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‘It is lovely to see a six-year-old child planting a tree. When he is 25, he will have memories with that tree’

What I do: Dr Navchetan Singh is an EcoSikh Ireland founding member and volunteer

I was always a nature-loving person. I was born in Dhoot Kalan in the Hoshiarpur district of Punjab, India. Our farmhouse was surrounded by trees and animals. There were deers, jackals, peacocks, snakes, wild boar – so nature was always part of my life.

After I graduated as a doctor in 2015, I moved to Ireland. I was working in geriatric stroke medicine, but later I decided to train as a GP. I wanted to do something in life where I could work as a doctor, and also do something for the environment. I wanted to understand more about the balance between nature and humans and how we can work together.

In Ireland, I met a lot of people who also wanted to do something about nature, so that’s how EcoSikh Ireland happened. We are an environmental group, inspired by the Sikh teachings on stewardship of nature. Sikhs’ first Guru, Nanak Dev Ji, said: ‘Air is our Guru, water our father, and earth is our mother’. This is one of the teachings of Sikhism which guides every Sikh to love nature. The holy book also says the creator resides in the creation – that can be a human, that can be a tree, that can be an animal or an insect – there is a oneness to all of creation and we should love all of it.

Ireland is very green, that was my first impression when I landed. But actually, it is only 11 per cent forest. Most of the trees are commercial non-native trees. These are not as biodiverse. Only 2 to 3 per cent are native forests and they are essential for flora and fauna to grow. EcoSikh Ireland Volunteers have planted two microforests of native trees. Over three weekends in March, we planted 20,000 native trees near Greystones, Co. Wicklow. We planted 10,000 trees there last year. We worked with Reforest Nation and invited local people to join us. Everybody was welcome, just bring a shovel and we will provide the trees. We talk to people about why we are planting native trees and about biodiversity.


As life and work has become busier for everyone, we can lose touch with nature

It’s a simple job really, but it will make a big difference in future for the local environment. During the planting, we provide free food and tea. This woodland has 17 species of native trees – oak, willow, hazel, cherry – to encourage biodiversity. It is called ‘the freedom forest’ and it is dedicated to the Ukrainian refugees who have had to migrate from their homeland. On days like that, there is a great feeling. It is lovely to see how much people love nature and want to do these things. In their daily lives, people may not have time, but on their free days, they come and are totally inspired and motivated. It is a beautiful atmosphere. That is motivating for me too. It is lovely to see a six-year-old child planting a tree. When he is 25, he will have memories with that tree.

We have also planted more than 1000 trees in the village of Templeglantine, Co. Limerick, beside the National School. A past pupil of the school, Max MacAuliffe, the son of the school’s first principal, partially translated into English the Sikh scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib ji. He had joined the Indian Civil Service in the 1860s. He lived in the Punjab and developed a strong interest in the Sikh religion.

He did a great deed with this translation. He devoted a lot of hard work to it and he is held in high esteem in the Sikh community. The local people at Templeglantine, including the principal of the school, were well aware of his contribution. This microforest at Templeglantine, called the Guru Nanak Sacred Forest, was planted in memory of and thanks to Max MacAuliffe. The trees are growing really well, some are now twice or three times as tall. Under a specially carved wooden throne at the forest, there is a time capsule of 100 handwritten letters from children of the local and the Sikh community.

We organise litter picking events in Dublin too so that families can come and show their kids how important it is to look after the environment. As life and work has become busier for everyone, we can lose touch with nature. EcoSikh Ireland is an effort to remind people of the importance of nature. I have a busy job, but I try to devote two or three hours a week to EcoSikh. Small steps can make a huge difference. I feel I am doing something that somehow, in years to come, may educate people to continue to look after nature and the environment. Nature for me is a happy place. It feels like you are embracing Mother Earth. The world is our home and it is our responsibility to look after it.

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about homes and property, lifestyle, and personal finance