3,200 years.

However, these ancient trees are mere children compared to the clonal colonies which produce new individual specimens from the one root system. Species include aspen, oak, spruce and pine, and one clonal colony of aspen in Japan was estimated to be 80,000 years old.

Just imagine the conditions our ancestors lived in when these ancients were seedlings, especially when you relate the astonishing lives of trees to our comparatively recent human development.

It is only 5,000 years since Newgrange was built and the last ice age occurred a relatively recent 10,000 years ago, following which Ireland was totally covered in woodland.

Charcoal burning for iron smelting and the development of agriculture gave us the landscape we see today.

Trees have also played a significant role in our mythologies, traditions, beliefs and religions, so our history is interwoven with their history.

Through the ages, trees have been at the centre of communities, standing as silent witnesses to events, stories and legends that have shaped our development.

Ancient trees with rich tales can be found across our country and many are significant landmarks, often being the only remaining evidence of people and events of the past.

This year, the Tree Council is asking people to celebrate Ireland's remarkable heritage of trees and woodlands and to recognise the significance of trees and forests as a living link to our past, as an enjoyable, life-enhancing asset in the present, and as a wise investment in our future.

Tree Week and its events are intended to inspire us all, young and old, to get out into the fresh air and, together, plant thousands of trees or just enjoy walking among them.

Theme

This year the theme is "Trees, our past, our present, our future" and to be part of national tree week, people are encouraged to organise events. These can include forest and woodland walks, nature trails, workshops, woodturning displays, talks, tree climbing, broadcasts, launches, poetry readings, exhibitions, dramas, competitions and tree plantathons, where communities are challenged to plant a target number of trees on a designated local site over a fixed time period.

Full details of all events and how to get involved can be found at www.treecouncil.ie or by phoning 01 493 1313. Also, visit www.crann.ie for details of Crann's activities.

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