Tuesday 16 January 2018

Loss of innocence as third of children never climbed a tree

Study shows almost half of our children spend more time in front of a screen than outside

Branching out: Friends Andrew Power and Aaron Condren playing in Ardgillan Photo: Mark Condren
Branching out: Friends Andrew Power and Aaron Condren playing in Ardgillan Photo: Mark Condren
Children spend too much time watching TV instead to playing outdoors say dietary and fitness experts
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

One-third of children in Ireland have never climbed a tree as they spend most of their time watching television.

A shocking new survey reveals almost half of ­children (48pc) now spend more time in front of a screen than ­playing outdoors.

A further 10pc have never visited a forest or wooded area.

However, over 80pc of people surveyed in a new study said they found walking through a forest was good for their mental health, and had a calming effect on their personality.

The results highlight a massive generational divide, as the growth of technology continues to replace more traditional ways of keeping children entertained.

Some 74pc of parents said they climbed trees "often" or "all the time" when they were children.

But now they believe only 5pc of Irish kids indulge in tree-climbing "all the time".

The study was carried out to mark ESB Tree Week, which will see hundreds of events taking place throughout the country, ranging from poetry readings to planting seeds.

Starting today, the goal of the week-long event is to ­encourage more people to take time to appreciate the great outdoors.

The findings come as one-in-four Irish children is ­overweight or obese.

Health experts warn that watching too much television during childhood increases the chances of developing weight problems more directly than a poor diet or not exercising.

Obesity expert Professor Donal O'Shea said experience showed these children would become overweight in adulthood, and immediate action was essential to reverse the statistics.

"As a result they will suffer health complications throughout their lives," he said.

"Their potential contribution to the workforce will be impacted and their healthcare costs will be extortionate," he added.

While studies show the rates of childhood obesity in Irish children of primary school age have levelled off, experts say current levels remain unacceptably high.

Meanwhile, organisers of Tree Week say the event will encourage people to "go outside" and explore the great outdoors.

In Ireland there are some 709 million trees - equating to 154 for each person.

Widespread availability of rich, fertile soil, a ready supply of water, as well as a mild and moist climate, provide ideal growing conditions.

It means that trees grow over three times faster here than in mainland Europe.

One of the legacies of British rule here are the remains of the old landed estates, which were adorned by trees, including Fota, in Co Cork, Killarney National Park in Co Kerry, and Avondale, in Co Wicklow.

The tallest tree in the country is a Douglas Fir located in Powerscourt in Co Wicklow, measuring 61.5 metres high.

It still has some way to go, however, to beat a Dawn Redwood in California, which measures 115 metres high, and is the tallest in the world.

Standing 44m high, the tallest broad-leaf tree in the country is a Hybrid Black Poplar in Borris, Co Carlow.

The tallest native tree is an Ash tree found in Marlfield, Tipperary, which is 40m high.

The oldest tree in Ireland is a Yew Tree in the Glencormac Yew in Co Wicklow, which is at least 600 years old.

The oldest oak tree can be found in Abbeyleix in Co Laois - believed to be between 500 and 700 years old.

Meanwhile, the widest tree is a Giant Sequoia Redwood in the Caledon Forest, Co Tyrone, which is 7.53 metres in girth.

While the number of trees worldwide has almost halved since the beginning of human civilisation, there remains more than three trillion trees across the globe.

However, experts warn about 15 billion are being lost each year from deforestation, forest management, and changes in land use.

Pat O'Doherty, of ESB, said Tree Week will remind people of the benefits of embracing what nature has to offer.

"People need to take the time to appreciate trees, either by learning about them, or just simply getting out into the fresh air to enjoy them," he added.

Sunday Independent

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