We need to hold birch trees dear and sacred again

Galway ‘tree gang’ that planted nearly 3,000 trees last winter looking for more volunteers

It’s great to meet a fellow tree nut. Finola Ó Siochrú is the energy behind the Kinvara Ballinderreen Tree Gang, an alliance of local groups and volunteers which last winter planted nearly 3,000 native Irish trees in two townlands near the Galway town.

Down at the Burrenbeo Learning Landscape Symposium last month, Finola took us out the road to Joe Gormley’s land where he has given them a space to trial Miyawaki-style dense planting of native trees. With the help of Imogen Rabone’s Trees on the Land, who provided trees and advice, the volunteers gathered seaweed, cardboard, horse manure and straw to prepare some of the plots, trialling various different methods.

The late Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki’s forest-making style inspired us to begin Pocket Forests in urban settings. Visiting the trees with Finola, I felt the same sense of slightly daunted excitement we had in our first growing season as all the bare winter cardboard and mulched ground is swallowed when 2,000 bare sticks planted in darkest winter leaf up and everything explodes into life.

Finola has found a tribe of people who enjoy the practical feeling of doing something positive for both climate change and biodiversity. They planted a further 1,000 native trees in Funshin More, a nearby townland, in February. A local donation of used wire guards to keep the young trees safe from resident hares came their way and volunteers dried and assembled the guards. Schools and other groups made mulch mats from waste cardboard to give the young trees a head start when the grass began to regrow. Three days were spent planting with people from Kinvara Tidy Towns, Kinvara Earthkeepers, the Dolmen Centre and Northampton National School.

The Tree Gang forests need some maintenance over the summer months so if you are at a loose end in the west and want to get involved, Finola would love some help (kbtreegang.com). We also heard all about the Burrenbeo’s Hare’s Corner project at the symposium. Ponds, orchards and small native woodlands have been created in quiet corners of dozens of fields across Clare.

Small connected actions growing into a network of habitat. It’s a project that could easily work across the country. And all the inspiration you need for tree love is in a new Lyric FM show called Root and Branch by ecologist Anja Murray and musician Brían Mac Gloinn. In a lilting ramble through music, history, folklore and botany, the first episode on the birch left a lasting message. Pioneer trees like birches made our home, our soil and our prosperity. We need to hold them dear and sacred again. It’s a gorgeous and important listen available wherever you get your podcasts.

Catherine Cleary is co-founder of Pocket Forests