On a recent visit to an office building in Co Donegal, one of Ireland’s rural heartlands, I was approached by a young man wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Work in the Forest”.
“It’s just about creating a sense of community here,” he said.
The man was working on a project involving an area of woodland that’s been left largely untouched for the past 40 years.
The project, to be funded by the Forest Conservation Society, was to involve an area that’s less than 2,000ha and is surrounded by two major road networks.
“We are all a bit bit of a mess, but the Forest is just the place to be,” he told me.
The man’s passion for the forest is shared by a number of other people, including his mother, who has worked in the same forestry job for 35 years.
She said she felt a sense that she wasn’t leaving her family behind, even though the job in question wasn’t the most glamorous.
“I am very happy to be working in this forest,” she said.
“But I think it would be better if I had more opportunities.”
We’ve been here for decades and we know the land better than anyone.
“Her father, a gardener, works for the Forest Protection Society.
He said he was aware of the challenges that people in his area face and was pleased that the organisation was helping to fund some of his own projects.”
It is a good thing that they are taking this into account,” he added.
While the organisation’s work is certainly worthy of funding, many people who work in the field may not realise that their work could be contributing to the degradation of the environment.
One of the biggest concerns is that if there are no trees to cut down, the land is left to rot, polluting the water table and contributing to climate change.
A report released by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) last year found that the number of land-use plans being reviewed in Ireland had increased by more than 50 per cent in the last 10 years.
While some of these plans could be developed with local landowners, there is little incentive for them to agree to take responsibility for their own forests.”
If they don’t take responsibility, then the land will go to the rubbish,” said John McGovern, the NFU’s forest sustainability officer.
In rural areas, such as the Co Doneggan area, the vast majority of land is not currently managed as a forest, and a large part of that land remains unused.
So, while there are still some forests that are being left untouched, there are also a significant number of areas in which the area is being converted to farmland, or is already, which means it will eventually be used for agriculture.
There are also significant numbers of hectares in which there is no suitable habitat for native plants.”
The forests are disappearing, and it’s a very complex issue,” said McGovern.”
People are saying we can’t be a land-based society.
They don’t understand that we can have a forest and we can still have our parks and nature reserves.
“There is no way around it, but we need to do something about it.”
The Forest Conservation Societies plan to create a special fund to fund projects that would address these issues, such an area in the Co Mayo area.
“A lot of our projects are very small and they are not as big as the ones that will impact the whole country, like the Gardaí and the National Parks,” McGovern said.
A spokesman for the Forestry Commission said it had not yet received the report, but would work with the organisation to make sure it was fully informed of the issues it was facing.
As for the new funding that is set to come in the coming months, the spokesman said it would “be focused on supporting and enhancing forestry activities, such and land management and natural resource protection, which will enhance the sustainability of the country’s natural resources and environmental health”.