17 May 2013: A call on the Government to change its attitude to what constitutes a native tree has come from Crann, the voluntary organisation which aims to increase awareness of trees and woodlands.
Crann Director, Diarmuid McAree, said that, in the year of The Gathering, it was time to welcome back home the tree natives that had been banished from the island of Ireland by the ice ages.
“These were trees that were driven to extinction on this island,” he said. “They are now looked down upon as being somehow inferior in status to the other tree species that are regarded as native.
“In the interests of biodiversity, we are calling on the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to widen its concept of native trees to embrace these ‘previous’ natives. Until there is a change in official outlook on this issue, Ireland will remain on the list of relatively impoverished countries in terms of biodiversity. National Biodiversity Week (18th – 26th May) is an apt occasion for a robust discussion on this important issue.
“Ireland has just 24 native tree species,” he said. “Western Europe is somewhat more biodiverse with about 100 natives, but it is still very far behind North America with its estimated 1,000 species.
“The reason for this huge difference lies in the geography of the mountain ranges on the two continents. The east-west geography of Western Europe’s mountains prevented tree species from finding refuge to the south to escape from the effects of the ice ages. By contrast, North America – where the main mountain ranges run north-south – was a much luckier place for tree species, which were able to retreat southwards.”
In the geological period immediately before the ice ages, Ireland had a much greater diversity of tree species, said Mr McAree. These included fir, maple, sweet chestnut, swamp cypress, beech, walnut, tulip tree, sweetgum, sourgum, pines, spruce, Japanese umbrella pine, wingnut, redwood and hemlock (Source: ‘The late Tertiary landscapes of western Ireland’ by Pete Coxon, Department of Geography, Trinity College Dublin http://www.ucd.ie/gsi/pdf/38-2/tertiary.pdf ).
Mr McAree continued: “Acceptance of these previous native tree species as part of our heritage would not be a threat to existing natives but would enhance Ireland’s biodiversity and the richness of our landscapes. Crann, which this year will celebrate the 21st anniversary of its joint Oak Glen plantation with Coillte, remains very much in favour of increased planting of native trees. However, Ireland has one of the lowest levels of tree cover in Europe and there is plenty of room for both current natives and previous natives.”
See Crann’s press release on their website