Barking up the right tree

Posted on: 7th April, 2014

Category: Home & Garden

Contributor: West Cork People

Ted Cook reviews National Tree Week (March 2 to 8) activities with communities and schools in West Cork

2014 marks the 25th Tree Week in Macroom District. Native trees and shrubs from local sources contribute best to preserving local genetic character and because geological diversity is the foundation of biodiversity, local ‘provenance’ best ensures that more trees reach maturity. George Peterken (UK Nature Conservancy) reckons that provenances prevail within 10-mile quadrats (five-mile radii).

West Cork may be said to be ‘hyper-oceanic’ — its peculiar climate is marked by warm wet fleeces that make for a luxuriant wealth of epiphytic plant life — mosses and lichens and ivy and honeysuckle. St. Gobnaits’ Wood and Toon Valley Wood are among our finest examples of Atlantic Oakwoods — their equivalent being found in North Portugal and La Gomera Island off Tenerife. Proximity to the coast, with its’ elevated onshore drift of pottassium and calcium salts carried by our prevailing south-westerlies may be said to form a ‘provenance’. Our Kerry Slug (G. maculata) according to current research (Prof. John Sweeney et al.) is proving to be a reliable indicator species of whether ‘oceanicity’ will contract or expand, as our micro-climates face accelerating Climate Change. This species’ sensitivity to even subtle shifts in ‘acidity’ will verify whether carbon concentrations are stable or otherwise.

The natural ‘climax’ vegetation of West Cork’s sandstone sloping hills is Sessile Oak, with Hazel and Holly forming under-canopy. Invariably, our hard Fern (primarily) confirms the acidic nature of the geology. Common Oak (identified by stalked acorns as distinct from Sessiles’ stalkless Acorns) prefers deeper low-lying basic soils and are tolerant of occasional inundation/saturation.


(Event took place at the Nano Nagle Centre, Killavullen, on Sunday, March 2, 2014)


To celebrate our trees and their bounteous benefits to all life forms, the Sisters of Nano Nagle Convent for Spirituality and Ecology invited the author to profile the introduction to Ireland in Cromwellian Times of the English Beech. A shallow-rooting ‘furniture’ tree, the Beech has come under pressure from rising rainfall levels in Ireland since the 1990s. During the violent storm gusts of February 12, Beech in every County (North and South) fell victim. Killarney National Park lost many fine Beech’ in addition to scores of ‘whales’ of exotic trees. Adjacent Muckross Abbey, the fallen Turkey Oaks of 5.3m girth resembled beached Whales. Few self-sown native Trees were wind thrown.

After Britain’s October 15, 1987 storm, which claimed one quarter of its timber hardwoods, Oliver Rackham’s research concluded that in very many instances, the ‘fallen’ had been improperly planted three centuries earlier.

At Nano Nagle’s, the nuns and visitors planted a fine Holly bush to replace a windblown Larch in the Convent Demesne. Despite the driving rains by the Blackwater, participants also paid a visit to the Demesne’s ornament and glory — an Ash Tree with girth (5.6m); grace and stature rarely witnessed in these islands. We surmised that this ‘Pillar of Nature’ witnessed the birth and upbringing of Nano Nagle and her cousin Edmund Burke during 1709-1720. An additional potted Holly was presented to the Convents’ newly invested Prioress Sister Jennifer.


Trees and the law
(event took place in Macroom on Tuesday, March 4, 2014)

Tree Week in Macroom has since 2003 been marked by a lecture on a tree-related topic. The 2012 presentation explored our Bronze Age Brehon Law in relation to it’s Forestry Codes; 2013 reviewed the Common Law in Ireland since it’s introduction by the French Normans in later 12th Century in relation to Trees and Woodland and Community Rights/Access to the then Wildwood.

2014 reviewed our current Forestry Act 1946, which provides for Felling Licences of all Trees over 10 years of age — and the exceptions. Our County Forestry Inspector Eugene Curran can be contacted at 028-23400 and will gladly offer guidance and respond to complaints from the public.

In summary (and subject to a few exceptions) it is a criminal offence to cut down a tree without a licence. Applications are made at the Garda Station nearest the tree(s) or woodland. It may also be an offence to cause any tree to die or decay and in addition — to cut/prune/top/lop any tree over 10 years of age that does not conform to Sound Forestry Practice (Section 4).

