Trees are great storers of carbon
Trees take carbon from the atmosphere and fix it in their wood -planting more trees to store carbon must be part of our efforts to meet climate change targets.
“The trees are in their autumn beauty” although here at Cabragh, the paths are becoming soft as the water table rises.
Cabragh is not a place of towering oaks, soaring scots pine and all the other wonders of a mature woodland but yet the trees of the wetland and hedgerow are prominent along with those that we planted to create vistas, highlight views and provide protection from the harsh wind.
At the turn of the last century, Ireland had the least tree cover in Europe and although things have improved somewhat since then, our tree cover today consists mainly of commercial coniferous plantation.
Yet, we now have a glorious opportunity. Hope and history may have rhymed at the end of the nineties but now it is carbon, covid and climate.
Trees take carbon from the atmosphere and fix it in their wood. Planting more trees to store carbon must be part of our efforts to meet climate change targets. However, there are large obstacles which, from the vantage point of climate change, seem a little ridiculous. A farmer who wishes to grow barley rather than milk cows does not need a licence to change. However , to plant more than one quarter of an acre of trees , he does need one and he also needs one to harvest that crop of trees. If landowners were free to choose whether to plant trees and when to harvest them, our rebalancing of land use to capture more carbon rather than to emit it would be more likely to happen.
Of course there are environmental concerns around forestry but farmers have adopted regulation in so many areas of their everyday life that surely a way can be found. The Environmental Protection Agency can regulate fertilizer use on forest lands to protect rivers and we can also avoid monoculture Sitka Spruce and all its adherent problems by specifying a mixture of species with added benefit given to deciduous planting.
Notwithstanding the corona virus, climate change remains the single biggest problem facing societies over the coming decades. Expanding forestry enhances biodiversity and has wide environmental benefits. Anticipated benefits from conventional farming post Brexit are reduced, so growing timber is another option particularly if we can switch from large scale use of concrete and cement, which are very high emission activities, to timber framed buildings as is the case in much of Europe.
It’s all a very far cry from the days of the early 1900’s when a large field beside the reedbed, still known as the Grove to this day, was the scene of an open air auction of the larch that grew there. Having felled the trees, the owner pulled the stumps from the ground using a jennet and returned the land to rich plant filled meadow. Farmers have always been able to adapt to changing circumstances.
Typical trees of a wetland are very visible in Cabragh which abounds with willow of many kinds, alder and birch. These trees have many associations in folk memory. The willow is associated with the Irish harp which, although carried through the rain and the mist and played in front of a hot roaring fire in the great halls of Irish Tower Houses was yet able to remain tuned. A great shield , covered in leather, recovered at Clonoura near Killenaule was cut from a great alder in the early Iron Age while the birch is associated with purity and birth.
In the tale of Suibhne Gealt, it is described as smooth and blessed, melodious and proud. The largest oak in Cabragh is the bog oak in front of the centre, probably 5,000 years old. Although we have planted both pedunculate and sessile oak, it will take a long time for them to mature in this harsh environment. Not so the oak in Bohernanave outside Gaelscoil Bhríde, planted in the limestone soil ten years ago and this year showing a huge crop of acorns.
If you delve a little deeper into the Cabragh landscape you will find the arbutus or strawberry tree. Surprisingly it is still growing as it really needs a much milder climate such as exists in West Kerry. Search too for the dusky pink flowered spindle where the flowers are set off by the leaves which are now turning to auburn. There is wild privet beside the pond too and you will also notice the blackberries of the buckthorn. There is also an alder buckthorn planted by schoolchildren of Ballycahill N.S. and Gaelscoil Bhríde over twenty years ago as part of tree week.
Stay safe , wear a mask,
Slán go fóill.