Cork Environmental Forum annual awards take centre stage

Awards ceremony will ensure workers and volunteers get their deserved place in the sun, says Peter Dowdall.
Cork Environmental Forum annual awards take centre stage

With much press and attention focussed recently on the bad guys out there — namely Japanese knotweed, Himalayan balsam and giant hogweed — it’s time to turn our thoughts to those groups of individuals who work every day, either professionally or as volunteers, to conserve the environment around us.

Founded by Cork County Council in 1995 as an instrument to apply the principles of Local Agenda 21, which aims to assist sustainable development by supporting small-scale and local environmental projects, Cork Environmental Forum is a not-for-profit-organisation based in Co Cork.

The Forum is now seeking nominations for its annual environmental awards. CEF has held its environmental awards ceremony since 2001 with the aim of acknowledging and honouring the sometimes little-known work of groups, organisations and individuals around the county who have contributed to the health or richness of the Cork environment.

I find it difficult to believe it was 12 months ago already, as I was at these awards last year and it was an eye-opener to see the variety and depth of work that is, in lot of cases, being undertaken unnoticed. The environment isn’t purely the domain of the anoraks.

It’s not just those of us who live and work in the great outdoors that have a vested interest in the environment, there are many more amateur environmentalists out there, though last year’s individual award did go to Paul Whelan of for his outstanding work on Irish lichens.

I have met Paul in the past and we have talked lichens, but I must admit much of it went straight over my head, but I’m still very glad Paul is doing such valuable work.

Every human has a vested interest in the environment. After all, we live in it. Air quality, building quality, waste disposal, food production and of course the green environment, or, to use another words, trees, plants, gardens are our responsibility. Not everybody may be interested in how our environment works but everybody needs it to work in the long run — for survival.

Awards are nominated under the four main pillars of the forum, namely the public sector, business and commercial sector, community & voluntary sector and individual category. A community garden award has been in place since 2009 and this year it will be given under two categories — a school garden award and a general community garden award — open to community gardens, allotments and other growing initiatives. For more information visit

Another group that came together recently in the beautiful Inish Beg Estate near Baltimore was a collection of Open Garden owners. They have seen the need for a national body to represent these Open Gardens and the 15 or more Garden Trails around Ireland.

The open garden concept is now seen as a valuable tourism resource and which, up to now, has not been adequately marketed. Neither has garden tourism’s value to local economies been exploited sufficiently.

The Open Gardens group hopes to compete with the old reliables of Bunratty Castle, Dublin Zoo, Fota, etc to attract tourists deeper into the remoter areas of Ireland to the benefit of the smaller villages. I researched tourism statistics several years ago and found that the vast majority of visitors come from Britain and the vast majority of them travel the same well worn path.

There is one thing the British visitor loves and that’s a garden -— so too the Irish - and our own gardening public need to be targeted in a more effective manner. I wish this group well, and hopefully we will see continued development in the Open Garden Trails around Ireland.

The majority of these gardens are owner managed and what may have started as a fleeting interest has become an all-encompassing passion and a means of additional income or indeed, for those who have taken the plunge out of the rat race, the garden may now provide the sole income.

These gardeners spend their lives nurturing and conserving plants, protecting our local green environment and improving biodiversity, as well as creating ecosystems for native wildlife to flourish. These gardens help to educate in the nicest possible way, and they really are our unsung national resource.

All this is now about to change and, like a plant that has taken a long time from germination to maturity, the concept is about to open up into full bloom.

More in this section

News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up

Our Covid-free newsletter brings together some of the best bits from, as chosen by our editor, direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up