Peter Dowdall reports on an initiative in the grounds of Birr Castle demesne that will see massive redwood trees tower over the midlands like they once did in the stone age
April rainfall in Ireland was close to a record low with well under average amounts recorded, is this climate change or is it just a one off, who knows? One thing is for certain and that is that the climate is changing and that we are influencing it, the proof now is so strong that to deny it is similar to medieval sailors expecting to fall off the edge of the world if they sailed too close to the edge.
At the moment, the world’s largest population of Sequoia — Giant Redwoods and Sequoiadendron — Giant Sequoias. is to be found in California and in particular in the Sierra Nevada mountain range and this is no surprise as this is where they are native to and thus they are referred to as the Californian Redwoods. Giant Sequoias can live for up to 3,000 years, however they face environmental challenges now through increased urbanization and climate change the likes of which they have never faced before in their long history.
Interesting then, to learn that these magnificent natural monuments were once to be found growing naturally in this part of the world. Before the last Ice Age, Sequoias were widespread in Britain and Ireland, a fact I learned recently from our President, Michael D Higgins.
The president was speaking at a special event in Birr Castle, County Offaly when he officially launched the Giant’s Grove project, where it is hoped to create the worlds largest plantation of Sequoia and Sequoiadendron outside of America. The initiative is a collaboration between Lord Rosse, the current owner of Birr Castle who is providing the land and Crann – ‘Trees for Ireland’ which was formed in 1986 with the aim of “Re-leafing Ireland”. Crann is Ireland’s leading voluntary tree organisation, dedicated to the promotion and protection of our trees, hedgerows and woodlands.
The Demesne at Birr Castle is already the home of another giant. I was enjoying the grounds here and admiring some stunning loderi Rhodendrons and the end of the Magnolia blooms, (which must have been stunning the week previously), when I was stopped in my tracks by the Great Telescope. Known as the Leviathan, it was built in front of the Castle in the 1840s and was the world’s largest telescope for 70 years. The 3rd Earl who constructed this, also planted the first Redwoods, the largest of which is now over 30m tall. Much thought is given in Birr to working with nature in protecting local biodiversity, the roots of trees are not disturbed and grassland around them is left unploughed and free for nature to colonise. The result is rich meadows full of native wildflowers and insects.
The president spoke at length about the importance of trees in general and he referred to the fact that should climate change decimate the Redwoods in their native land, then that it would be somewhat coincidental that the world’s largest would then be found once more in Ireland. Introducing the president at the launch, Lord Rosse coined a lovely phrase which sums up the Giant’s Grove initiative when he referred to it as representing an arboreal diaspora.
He continued “We are honoured to have the president visit as this project is very close to my heart. Our grandchildren, their grandchildren, Birr, Ireland and the world will benefit from this magnificent forest grove. These will be the biggest trees in Ireland and the largest collection outside of California, fittingly here in Birr in a place which has the biggest treehouse in Ireland and also had the largest telescope in the world for over 70 years. We would like to offer everyone the opportunity to be part of a Redwood Forest Grove here in Ireland.”
Almost 90 redwood trees are sponsored in the names of Irish people living abroad, as well as people here at home. Some trees have also been purchased in the names of loved ones gone before us. A certificate is provided with GPS details of your place in the Giant’s Grove. In addition to paying for the planting and establishment costs, sponsorship provides a trust fund for the care and maintenance of the forest grove. As well as a certificate of dedication, the names of the sponsors are inscribed in a book of honour at Birr Castle. Trees have been purchased from the US, New Zealand, Canada, the UK, other countries in Europe and Ireland.
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