There has been a lot of talk about planting trees recently, with 2011 having been designated International Year of the Forests. Increasing public awareness on environmental matters can only be a good thing and when it comes to the world's forests, it seems there is a lot for us all to learn.
Did you know, for instance, that about 200 square kilometres of forest cover are destroyed each day? That amounts to some 13 million hectares of forest loss over 12 months.
Of course, it's not only the trees that are gone. Indigenous peoples are displaced, together with animal and bird communities that are in many cases unique.
Up to 100 species of forest life are lost to the world each day.
All of this is obviously unsustainable. But what can be done?
Well, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 'there are more than one billion hectares of lost or degraded forest lands worldwide which could be restored. This may increase to 1.5 billion hectares –almost the size of Russia – if boreal areas and forested protection of waterways and prevention of erosion in croplands are included'.
The IUCN has more to tell us: the European Union and African states are implementing a huge project to build a 'green wall' of trees across the Sahara to push back desertification and secure agriculture and livelihoods in the Sahelo-Saharan zone.
And the Billion Tree Campaign launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Agroforestry Centre in 2006 planted more than two billion trees in 18 months. UNEP now has a new goal – to have seven billion trees planted in the near future.
Still, less than eight per cent of the world's forests are managed. Locally, almost all of our woodland is under some kind of management. In fact, almost all the woodland of Ireland is comprised of non-native tree species.
We have Sitka spruce and Lodgepole pine from the American west and Norway spruce from northern and central Europe. Interestingly, the Norway spruce has been widely planted in the United States, while American trees are grown across large tracts of Europe.
Would it not be far better to stick to those trees that ought to occur here naturally? Ok, so oak and ash grow much more slowly and provide a less immediate return for the commercial forester, but they support a wide variety of life and are much more pleasing to the eye.
I often wonder what Ireland must have looked like when everywhere was covered in trees. Wouldn't it be a fine thing if future generations were able to cast their eye over the country as it was meant to be?
If every man, woman and child planted one tree each year of their life I think it would not be long before we saw a change. I don't suppose or think for one moment that we would change the world, but we can certainly change the way we look at it.
There are trees in parts of Mayo that weren't there until I planted them. Now it is with a sense of satisfaction that I find my way back to remote spots in the hills and find the saplings that I set grown even a little.
There are some that have succumbed to the weather and others nibbled off by winter-hungry sheep. Elsewhere there are the beginnings of future forests.
So go on, plant a tree. Better yet, plant two or three. Choose willow, alder or birch for quick results. Try holly, ash or oak if you don't mind waiting a while.