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Saoirse McHugh: Planting trees is one area where we can't wait for the government to come around

Mayo seems to have had a particularly savage spate of tree felling recently, writes Saoirse McHugh.

Saoirse McHugh

IN HER FORTNIGHTLY column for TheJournal.ie, Saoirse McHugh of the Green Party writes about what we can do as individuals in the face of climate chaos. 

Driving from Achill to Dublin, it seems that the pace of tree cutting and hedge removal is greater than ever before.

In every single county, ancient trees and well-established hedgerows have been obliterated in the most barbaric manner.

Mayo seems to have had a particularly savage spate of tree felling for no apparent reason.

In the Burrishoole area, somebody has, perhaps ironically, put up a few bird-boxes where the council have destroyed an area of old woodland that is easily 20 metres deep by 200 metres long, by my estimation.

Hedges across the midlands have been ripped out and piled up in fields, possibly to be set alight or mulched at a later date.

The vicious manner in which verges and hedges are cut back leaves the saddest, most pathetic remnants of vegetation struggling to survive and regrow.

The government has acknowledged that we are in the middle of a climate and biodiversity emergency.

This should precipitate a comprehensive revision of how we interact with nature and how it is valued across all departments, including county councils.

Trees and hedges provide food and habitats for so many birds, mammals, bees and other insects.

In a country so bereft of wilderness, every metre counts. Mile after mile of empty green fields may look nice but the absence of wildlife is frightening. We have become so used to the silence that we barely notice that we are living in an ecological dessert.

Alongside the benefits to biodiversity, trees and hedgerows perform vital roles such as protecting the countryside from flooding and soil erosion, producing oxygen, and sequestering carbon while also providing shelter to homes, crops, livestock and gardens.

Getting answers 

I have found it functionally impossible to get answers on the rationale for cutting down some trees or butchering others so they resemble telegraph poles.

For one particular stretch of road in Mayo I have been told several different things.

The very first time I asked why they were clearing woodland, a worker who was managing traffic said that he was told that it was to do with insurance.

The Mayo county council twitter account then informed me that they are realigning the road.

Considering that a few trees (albeit heavily pruned) and two walls have been left standing I cannot see how this could be the case.

Every few weeks I ring the county council offices again to try and find out how the tree cutting is decided upon but I am, as I write this, still waiting for the ever promised call back.

I have seen speculation that this country-wide clearance is related to road safety. This explanation, however, doesn’t make any sense to me.

Trees that are hundreds of years old do not become so dangerous overnight that a 30 metre deep swathe of them needs to be cleared.

Similarly, many hedgerows that are now destroyed could not have posed a feasible danger to cars as they consist of extremely young trees, bushes and briars situated a fair distance from the road.

The inconsistency and savagery of the tree cutting and pruning indicates a completely thoughtless and myopic approach with no obvious system nor standards.

I usually avoid advocating individual action as a response to large crises like climate breakdown and biodiversity collapse because I feel it takes the focus away from government action and it is regularly used to guilt us into fixating totally on what small changes we can make while large polluters and destroyers continue on as normal.

However, in this case I would encourage everybody to plant a few trees. It is one area where we cannot wait for our government to come around.

400-year-old trees are torn down an mulched in less than an hour and there appears to be no slowing down the destruction. On a larger scale, we need to institute laws that give nature a right to exist for its own sake.

All too often the natural world is viewed in one of two ways: either as something to be profited from or a valueless nuisance.

These ways of seeing the world mean that rivers, forests, mountains etc have no protection outside of their status as property or, in some cases, if their destruction negatively affects a person.

It is time that we started recognising rivers, shorelines and woodlands as something that should exist for their own sake and entities which have legal protection from over-zealous county councils.

We have a long way to go in Ireland before nature is given the right to exist but in the meantime I urge you to read about the rights of nature around the world.

Find out (if possible) why your county council has decimated trees and hedges and hold them accountable and over the next few weeks, if possible, plant a few trees.

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Saoirse McHugh

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