Restoring the great woods of Aughty ‘reminds us of the profound importance of our ancient forests’

Game Changers: The Woodland League in Clare explore a future where forests can be managed according to a deeper wisdom

Our modern approach to trees has been to farm them rather than forest them. The bulk of Ireland’s tree cover is monoculture non-native trees like Sitka spruce. These are grown like a crop and cut down all at once like a giant field of wheat, leaving scarred and depleted land behind.

Thankfully things are changing. The The Nature Trust, headed up by Ciaran Fallon of Coillte Nature, is buying land to plant native forests, with a plan to open them as public amenities in the future.

Fallon explained on a recent webinar with the Trinity College Dublin Connecting Nature Enterprise Platform that they are halfway to their 600 hectare target. In Clare, social enterprise Hometree has an ambitious plan to work with farmers to restore, protect and establish 4,000 acres of native woodland.

Protecting scraps of ancient woodland and reconnecting them is the mission of another environmental group based in Clare. The Woodland League plan, Re-Imagining the Great Forest of Aughty, is about restoring ancient oak wood rainforest in the Aughty mountains of East Clare and South Galway.


This weekend the League will explore a future where forests can be managed according to a deeper wisdom. On Saturday in Tulla, Co Clare they are hosting Ron Waukau and McKaylee Duquain of the Menominee Nation, who manage 235,000 acres in Wisconsin containing “the most biodiversity and the most tree species-rich forest in North America”.

President Michael D Higgins has sent a message of support. “The restoration of the Great Forest of Aughty reminds us of the profound importance of our ancient forests and native woodlands, not only in sustaining life and enhancing biodiversity on our shared planet, but also in renewing and enriching our cultural heritage,” he wrote.

“The event aims to bring attention to our active Great Forest of Aughty rainforest restoration plan to expand the pockets of oak wood and join them via a matrix of riparian and hedgerow corridors,” League spokesman Andrew St Leger explained. “And to seek action and support to make it happen on a wider scale to benefit communities, farmers, water, soil and biodiversity. This plan will involve a combination of natural regeneration with targeted planting to create new native forest areas.”

Recently The New York Times reported the Menominee reservation in Wisconsin is home to around 4,300 tribal members and around 24 species of trees. The forest fills 90 per cent of the land with 60,000 acres of it unharvested. The management of the rest of the forest is based on harvesting sick or dying trees or anything naturally felled in storms. In this way the strongest trees in the forest remain and the forest can regenerate itself perpetually. It’s forest wisdom, how forests manage themselves for a healthy future.

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests