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Why Are We Not Planting More Trees?

Updated: Feb 7

OP Note Feb 2024; I have checked this post for relevancy, performed some edits and I believe it is still good in 2024.

Original Post

I first came up with the idea for this post because of some worrying attitudes I have seen in people where wood is concerned. To some, wood is only a resource for burning and has no other value. To others, it is a cheap replaceable material with a 'why should I pay for it' attitude. To a few; wood is a valuable commodity which must be protected, used responsibly and replenished in greater number than the quantity that is cut down. I fall into the last category by the way, in case you are wondering.

I see it all the time now and I'm even more conscious of it as a Woodturner than I was as a Carpenter; fallen or cut hardwood trees are cut up solely for the purpose of generating revenue as firewood. This in my opinion is absolutely criminal. While I understand the need to take advantage or profit from the wood, what I don't understand is why the shortage of trees is never even considered. I have yet to meet a tree surgeon who donates money to the planting of new trees as they cut older ones down. I am willing and hoping to be corrected here.

Hardwood trees take decades to mature and once burned are gone forever. Conifers are much better suited as firewood as they grow very fast in the Irish climate and are already largely grown for it here as cash crops. There is currently a shortage of hardwood trees, especially mature trees all over this country and it only seems to be getting worse.

Secondly, I wanted to mention how hard it is to source hardwood trees for my craft. Most people who work around trees and have a fallen tree on hand want a firewood rate before selling it to me, even if they do none of the work to get it into my van.

Trees also never seem to grow next to a road with easy access for a van but quite often in boggy fields in the middle of nowhere or in gardens where you can't drive on the grass. I have often arrived too late to the site of a fallen tree which was cut into firewood logs. Too often I hear a phrase like, 'pity you didn't call last week, I already cut up that big tree for firewood'.

The Value of Wood

I have had a very small percentage of customers who can't figure out why I charge €20 for a small item or €120 for a Bowl and I get the 'Sure 'tis only wood' comment. The view here I think is that certain people have been brought up to believe that wood is almost worthless in value outside of heating a sitting room. Nothing could be further from the truth. It can take decades for a tree to grow and mature and then months or years to dry pieces before working on them. Add in the time it takes to create a beautiful wooden piece and you are looking at something that is almost priceless (I wish). Wood is very heavy & full of water and needs great care and skill to get from raw material to finished piece. I wish people would see the value like I do. I am afraid that trees will have to nearly die out before people will start doing something about it.

Ireland of the Past

When human beings first stepped on this island approximately 9,000 years ago it was covered in lush forests of Oak and Elm with Conifers growing on areas of poor soil. Ash trees arrived 500 years after that and again a new batch 2,000 years later. The entire island of Ireland was once covered in woodland accounting for over 90% land coverage. Years of subsequent increased population and farming ate into this vast woodland without too much damage to the overall coverage.

Man Versus Nature

Closer to the modern age, the explosive rise in population, shipbuilding and the onset of the Industrial Revolution saw huge areas of this country deforested. This behaviour increased rapidly from the 16th Century onward until woodland accounted for just 1.5% of the island. Forestry preservation initiatives from the 1700s created a modest comeback from that low percentage and right up to today the effort is very small. Government initiatives are focused mainly on harvesting cash crops of fast growing conifers and very little hardwood planting is carried out. This is why you see acres of unsightly stumps dotted around the beautiful Irish countryside. Today forestry coverage stands around 10% and doesn't show signs of improving. The image below is computer generated and not accurate but you get the idea.

The ugliness of deforestation for profit
Plant Trees or Look at Something Like This?

The Future, why aren't we Planting More Trees????

I believe the Irish government should subsidize farmers (and other large landowners) to plant hardwood trees in fields all over their properties. Hardwood trees are not profitable due to the time it takes to mature so would be considered a future investment on behalf of the Irish people and mankind in general. If every Farmer planted 10 - 20 hardwood trees per year it would be an incredible gesture and wouldn't cost a great deal. Since farming is another reason for deforestation in the past I think it would be fitting to put some trees back on the land. These trees would offer protection for animals against storms and would put some beauty back into the landscape while benefiting future generations. When the trees finally fall due to storm, disease or old age they can become a source for crafters, wood for decoration and last of all firewood without too much damage to the environment.

New Technology for Planting Trees

I recently learned of a new development in drone technology which can shoot seeds into the soil from above and is capable of planting 100,000 seeds a day in largely inaccessible areas. See Drones Planting Seeds on National Geographic Here This could be an extremely valuable tool for the Irish Government to invest in. With an estimated 15 billion trees cut down each year worldwide it's high time something serious is done to reverse years of mass deforestation. With the rise in forest fires in hot countries over the last few years, the planting of new trees should be spread out instead of planting in close rows and this would help stop fires from spreading so quickly. This is where drones would excel because their software can plot tree planting sites quite easily to allow distances between trees.

Give Something to Future Generations!

Since I have worked with wood for over half my life I wanted to plant hardwood trees myself to preserve the future. Unfortunately I do not own any land where trees can be planted. Matt Jones, another Woodturner from Sligo mentioned an organization to me called Hometree where he donated money to help plant new hardwood trees on the west coast of Ireland. I thought it was a brilliant idea and I have since made my first donation for 2017 and plan to donate a small portion from each bowl sale going forward. OP Note 2024; to date I have donated to plant nearly 40 hardwood trees. More wood than I would ever use in my lifetime and I plan on donating more.

Living Outside of Ireland?

I realize now that people from outside of Ireland may stumble on this post so I have added this paragraph to be inclusive. No matter where you live in the world, tree planting is just as important. If you are able to plant a tree, please do so. Planting trees far enough apart so that they don't present a fire risk and are able to grow without losing sunlight. Trees come with biodiversity too. Insects, birds and animals come to areas with trees so help the local wildlife if you can. Huge wildfires in places like California in the US and New South Wales in Australia teach us that fire prevention and proper planting & maintenance of these areas are absolutely vital. Quite often, these woodland areas are forgotten about until fires start but by then it is too late. Responsible tree management is vital so always check with the local authorities before planting.

In Conclusion

Going back to the start of this post, it might sound like an obvious title 'why are we not planting more trees?' with everyone already asking that question these days but I wanted to share that I see wood as rare, precious & useful and to point out that many people would not consider giving the wood away to a woodworker as their first thought is to go for financial gain rather than supporting the Arts.

If a hardwood tree falls on your property, think about a Woodturner like me who will cut useful sections out of the tree and make you something in return. You will still get loads of firewood out of the tree but you may also get a Bowl, Ornament or other turned piece to display in your home. The woodturner will also get some wood to work with as a fee, everybody wins!

Plant a tree today if you have the space or alternatively support Hometree Future generations will thank you!

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