Written in FFI Organisation: October 31st, 2011, 8:06pm by jonathan  | View all categories.


The year 2011 was designated by the UN as the "Year of Forests", and Forest Friends are celebrating its tenth year. It is appropriate therefore to engage in a little retrospection and assess how we all are measuring up to the aspirations set out by our founding fathers and our founder members. In December there will be a UN summit in South Africa, which hopes to bring us up to date with regard to fulfilling the aspirations of the Kyoto protocol and to get agreement in order to halt the further destruction of our planet.

The year 2012 is Rio plus 20 and it is hoped that there will be significant agreement on a world basis on the issues that are seriously damaging the very earth upon which we depend. The challenges of this world are not essentially economic in the traditional sense but ecological and ethical in equal measure and need to be faced by addressing them in order of huger, famine, biodiversity, population, forestry. However whether or not they will be prioritized in this fashion or just in the usual economic rational sense remains to be seen. Forest Friends as ecologists will be observing closely how the meeting develops.

It is a great tragedy of our times that the collapse of the world’s economic systems has taken over the debates, locally and globally.

Experts who should know now conclude that mankind, Homo sapiens, is on the brink of pushing the planet into its sixth mass extinction (March 3 edition of the journal Nature).Arguably; however it isn’t too late to bring us up short of the tipping point. Research carried out by The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew has reported that 22% of the approximately 380,000 known plant species (or about 83,600 plant species) are endangered- September 2010 report. That’s approximately 9 times what the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) and US Fish & Wildlife currently have listed. The main cause of species extinction is human induced habitat loss. Plants are most at risk in tropical rain forests due to habit loss resulting mainly from “conversion of natural habitats to agriculture or livestock use, (Kew Royal Botanic Gardens “Plants at Risk” webpage).

[b]Role of Trees and Forests have to be fully understood and acted upon:[/b]

For many years forests were not even on the agenda in terms of the debates on climate change although they are responsible for some 50% of our oxygen needs. The other 50% derives mainly from the plankton in the oceans. Forests destruction is responsible for approximately 25% of the world’s CO2 emissions, annually. Rainforests, old growth forests, non-plantation forests are the most important forests as they provide for the rich biodiversity that necessarily underpins diverse life forms. Educators have failed to educate the world’s citizens and leaders to a full understanding of the role of trees and forests and their functions.

A proper understanding would lead to appropriate actions to ensure tree and forest conservation and new biodiversity planting based on local provenance. The diverse functions of trees and forests include; climatic aspects, (micro and macro), protection of the stability of soil, pollution control, flood mitigation/control, reducing the rates of run-off. The creation of  more and  more hard surfaces in cities, whether now roads and carriageways, paving of domestic gardens, car parks, make it more imperative to increase tree planting  in order t balance these developments. Trees are the perfect antidote and tree cover in cities like Dublin which is only about 7% needs to be increased to the levels of other cities, many of which are in excess of 20%.

Trees assist the process of water storage underground, provide for shelter/wind-breaking/storm amelioration. Forests are rich in biodiversity and have important aesthetic functions.  In spite of these life support functions trees and forests are wantonly destroyed and in many areas of the world  rainforests have been reduced to as little as 5-7%, for example Ghana where the felling of rainforests continues on a daily basis. So-called ‘certification’ processes, national and international agreements have to date failed to halt the destruction of our forests. Tree cover in our cities can be as little as seven percent for example in Dublin City.  The Rio Conference held in Rio de Janiero in 1990 sought to address rainforest destruction, to preserve and promote the planting of indigenous forests. Forest Friends Ireland was established when it became apparent that Ireland was failing to plant its native hardwood bio diverse trees and instead were continuing  in their policy of plantation forestry, mainly of non-native conifer Sitka Spruce trees.

[b]Forest Friends Memorandum of Association[/b]

Forest Friends was incorporated under the Companies Acts, 1996 to 1999, as Forest Friends Ireland Limited as a company limited by guarantee and not having a share capital, (number 341054), on Friday 30th. March 2001. So in this year, 2011 we are celebrating our tenth year. Forest Friends is also a charity, Charity number CHY13972. Our detailed memorandum of Association was prepared by our founder members, Stephen Coyne, William Maher and John Haughton.

The memorandum states that [i]“The main objects for which the company is established are:
(a)       To promote the value of trees and forests because of their essential role in maintaining the fragile ecosystems which preserve the earth’s rich biodiversity.

(b)      To advance education and awareness of the destruction of these forests by greed and failure to make provision for the sustainability of the species-rich habitats which form part of the web upon which all life on earth is dependent. The destruction of forests also destroys the rich cultural diversity and value systems associated with these forests.

(c)      To promote the conservation of forests at global and local levels.

(d)      To restore and extend woodland areas where these have been depleted[/i]”.  

The memorandum goes on to identify ‘[i]subsidiary objects of the company with a view to carrying into effect the foregoing main objects[/i]’. These are extensive and are set out in detail. The ‘main objects’ underpin the ‘specific objects’ and all our work in forest friends as long as these articles are in existence, which have served us well.

The starting point for Forest Friends is trees/forests and the key role which they play in maintaining the sustainability and equilibrium of planet earth.

[b]Forest Friends/Rainforest friends Ghana Project:[/b]

From a global point of view Forest Friends have been instrumental in setting up a branch in Ghana which is an important African rainforest area. Emmanuel Nsor has established Rainforest Friends Ghana as a branch of Forest Friends Ireland and is working with a number of other environmental organisations in Ghana.

In December 2011 he is launching an educational programme in Ghana following liaison with the Ghana Department of Education.  Plans for a conference in Ghana in 2012 on the subject of the ‘Global Forest and Climate Change’ are well advanced. Emmanuel came to Ireland recently as part of an internship with Forest Friends and he regards that internship as being crucial in the development of his environmental programmes. He regards the support of Forest Friends Ireland as crucial in developing the above programmes in Ghana. He regards the support of Forest Friends Ireland as crucial to the success of his environmental mission.

[b]The IEN (Irish Environmental Network):[/b]
IFCI (The Irish Forestry Certification Initiative) and FSC (The Forestry Stewardship Council).

Forest Friends is a member of the umbrella Irish collective, the [b]IEN[/b].  In spite of Forest Friends best efforts, supported by other tree NGOs, the IEN have not succeeded in changing official forestry policy in Ireland from monoculture ethos of non native exotic conifer tree species. Our Irish indigenous trees are in the main broadleaved hardwoods. The difficulty can in part be traced back to the fact that the FSC, (Forestry Stewardship Council), a certification NGO certified that Irish Forestry was based on sustainable good environmental principles and best practice. This was patently not the case which gives rise to the questioning of the operation of the FSC itself, (Ref: FSC Watch web site) this certification was in conflict with their own standards thus breaching their own codes.

Firstly, it is monoculture forestry.
Secondly, pesticides are used which are persistent, carcinogenic and damaging to the immune system.
Thirdly, local communities, ‘indigenous people’, are not seen as having stakeholder status.

Following the granting of certification to Irish Forestry by the FSC, the next step was to establish a follow-on initiative whereby all stakeholders in forestry would work on an agreed set of sustainable forestry standards. This was the IFCI, (Irish Forestry Certification Initiative). It failed because the forestry establishment succeeded in excluding stakeholders who they knew did not support their position. It failed also because a small number of significant environmental NGOs, including Tree groups bought into this now discredited IFSC process and in that way attempted to divide the environmental movement from pursuing a holistic approach to re-establishing proper policy leading to sustainable forestry policy and ultimately a proper environmental forestry standard.

At IEN level, the co-operation between Forest Friends, CELT and the Hedge laying association has after a considerable amount of work lead to the adaptation of a tree cover document as official Environmental Pillar Policy. This has been one of the great successes of IEN in recent years and one we hope to build on. The tree cover document can be viewed on the IEN web site.

By supporting the flawed IFCI process a small number of environmental groups effectively undermining those who tried to lead a move away from the unsustainable forestry policy referred to above. Those groups are still supporting efforts to resurrect the flawed process of IFCI and it would appear that they, intentionally or otherwise are blocking efforts in the IEN to bring about a governmental forestry policy based on biodiversity of native broadleaf hardwood trees.

Over the last number of years our representatives, firstly, William Maher, then myself, John Haughton and now Dermot Deering have tried to get some traction in the IEN to espouse sustainable forestry rather than in effect, by their inaction indirectly supporting the status quo by participating in a flawed process and thereby giving it credibility.

Forestry policy based on biodiversity of native trees rather than monoculture plantation forestry is essential for many reasons. Firstly, native tree species are long established as are the multiple forms of complementary life associated with them which generally provide a balance. Plantation forestry provides a perfect environment for ‘pests’ associated with the individual species  to reside in concentration and become a major problem giving rise to serious pesticide use which is hugely damaging to the environment.

In contrast the more random arrangement of species such as found in rainforest and non-plantation forests are more environmentally friendly and trees thrive better. Sylva culture is the science whose research provides information on how to get best mixes of tree species. When non native species are introduced the life forms which complement and support that species do not come with them. Native species, on the other hand have built up symbiotic relationships and have species associated which protect them from predators, pathogens and diseases. The pesticides which are used in Irish forestry which are persistent, carcinogenic and damage the immune systems are washed into the water systems. A proper risk assessment has not been made as to the health effects resulting from their ingestion.

[b]Forest Friends Offices at 55 Fairview Strand, Fairview, Dublin 3:[/b]

The opening of our offices in Fairview makes it possible for our members, interns and volunteers to have a place to carry out the administration and planning for Forest Friends.  Having these offices was a major step forward and made it possible to develop the organisation to where it is to-day.


William Maher, one of the founder members of our organisation has played a major part in the development of Forest Friends both with regard to the role of treasurer and company secretary.  His contribution is invaluable. Dermot Deering is our representative on the IEN and continues to advocate the move from monoculture to biodiversity forestry. He has also played a key role in the preparation of application forms which are very detailed but necessary in order to avail of core funding and funding for biodiversity projects.

[b]2011 Campaigns:[/b]

Trees improve and protect the quality of soils. They purify water, help in the storage of water underground and act as conduits to release that water into the atmosphere in order to create clouds which can be dispersed to different areas and regions.

Forest Friends are running two campaigns at present. The first is the Belcamp riparian woodland campaign which was launched during our biodiversity week 2011 programme. Belcamp is unique riparian woodland in the context of Dublin city. The demise of the Celtic tiger economy affords the opportunity to have fresh look at the woodland ecology of the river which borders Dublin city and Fingal. Our second campaign is to do with the Bayside Tree Conservation Project. A proposal by the parks department of Fingal County council to fell 130 mature trees in Bayside has given rise to the signing of some 450 petitions by residents which have been facilitated by Forest Friends. The signatures have been sent to the county manager David O’Connor. There has been an initial response from the manager that the matter is being looked into and hopefully the proposals will be reviewed.

[b]Dublin – The Big Flood:[/b]

Well the ‘big flood’ had not yet happened yet in Dublin, but has been threatening for a number of years now. Action needed to deal with such a catastrophe has not been taken. The mantra during the Celtic Tiger economy was to pour the concrete, the tarmac and to pave the gardens. Open spaces were fair game and even the zoning regulations were changed to facilitate development on green spaces.

Trees have a crucial role to play in the whole hydrological process globally and locally not least in flood control and water storage and distribution. Increasing hard surfaces have the opposite effect but this process has been accelerated.

The following should be considered by the city fathers:

1.      A moratorium on development on green spaces in the city

2.      A comprehensive tree planting programme carefully thought out, with maximum public participation and assistance to individual citizens, which provides for an assessment of the existing tree resources and the increase of tree cover in the city from the present 7% to approximately 25% based on best practice. Planting the right trees in the right places is essential. An educational programme would be essential with participation of schools, local communities and not-for-profit tree NGOs. The local authority should play a facilitation role rather than the domineering one which they have played to date.  

