Helping the tree population recover from storm Ophelia

Peter Dowdall on the devastating aftermath of Ophelia on our tree population.

I’m a bit nervous to even say the word after what has happened recently but trees are something that have made the news for all the wrong reasons over the last few weeks.

I don’t know how many trees came down when Ophelia came to visit and there will probably never be an accurate count but it’s certainly many hundreds in Cork alone and probably thousands nationally. For me, the most heartbreaking sight over the last few weeks was that of the Centre Park Rd in Cork City with over 20 mature Lime Trees lying on their sides, savagely ripped up out of the ground. Planted about 100 years ago to mark the opening of the Ford plant in Cork, they had become part of the fabric of that part of the city and the road feels naked already without them.

However, with every demise comes new beginnings and fresh opportunities so where one tree may have stood for many years when it comes down, it’s time for a new ecosystem to develop, a new tree to take its place. For now sunlight will get to places that may not have benefitted from its rays for generations and with that comes new life.

As Liam Casey, an engineer from Cork City Council said when looking at the devastation on Centre Park Road:

“It will take many years before this can be replaced, even though semi-mature trees will be planted in their stead — it will take 30 or 40 years before they are a similar size”.

The trees that came down were Tilia europaeus or European Lime and they are a great choice as a street tree as they will tolerate high levels of pollution and withstand the rigours of traffic and urban life and I hope that this avenue will be replanted with the same genus. However, that is a matter for the city fathers to decide upon.

I remember walking the countryside in England about two years after that famous storm in 1987, (which hit, coincidentally on the same date as Ophelia, October 16, but thirty years ago), and seeing, even then, the scars in the landscape — majestic trees still lying on their sides with their roots so cruelly exposed.

But after the passing of a few short years, life was coming again in new forms. Wild flowers and weeds had colonised where once a tall tree had stood for over a century, climbing plants were now growing through the prostrate branches.

I have no idea how many fungal and bacterial species had benefitted or how many different types of fauna were now able to call this space home, with the cover of the fallen tree offering refuge. Good out of bad.

It does look harsh and indeed it is, but nature will decide whose time is up and who can remain, there’s no room for mistakes or sympathy.

A tree which may have been poorly planted, improperly staked originally, or growing in soil which is too shallow to allow it to hold on properly when mature, will
always be that bit loose in the soil and will never anchor securely enough. It will be found out in time. Similarly, a tree which may be suffering from illness will just be plucked by Ophelia or whoever else decides to call. It may sound obvious now, but if you have mature trees in your garden then maintenance is of paramount importance. And that doesn’t mean just topping them like you would do a hedge when the trees get too big. No, you need to get a qualified tree surgeon out to look at the trees and in particular if you have an area of woodland. Competition from invasive species needs to be controlled, pest and disease damage needs to be monitored and controlled, and often, weaker specimens need to be removed and replaced as deemed fit.

The importance of this maintenance cannot be overstated, as trees and woodland are hugely important in terms of environmental impact. They act as giant carbon and pollutant mops, providing we humans with clean air and buffering sounds from busy roads etc.

They will also serve to protect us from severe wind damage if maintained properly. If you don’t have a mature woodland or any mature trees and you do have the space, then do look at establishing some as I can think of no greater legacy to leave behind. If maintained and managed from a young age the wooded areas can remain for centuries improving with age.

If you are lucky enough to have wooded areas like this in your outdoor space then do get someone who knows what they are about to inspect and manage them for you. It’s not just a man with a chainsaw that you want. For more information have a look at http://coillteslaintiuil.ie/


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