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Éanna Ní Lamhna: Trees make good neighbours, so schools can get a free sapling to plant on National Tree Day

The Tree Council’s president is a naturalist, broadcaster and writer. Born and raised in Co Louth, she lives in Dublin with her husband, Prof John Harding

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Éanna Ní Lamhna

Éanna Ní Lamhna

Éanna Ní Lamhna

The Tree Council of Ireland is 33 years in existence. It was set up originally by An Taisce. In those times, in the 1980s, there were all kinds of people interested in trees and bogs and anything else, so instead of having all sorts of small associations, they set up sort of central bodies, one of which was the Tree Council.

Its members are the associations from around the country, like the Society of Irish Foresters, Crann, the Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations, and various local authorities. Those associations are the members, and they put forward people to the Tree Council.

I got involved because I’m into wildlife and, in the 2000s when John McLoughlin was president, they’d have me in to launch things for them or plant a tree or the likes. I was president of An Taisce from 2004 to 2009 and after that I was vice president of the Tree Council and then president — and now I’m back for a second stint.

The Tree Council exists to raise awareness of trees in Ireland and promote them as a good thing. We run two big annual events: National Tree Week in March and National Tree Day in October. March is a general thing where communities plant trees through their Tidy Towns or local libraries or village groups.

National Tree Day, next Thursday, October 7, is aimed at schoolchildren, encouraging them to put down their pencils and walk in the woodlands and have a talk about the leaves changing, and to collect acorns and conkers. They can also have a tree sapling sent to their school for them to plant there.

When schools know about National Tree Day — which has been running for 22 years — and the free sapling one year, they tend to know about it for the following years. It has its own momentum.

‘Trees are good neighbours’ is a theme this year. They are good for biodiversity — the air, the soil, the animals.

We need money to post out the trees to the schools, so we need sponsorship and Spar is the sponsor this year. It’s ‘under the tree at Spar’, of course, so that’s a good tie-in. It’s also an added theme to the day, encouraging planting things such as crocuses and snowdrops at the foot of a tree that will flower before the tree’s leaves come.

Schools get notification of Tree Day every year, often through the team from the Green Schools initiative. Schools can go online and click to have a tree sent to them.

This year’s sapling is a native wild Irish cherry tree. Last year it was a spindle tree, before that a holly and a birch. They’re only small saplings, not trees that have been brought on for a couple of years. They’re very small, but the children get to see them grow over the few years.

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If a school doesn’t have to have a lot of space — even if it’s in a concrete jungle — the pupils can plant their sapling in a big pot and it will still come up.

In addition to getting the sapling, I write about trees and do up worksheets and lessons that schools can access, which all gets the children talking. They can plant their bulbs under the new tree or existing trees, and go out and see the changing leaves and the nature around them. It’s good for children to know things like how trees take carbon monoxide out of the air, and that these are the things that make them good neighbours.

In the 1980s, when there were all these different groups interested separately in trees, it was counterproductive. The Tree Council is the voice of trees in Ireland. If somebody in another country wants to talk to someone in Ireland about trees, then they come to the Tree Council. We’re the first-stop shop.

Trees make the world a better place and this is me doing my bit for them.

Being president of An Taisce was a blood sport, but this is a more gentle affair. People generally like trees, so they’re well disposed to us.

Spar National Tree Day takes place on Thursday, October 7, 2021, encouraging schools around Ireland to plant a tree and learn about why ‘trees are good neighbours’, for their role in supporting biodiversity and protecting the environment. For more information, see treeday.ie 

In conversation with Sarah Caden


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