Participants gathered at the Library and adjourned to a 1.6 acre site (below the Clubhouse) in Macroom’s historic Castlegrounds. Silver Birch; Hazel; Alder; Holly and Aspen were planted during the afternoon by the local community. The author and his colleague Conor O’Callaghan acknowledge the support and positive response by the Demesne Trustees to our proposal to ecologically restore the ‘clear felled’ Sitka Plantation and nurse on a native grove especially for the benefit of the adjoining Trout River (Sullane) with its’ Freshwater Pearl Mussel population and Otter population. It is our intention to support the suggestion of Kevin Corcoran to the Trustees, as guardians of this 16th Century Parkland, to name the access from the Castle Arch to the ‘Black Gate’, as ‘Lady Ardilaun Avenue’. Nowhere has she been acknowledged for entrusting her beloved ancestral Demesne in 1925. It is a profound responsibility to guard her Ancient Oaks and Lime trees against damage, disease and neglect. The author and Conor ‘ Callaghan have been approved by the ‘guardians’ (trustees) to undertake, voluntarily, a detailed Tree Survey – the first in Macroom Demesne since the twilight of Anglo-Irish Ireland.


Community tree planting
(event took place in Macroom on Saturday, March 8, 2014)

On Saturday, March 8, (11am to 4:30pm) our tree-planting commenced with a Blessing of a Silver Birch planted by Trustee Miriam Cronin, by PP Rev. Fr. Roberts. Folk came and went steadily — each planting a bareroot. Potted Oak trees were added by the O’Leary Family and Lenihan Family to honour loved ones passed over. The Luceys of Ballymakeera presented a fine stout Yew – Shane Murphy (Lavender Plants) donated three Arbutus. By 4:30pm, 70 saplings were planted in the west portion of the 1.6 acre site. Fifty participants including several children helped. Dennis and Joan Moriarty provided the picnic. We acknowledge the Tree Council’s donation of Silver Birch and contribution to our purchase of an additional 100 sapling. We also thank grower Tony Adams for donating 20 vigorous Hazel Trees.


Schools and Tree Week 

On Thursday, March 6, we visited Inchigeelagh and Kilbarry Primary Schools. Since 1989, the PPs of Inchigeelagh have encouraged the scholars to plant in the Churchgrounds during Tree Week. The current incumbent Fr. Martin continues this ‘tree tradition’ and Margaret Lucey (current School Principal) supports the initiative. We added three Silver Birch to our Hazels; evergreen Oaks and fine Aspen.

At Kilbarry School, Principal Patrick O’Connell adheres to the School’s ‘Tree-Ethos’ – as has his predecessors Masters Cronin and Allen since 1985. We added a potted Holly with Junior Class and a Silver Birch with Senior Classes.

Friday, March 7 thankfully was a day describe a century ago in a poem by Macroom Poet Peter Golden –
‘The Winter Winds are gone at last, The Storms are over –the rains are past, The Trees that once had lost their sheen,
Are dressing up in Brilliant Green’

It was a promising day for First Years of Macroom’s Secondary School Coláiste Mac Aogáin — and much anticipated by year head Hazel Burke and Principal Trish Lynam. We set off upriver to add Hazel and Alder and Holly to our ‘crinniú’ of Irish sapling. Each scholar prepared their planting site; added seaweed dust; set their tree and firmed it in and placed a rabbit guard and bamboo to facilitate aftercare in the hopefully long halcyon summer ahead. As Hazel said subsequently, “despite themselves they learnt much”. We acknowledge Trish Lynam’s generous provision of a ‘healthy hamper’ picnic of homemade whole-wheaten scones and fruit and nuts and organic yogurts.

In conclusion, the author regrets that, due to a printing error in West Cork People, families arrived at the planting site on Sunday, March 9 and were disappointed. To make up for this, we plan an event at the site during Heritage Week next August (Heritage Week runs from August 23 to 31 this year).

As the ‘bareroot’ planting season has almost passed, we propose planting potted specimen stock (Holm Oak; Irish Elm; Sessile and Common Oak and Crabapple) during August and will broadcast our invitation through West Cork People.


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