January 2019’s Academy sparks tree planting in Ireland from Enniskillen in the North to Harper’s Island in the South and from coastal Dublin to the Wild Atlantic Way in a Great Green Wave! We were hugely excited in Dublin as this was to be our first Irish-run Tree Academy; our very first Plant-for-the-Planet Academy in 2017 was in fact very kindly directed by Wendy Davis, UK Co-ordinator, who brought with her the British team; schoolgirls Erin and Hannah and parent chaperone and mentor Leonie. Orla Farrell travelled to find out how the million tree project was run in Great Britain a few months before in that great centre of excellence in tree-planting education, Harmony Woods in Andover, bringing with her a gift from the children of Ireland; a “Forest-in-a-carry-on-bag”. Orla felt right at home meeting the Mayor and planting the Irish hazels and hundreds of home-grown trees with the schoolchildren at the Jubilee Forest with the stalwart local volunteers. We were looking at starting off from scratch at Seagrange Park, Dublin, that Winter and what a boon it was to have help from our Next Door island.
Our 2018 Academy had unfortunately to be postponed due to a date clash with the launch of the Trillion Tree Project in Monaco which new Irish co-ordinator Orla was attending as part of the Youth Summit. There was jubilation when four of the Climate Ambassadors trained at the first Academy were selected to lead the newest event. We had gone ahead the year before and completed the woodland at the first site, expanding it eleven-fold to 3,305 trees with help from 10 local schools. And how did we achieve this with no Academy? This is where the “Easy treesie” project came in. Irish children have Saturdays designated for Sports and Music as well as other hobbies – weekdays are very suitable as planting days for us. Pupils and teachers love to get out of the classroom for an hour, so even on wet days tree-planting was offered through this project in all the schools ringing the park, from ages 4 to 18. Credibility was added to the project as our Minister for Education came out to plant with us!
In 2019 we needed a new site as the first Park was full. The Council – Fingal County Council – designated land for 2,500 trees in a neighbouring town, Malahide at Paddy’s Hill and the Malahide Castle Demesne and the Plant-for-the-Planet Tree Academy was to be the centrepiece of this endeavour. This town is one of the prettiest in the whole country and indeed has just won the Irish “Tidiest Town” competition – well deserved as its community spirit had to be seen to be believed. The Parish Pastoral Centre provided a world-class venue for our conference. Volunteers and well-wishers abounded, from the Malahide Tidy Towns group to the local fruit-and-vegetable suppliers who provided their produce; the local Vincent de Paul shop provided tree-themed chocolate biscuits and St. John Paul’s school sent their in-house photographer, Mary. The Afforestation Project, a student group, brought four volunteers and the local Sea Scouts came with a large team. The Sea Scouts has been in existence since 1919 and they planted 1919 trees as part of this project to mark their centenary! The Swords Woodland Association sent along several volunteers and Crann-Trees for Ireland was represented not only by Director Orla Farrell but by the great Australian Ecologist Dale Treadwell, who can take a bow for being one of the great inspirations behind tree planting for school children in Ireland going back a generation. Dale not only brought his van load of tools but his young son to operate them and lend a hand!
Local bus company, Malahide Coaches looked after our shuttle bus from the Pastoral Centre facilitating those who had travelled a distance to the Academy, including participants from Balbriggan and Meath – over 30 km. The Pastoral Centre supplied excellent refreshments, supplemented by at-cost catering from local “It’s Amore” Italian restaurant (Number 1 on Trip Advisor!) which sent over delicious vegetarian pizzas for lunch. We had tree-themed fruit-for-the-forest and elderflower cordials, wonderful wooden bowls – works of art in themselves- of fruit and of course, chocolate. The Gourmet Food Parlour provided a huge surprise, hot chocolate with a home-made cookie “lid” on the top and very superior coffee for the adults! What a Tree-t!
Representatives also attended the Academy from the Autism Unit in Kilcoscan and from the Home-schooled community. After the Academy was over any school which had not participated in the planting joined in and came out on a weekday. Not only did all 6 Malahide schools participate but we had children from St. Finian’s, Swords who since planted a “Forest-in-a-box” in their school and gave a presentation in County Hall during Biodiversity Week. Siemens “Healthineers” came out in force to help out on a day with particularly wet weather; well done, team Siemens! This project has in fact only very recently finished, as on the week of the school holidays children from Portmarnock Community College came out to plant three beautiful semi-mature Silver Birch trees to bookend our wonderful extended hedgerow on the hill. We received lots of attention from the media, with film of the Academy and Felix’s million-tree-challenge appearing on our National Broadcaster, RTÉ TV’s popular “Today with Dáithi and Maura” and on radio “The Tubridy Show”, in our newspaper of record “The Irish Times”, in other national publications such as the “Examiner”, “Crann” magazine, “The Irish Catholic”. A variety of local newspapers and radio as well as lots of social media covered the Academy and its “Satellite” events.
After the success of this project, the “easy treesie – Crann” project took off in a roadshow around the country, planting 12,000 plus trees this season all over Ireland with children. WOW. Did you hear that? Added to the 3,005 last year and the 300 in 2017 that adds up to 15,051 trees. The only hard part is getting land designated, after that we are flying! We are so happy to be joining in this global endeavour, with Irish Climate Justice Ambassadors appearing regularly at our National events and in the media. 9 tree-planting events were held during Biodiversity Week, we have upcoming events on Heritage Week and Culture Night, coinciding with the Climate March in Dublin City on September 20th. Members of our organisation has met with members of parliament and even our national President as well as our Minister for Climate Change. We look forward to announcing our next Academy as soon as arrangements are made and to welcome new children to join with the Plant-for-the-Planet challenge on Europe’s western border where our tree planting now stretches all the way to Westport on the Wild Atlantic Way.