3.      An assessment of the porosity of the city land with an objective to maximise porosity.

4.      To examine the feasibility of creating some holding lakes in the city which could help to mitigate flooding conditions, to act as temporary water storage for multiple uses, with a possible recreational function also.

5.      To re-locate families from areas which are repeatedly  prone to flooding

[b]Radio Programmes – The Changing Face of Fairview:[/b]

It is an objective of Forest Friends to connect with local communities and to develop joint environmental projects. With this in mind I am preparing with our local community radio station, NEAR 90 FM, a series of five half hour programmes with the title, ‘[i]The Changing Face of Fairview[/i]’. This has made it possible to network with all the local groups and organisations in the area and to discuss possibilities for joint initiatives. The local parish priest, Fr. Anthony is a Franciscan Friar from Kerala in India. He has spoken of the Kerala Green Plan and is interested in trying to apply some of its principles to Fairview.

One of projects discussed with the Fairview Residents Association is the development of a community garden. The Fairview Residents Association had already have been developing their ideas on the subject and looking at possible sites. A meeting has been arranged as well as a visit to our office to discuss this project further and to get it under way as soon as possible. These programmes will be completed in the near future and will go out as part of a special ENIRO series. Enviro is a weekly hour programme which I present on Monday afternoons at 3.30-4.30. It is developing our ethos of increasing environmental awareness with a view to bringing about the actions needed to create change. Joseph Dunne, who is a director of Forest Friends is an essential part of the Enviro programmes and has now completed training which has enabled him to present the programme himself. Forest Friends ethos and environmental value systems underpins these presentation.

[b]Forest Friends Web Site:[/b]

Our web site www.forestfriends.ie also www.cairdenacoille.org and www.cairdenacoille.com has received widespread praise and John Maguire has done a wonderful job in developing and maintaining the site. The success of our position in search engines can easily be seen.  If one Googles the word ‘forest’, they will get a very good result from Forest Friends point of view.  The web site is constantly being added to improved and updated. Ideas for improving the site further are more than welcome and John is more than willing to consider and implement them within the limitations of the present model.

[b]Social Networking sites:[/b]

Social networking sites now play a key role in the life of modern society and the full utilisation of these sites has to be a priority. Forest Friends Facebook site for example was set up a few years ago by one of our Dublin interns. As he is not now involved, it is time to reclaim the site and to use it to the maximum in the interest of Forest Friends. We need someone to maximise our use of other social networking sites also in order to get our message out to a maximum number of people.


Naoise Reynolds has been, with some financial assistance from Forest Friends, making some videos about trees and forests and putting them on You Tube.  These may in time also help to project the work of Forest Friends into the public domain.
Forest Friends nature Garden Initiatives:

The year 2011 has perhaps been the most successful year for Forest Friends so far. Apart from our participation in the Biodiversity week projects sponsored by the Department of the Environment, and facilitated by the Irish Environmental Network, we have continued to develop our nature garden initiatives particularly in the Santa Sabina campus in Sutton, Dublin. This was a pilot project initiated in biodiversity year 2010 and continued during the school year and summer of 2011.  It was an important educational initiative in environmental awareness creation. It also has given us the experience to enable Forest Friends to be leaders in the developing of such projects.

[b]Forest Friends newsletters: [/b]

Our newsletters have been an important vehicle for getting our messages across and they continue to be produced to the highest standards. The two most recent ones were researched prepared and designed by our most recent interns, Fanny Gaiffe from France and Sophia Sbaysi from Belgium. Both were on scholarships. Our interns have been sponsored by Goa Mundus and Erasmus. Our interns were ably assisted by our volunteers at the time and all their contributions have been acknowledged and can be viewed on our web site home page under ‘Newsletters’. The most recent newsletter is dedicated to Tagore the great Indian environmentalist and educator.

[b]The Contribution which our interns and volunteers have made to Forest Friends. [/b]

The contribution of our interns has been invaluable to us. Going back five years they have developed our Glencree Valley Conservation Project to a very advanced stage. Apart from the newsletters they have produced our most recent leaflet. They have assisted with fundraising. Without them we could not have carried out our nature garden schools projects. They have produced power point presentations on both these projects and on the parks of Dublin City.

