– By Susan Leavitt

Recently John and I traveled to Ireland for a vacation. Having nothing other than an intense interest in the beauty of the land, people and culture, we spent 15 days traversing the landscape and shoreline, taking many pictures, and asking as many questions about the natural resources as we could.

We were struck by the landscape that was so completely devoid of trees and were told by one of the National Park Rangers that 900-1000 years ago the land was totally forested. They know this often because they find timbers which have been buried in the bogs for centuries that are completely in tact. Much of the community forest that exists is what has been preserved around castles, presumably by noblemen. There are trees that have been planted around homes and farmhouses, but much of the land is very barren. There also seem to be many plants that we might consider invasive. There was one shrub-like tree called gorse with brilliant yellow blooms covering much of the northwestern countryside. In many ways it appeared like the multi-flora rose in fields and along the many, many stone walls and we wondered if it was considered “invasive” by the local foresters. Actually, they may not have very many foresters in Ireland because there are so few trees.

Because the climate is so temperate, in places the landscape sustains sub-tropical plants. It seems so unusual to us because Ireland rests at a much more northerly latitude than we do here in New England. It was strange to see daffodils and flowering shrubs blooming in March and palm trees along the side of the road. In one community, the main street was lined with lime trees. I wish I could grow a lime tree in my back yard!
We did see evidence of softwood plantations in portions of the country, so there is some concern about re-foresting the land.

We were amazed to learn about bogs which produce peat, a heating source for many of the people in small villages, particularly in the coastal towns of the west and northwest. It is claimed to a be a renewable resource, but when questioning further, one discovers that the number of bogs has declined dramatically in the last 50-100 years and there is no way that the bog can be reclaimed at the rate at which it is being consumed. Ireland is in the process of trying to reclaim some of the bogs and replant these conifer plantations to create more woodland. It is the least forested country in the European Union.

This all reminded me how lucky we are to live in a forested area of the world, one in which many people are cognizant of the importance of maintaining this ecology. Eastern Connecticut Forest Landowners Association and Wolf Den Land Trust are comprised of people who are committed to preserving a vital part of our ecology.

This article originally appeared in the June 2004 ECFLA/WDLT Newsletter.