A Tale of Two Forests by Etain Feeley


There are very few chances these days to appreciate 'Nature' we all live in such a fast paced, frenetic and hostile environment, where everything evolves around that awful word 'convenience'. 
My childhood years from the age of about five to twelve was spent in the peaceful tranquility of 'Aughavanagh' Co Wicklow. I was 'privileged to live there and it is only now that I realise the extent of that statement. Not many children get the advantage of spending their youth amongst such 'unspoilt wilderness'. 
Living in 'Paradise', fresh clean air, long lazy summers, listening to the steady drone of bumble bees, pollinating, overburdened flowers and the unbelievable stillness of crisp chill winters. These are the hallmarks of living in the picturesque 'Garden of Ireland', purple/lilac heather rich smells of coconut scented gorse bushes. 
To an unbiased childlike eye, everything appears 'gigantic' giant Oaks, Larch and many other native species dominating the skyline, a vast canopy of trees, stretching endless miles. 
All swaying gently in the breeze, alien like, tentacles stretching, swaying and entwining. 
The incredible....................................'silence of the woods' 
Occasionally, whilst treading gingerly on the pine clad carpet, ' a winged avenger' takes flight, sqwaking uncontrollably. 
Sickly sweet smells of sap oozing its residious treacle like qualities, covering small sticky fingers, lichen and fhungi grow abundantly in the 'damp moistness of the forest' and fallen decomposing deadwood provides a safe and secure habitat for numerous 'creepy crawleys'. 
Each evolution of season brings with it new wonders, a pristine clear stream trickles into the wooded glen.  Nature is plentiful, a rabbit hops steadily along a forest track, whiskers atwitch, scenting the air. Epitomising sheer elegance Peregrine Falcons, with their distinctive plumage, circle and hover, then dive one by one, talons unfurled, snatching at rodents and other small prey.
Feral goats, rummage through the undergrowth, tearing greedily at the sparse vegetation, mothers calling to their young. 
A lone red stag, cheekily trots out, majestic in his glory, trumpets a challenge to an imaginary adversary and seemingly unphased by my presence, stands for one breathtaking moment, before vanishing into the dense, dark undergrowth. 
In the late evening badgers frolic in the light of the moon, along the long avenue of oak trees and pipistrelle bats sweep quickly up and down , darting into the twilight in a most frenetic fashion. 
In the woodland, a vixen's harsh beckoning call breaks the silence and her long sleek, elegant body vanishes from sight. 
After  .
The above account of a somewhat idyllic childhood, was based on memories from my distant past, since writing the above article, things have changed and not for the better it seems.  Gone are the beautiful native oak trees and frolicking badgers. 
A war on nature has taken place, the incredible silence of the woods has gone and is now replaced by the never ending sound of chain saws, vast felling has occurred and is still occurring.  Tree stubs, litter the ground, resembling fallen soldiers on a chessboard, as do plastic bags of every type and description, not to mention other forms of refuse thrown carelessly from car windows and passers by alike. 
The once beautifully clear streams are now littered with rubbish, mainly fertiliser bags, thrown away without a care, rainwater dissolving their carcinogenic contents and washing poisonous hazardous waste into lakes and rivers. 
In some areas, hidden away on forest tracks lie, the burnt out wrecks of vandalised or abandoned cars, their shells left in a ghostly array, old fridge freezers and other electrical paraphernalia abandoned carelessly. 
The criminal destruction of our wonderful hedgerows, that provide protection for so many species of animals and birds alike, torn down by over zealous developers, irreplaceable and unique in their natural construction. 
Wicklow is fast becoming a dumping ground and the phase 'respect for nature' will become a somewhat forgotten epitaph, only used by those in the know or with a vested interest. 
However there is some light at the end of the tunnel in this respect, conservative efforts have been made and are being made even as I write this article, to address the situation by several like minded individuals and Environmental Organisations.  The Wicklow Co Council, and various N.G.O's such as 'Pure' which helps to report illegal fly tipping, not to mention the many community activists who are facing an uphill battle, working towards a common environmental, cause, who deserve every encouragement they can get, so all is not a doom and gloom scenario in this aspect. 
Sadly, forestry practises in Wicklow leave a lot to be desired, the whole practise, ill conceived, an agricultural mess.  It seems that Coilte are no longer adhering to Natural Biodiversity Guidelines which encourage the planting of native broad leaf trees. Instead the organisation has adopted a somewhat narrow minded approach, which favours a policy of 'monoculture' this in turn damages' the cycle of nature' and brings with it, endless environmental problems. 
Does anyone care? 
Where have we gone wrong and is it too late to reverse this impending disaster? Now is the time to make a difference.  We can start here and now by encouraging Coillte to rethink their agricultural policies, to plant mainly 'native species' and eventually overtime, the benefits of our actions will be appreciated by future generations and when our beautiful native woodland habitat is finally restored to its former glory, we can thank those who: 
Spread the word ' a new type of revolution has begun' 
'An Environmental Revolution' 

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