Our interns have been third level students and graduates from France, Spain, Italy, and Belgium. They have been highly committed environmentalists and the training which Forest Friends have given them will help them in their environmental careers. The feedback from them is very positive and they are appreciative of Forest Friends.

Here is an extract from a letter received from one of our most recent interns. It is one of many communications which we get from past interns who are grateful for the work we invested in their training. This was in response to an email updating the former intern on what was happening in Forest Friends and it shows the continuous interest in what we are doing:

“[i]Great John! Unbelievable all what you developed! I'm glad for Forest Friends!

With this internship I learned a lot about gardening. But also all about administrations and how to discuss and convince people, present our work etc... I learned about fundraising and how to recruit members...

All these stuffs will help me in my professional life. Even now, when I'm in class and when we have project with professionals I find my friends too scholar, they're not independent, and I think I learned a lot with Forest Friends, because you let us alone to do our works.

These are the first things I'm thinking about, extempore.

It's a really good thing for your programs on the radio!!

And, yes, I saw the event on the website. I'm impressed


[b]Tree Nursery Development[/b]

Naoise Reynolds has collected and potted acorns in the rear car park of our offices. This could be the first step in developing a tree nursery. However a site is needed to grow on these small oak and unless that happens the potential of this initiative is very limited. A site will have to be found urgently as the capacity of the rear car park is limited. It will also be necessary to develop a plan for this initiative with objectives and the final destinies of the trees identified. Ideally a site should be found which could become woodland with potential as an educational site and to promote forest biodiversity. It will be necessary to become proactive in this regard.

[b]Rotary – North Dublin Rotary:[/b]

Twelve months ago, on behalf of Forest Friends Ireland, I joined North Dublin Rotary, with a view to developing an environmental initiative in that branch and extending it to the other branches. Rotary has nine branches in the Dublin Region and one hundred between North and South Ireland. In this regard I have submitted proposals for tree biodiversity initiatives and hope to receive positive responses and to work with the local club leaders in developing meaningful forest woodland initiatives in due course.

[b]Need to develop new organisational structures in Forest Friends: [/b]

Given the fact that our directors are either working full time in their professions or have daytime commitments, it will be necessary to introduce paid staffing in order to complement the excellent work carried out by directors, interns and volunteers.

Volunteers and interns need attention on constant basis which is best provided by staffing arrangements providing continuity.  Training also needs to be provided on an ongoing basis. Working from one’s home is not satisfactory as an alternative. Day to day work can best be carried out in an office environment. This initiative can be taken while at the same time availing of one of the government backed internships. Application has been made under the ‘Tús Programme’ which is administered under the Dublin Employment Pack, which is funded through Pobal under the National Development Plan.


On a global scale, the rainforests, which are the source of 50% of our oxygen supplies and the richest areas of biodiversity, are in serious jeopardy. The other 50% of our oxygen originates mainly from the plankton of the oceans and whales maintain the balance necessary in the reserves of plankton.

Ireland has failed to measure up to the vision for the earth’s sustainability set out in Rio de Janeiro twenty years ago. Ireland’s indigenous trees are in the main broadleaved hardwoods but for short term economics have not had priority.  Ireland is planting the wrong trees based on a monoculture of non-native plantations. This is not sustainable. It is seriously detrimental to the environment due to the use of persistent, carcinogenic immune damaging pesticides. These pesticides are concomitant with monoculture plantations. They need to be protected from predators which attack them as they don’t have natural defence systems developed over time like indigenous species. Over the last ten years forest Friends have made a contribution locally and globally in order to create the awareness and impetus for change.

John Haughton

Forest Friends Ireland receive grant funding from the Irish Department of the Environment Climate and Communications through the Irish Environmental Network (IEN). The IEN supports and coordinates individual organisations like Forest Friends Ireland who are all engaged in protecting and enhancing the environment through their various projects and educational activities.

Forest Friends Ireland are the premier tree organisation

in the Republic of Ireland

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