A week-long programme of events to encourage communities countrywide to celebrate trees began yesterday.
ESB Tree Week has been organised since 1985 by the Tree Council of Ireland, an umbrella body for organisations involved in tree planting, management and conservation.
Families, schools and local communities are being urged to support the programme of events that will take place in their areas until next Sunday.
That admirable initiative was boosted last year by President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina, who continued a tradition started by Douglas Hyde in 1939 by planting official trees at Áras an Uachtaráin.
President Higgins planted a blue cedar on the main avenue and Mrs Higgins planted a Lebanese cedar on the opposite side, leading up to the official residence.
President Higgins said he was following the 76-year-old tradition of his predecessors, the former presidents, who as occupants of Áras an Uachtaráin planted trees on the grounds.
“The tradition however, dates back even further to Queen Victoria who planted the first official tree here on what is now known as the Queen’s Walk on her visit to the vice-regal lodge in 1853.
“I am delighted to participate in ESB Tree Week and encourage Irish people everywhere to plant trees and in so doing help to tackle climate change and provide cleaner air for all of us,” he said.
Over the years, other well known dignitaries and visitors have planted trees at Áras an Uachtaráin. They include Saint Pope John Paul, who planted an oak on the lawn in front of the southern portico in 1979.
John F Kennedy and Éamon de Valera both planted Wellingtonias on the grounds when the US president visited in 1963.
More recently, Queen Elizabeth II and President Barack Obama both planted English oak trees at the peace bell during their visits to Ireland.
President Mary McAleese also planted an English oak alongside those trees before leaving office in November 2011. Indeed, the core purpose of Coillte, which is associated with the ESB Tree Week, is to enrich lives locally, nationally and globally through the management of natural resources.
It is a commercial company operating in forestry, land-based businesses, renewable energy and panel products. It employs some 1,000 people, was formed in 1988 and owns over one million acres of land, most of which is forested.
Coillte manages its forests to deliver social, economic and environmental benefits. One of the key areas where it has a positive, measurable impact is in the provision of public goods.
These are “non-market services” that cannot be traded but are enjoyed by many. They include contributing to national biodiversity, providing extensive recreation opportunities, protecting cultural heritage and improved water quality.
Research has shown that nature and biodiversity, landscape and cultural heritage together have a value of over €500m per annum in benefit to the Irish people.
Separate research commissioned by Coillte and the Irish Sports Council estimated that forest recreation makes a public goods contribution of €97m per annum.
There are in the region of 18 million visits to Irish forests each year. The economic activity generated as a result is in the order of €270m annually — a significant contribution to rural economic development.
However, the overall value of the forest sector including products is estimated to be just under €2.3bn per annum.
In the Ice Age around 12,000 years ago Ireland was covered in snow and ice, which melted with warmer weather, resulting in the growth of trees.
The seeds of trees such as hazel and oak were brought here by birds and animals, across the landbridges from Britain and the rest of Europe.
The seeds of other trees, such as willow and birch, are so light that they were blown here by the wind.
Forestry now account for almost 11% of the land area and plays an increasingly important economic, environmental and social role.
They employ 12,000 people directly. Private forest owners account for 47% of forest cover. The majority of it is farm forestry.
A new six-year Forestry Programme consist of 11 measures and will involve spending of €262m, with a further €220m in future commitments from 2020, mostly in relation to premium payments.
One of the measures is the NeighbourWood Scheme, specifically focused on delivering the social benefits of forestry to local communities.
This is done by providing funding to local authorities and community groups to create and develop ‘close-to- home’ amenity woodlands for public enjoyment and recreation.
Administered by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the scheme delivers a wide range of benefits to local communities and wider society.
April 29 is the closing date for the receipt of funding applications for the 2016 scheme, which again supports the development of attractive close-to-home woodland amenities for public use and enjoyment.
It does this by providing opportunities for exercise, recreation and relaxation, creating important wildlife habitats, mitigating noise pollution, promoting air quality and improving the visual landscape.
The scheme provides a number of options to local authorities and local community groups to facilitate and encourage outdoor exercise that can enhance healthand wellbeing.
Suitable projects can vary in size and location from large forests in the countryside to small woodland areas in and around villages, towns and cities.
It consists of three funding components. One is for the creation of new NeighbourWoods on open ‘greenfield’ sites.
Another is for the silvicultural enhancement and improvement of existing woodlands which are proposed for development as neighbourwoods.
The third is for the installation and/or upgrade of appropriate recreational facilities within woodland areas.