One impulse from a vernal wood May teach you more of man, Of moral evil and of good, Than all the ages can. - William Wordsworth, The Tables Turned
I rediscovered two fine publications on my bookshelf recently, which I had received some years back from the Tree Council of Ireland. Both had the steady hand of a man from Cahersiveen behind them - John McLoughlin who was the Executive Director of the Tree Council of Ireland, and one of the driving forces behind raising awareness of the importance of forestry in Ireland.
The first booklet is called 'Glimpses of Irish Forestry' co-written by John and Donal Magner, which charts the beginning of Irish forestry at the end of the last Ice Age some 13,000 years ago and is packed with interesting facts and figures. The second is compiled by a number of people from various backgrounds and is titled 'Irish Tree Trivia' and every house/school and library in the country should have a copy.
It was encouraging to read that gradually over the past decade or so in Ireland, the worth of forestry is no longer being measured in narrow economic terms, but in its total contribution to society. It is now estimated that there are over 20 million visits to forests and woodland areas in Ireland every year for recreational and educational purposes.
Trees also play a strong role in our place names the folklore of the country. In Kerry we have Ard na Caithne (Height of the Arbutus), Achadh Da Eo (Field of the Two Yews), Doire Fhonain (Oakwood of St. Finan), Gleann Beithe (Glen of the Birches) and Dairbhre (Place of the Oaks).
Despite the decline of Irish forests over the millennium, trees and woods played an important part in Irish life. For example, 28 trees, bushes and woody plants were classified in the Ancient Laws of Ireland, known as The Brehon Laws. The laws of the Neighbourhood 'Bretha Comaithches' categorises trees, bushes and other plants, not only according to their wood properties but also because of their non-wood characteristics.
Wild Apple and Hazel were regarded as noble species of the wood because of their ability to produce fruits and nuts, while other species had spiritual or medicinal qualities. Trees such as Yew and Holly achieved high prominence in ancient times because they were regarded as sacred trees. They also produced wood for specific uses. For instance chariot shafts were made from Holly and archery bows were carved from Yew wood. For the record the Nobles of the Woods for the ancient Irish were Oak, Hazel, Holly, Yew, Ash, Scots Pine and Wild Apple.
Today there is still a lingering reluctance in some parts of Ireland to plant trees, although the enthusiasm with which this year's allocation of saplings were snapped up in March would lead me to believe otherwise!
At a time when many farmers are leaving the land, forestry should be an attractive use of land which is now fallow. Forestry is one of the most environmentally friendly land uses. Nature provides sunlight, water and soil nutrients needed by the tree, while carbon dioxide is absorbed by the leaves during photosynthesis and converted into carbon and stored by the tree. Generally, pesticide usage is almost non-existent in Irish forests, except for some application on trees growing on poor land. Fungicides are never used in Irish forests and the only serious fungal disease to effect Irish conifers is butt rot, which is treated by a non-toxic fertiliser. Most forests thrive in Ireland without any fertiliser application.
The trees growing in Irish forests differ considerably from other European countries because Ireland relies heavily on introduced species. Ireland has a limited range of native species, numbering just 28 in total. Our native trees include: Oak, Ash, Birch, Alder, Wild Cherry, Scots Pine and Yew. Other significant timber species such as Sweet Chestnut, Sycamore, Norway Spruce, Douglas Fir and Larch are non-native, in that they failed to reach Ireland before the continental land bridge disappeared. They were later introduced by people and have become naturalised. For instance the Normans introduced the Sycamore here, but it is a native of central and southern Europe.
As the evenings lengthen and the weather become warmer, get out and discover a woodland in your local area. Having forested areas such as Killarney National Park, Ballyseedy Wood and the Landsdown Estate is a huge bonus for Kerry people.