Local Woodlands & Tropical Forests – Life Supports for Humanity

Earlier this month a book entitled ‘A walk in the Park’ was launched at Ballybay Wetlands Centre. The book was compiled by participants on Monaghan Community Forum’s ‘Hands Together 2’ PEACE III Project’ and focused on the value of the trees and plants we have in the parks of Co Monaghan.  Andrew St Ledger of the ‘Woodland League’, who launched the book, is an enthusiastic promoter of native woodlands.  

Liam Murtagh, a project participant and also a member of Monaghan Ecological Group went along to the launch. He now reflects on why, for the sake of future generations, we should stop buying tropical hardwoods and do what we can to ensure that more native trees are grown in Ireland. Both actions he says will help improve biodiversity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Andrew St Ledger of the ‘Woodland League’ pictured at the entrance to Ballybay Wetlands Centre as he spoke about the merits of the Aspen tree, while leading a walk around the grounds of the Centre.

Andrew St Ledger of the ‘Woodland League’ pictured at the entrance to Ballybay Wetlands Centre as he spoke about the merits of the Aspen tree, while leading a walk around the grounds of the Centre.

Just imagine what the landscape of Co Monaghan was like ten centuries ago when there was complete tree cover, with the oak as the prime tree of the forest. This was the image that Andrew St Ledger described as he commenced a really interesting guided walk around the lands surrounding the Ballybay Wetlands Centre.  He began by emphasising the enormous global importance of trees as well as the value of local trees in the fields around the Centre both now and in the past. The economy of the Gaelic Order was that of the forests,  providing raw materials as well as the basis for spirituality and wisdom. The mystical Ogham alphabet corresponds to the first letter of each of our native trees.

Today it is gradually being realised again that trees are of enormous benefit to humanity, and being the ‘lungs’ of the planet they  provide  a range of what are now termed ‘ecosystem services’. These include oxygen, carbon storage, biodiversity value and many more benefits. Research now tells us that trees are extremely advanced in terms of their DNA and that they ‘communicate’ complex chemical messages to other trees and living things. Some trees, as well as taking up water, even ‘spraying’ an invisible mist to help give their neighbouring plants some moisture during dry spells. As we walked around the Wetlands Centre we saw some oaks that are about 200 hundreds years old. Oaks can live for 1000 years and are particularly rich in biodiversity value.

Ireland now has the second lowest area of tree cover in Europe – only 10% of the land area of Ireland is under forest. The Government has a target of 17% but it is unlikely if it will be reached anytime soon. Most of the forestry in Ireland is made up of monocultural conifer plantations of trees like Sitka Spruce.   While they are beneficial for certain timber uses and as a carbon sink they are considered very poor in biodiversity value. It is also claimed that they have contributed to pollution of water due to acidification and other effects.

As we have not been growing enough hardwood trees in Ireland, we are importing tropical hardwoods in the form of flooring and other timber products. While they are supposed to come from ‘sustainably managed forests’ the reality is that much of this timber is still illegally logged. The American scientist O A Wilson once said: “Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.” In Ireland, the organisation ‘Just Forests’ campaigns against the sale of illegally logged tropical hardwood. They encourage us when buying timber from a DIY or a builders’ provider to check that it is marked ‘FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified’.

Andrew St Ledger is eager to see plantations in Ireland, which economists consider non-viable, instead providing training opportunities in tree harvesting as well as fuel and timber products for local communities. As the trees are felled we could plant other trees that are suitable for coppicing for firewood and other uses. He is particularly keen that we plant more native trees. Ash is a tree that has been used for furniture making and hurleys as well as being coppiced for firewood. However the recent arrival of ash dieback disease means that other native species such as hazel, willow, cherry, oak and alder need to be considered as alternatives to ash.  Ongoing financial supports are needed to incentivise landowners and farmers to planting hardwood.  Agroforestry, which involves trees growing on the same land with livestock or arable crops is an alternative system of land use that would, if viable and widely adopted,   help increase the number of trees being planted.

In recent years many schools have developed schools gardens. Andrew says that schools could also develop small native tree nurseries. This can begin at this time of year with the collecting of seeds such as acorns and planting them in beds within the school garden.  From there they can be lifted in a few years and planted in their permanent location, e.g. in a common green area within the community.

It’s coming to the time of year that we can do some tree planting. If you or an organisation you belong to, wish to plant native trees, you can obtain large quantities from sources such as www.nonesohardy.ie or smaller quantities from www.futureforests.net.  In previous years Monaghan Co Council supplied a limited quantity of tree plants to community groups for Tree Week in March.  If you wish to find out more about any of many national organisations that are involved in various aspects of forestry see  www.forestryfocus.ie/governance/organisations for details.

Local Exchange Trading Scheme to Boost Local Trade & Resilience

Local Exchange Trading Scheme to Boost Local Trade & Resilience

Monaghan Ecological Group is working with local organisation, LETS TRADA to develop a Local Exchange Trading Scheme in Clones. Such a scheme would encourage local trade, keep people in work and contribute to building a resilient community. Mícheál Callaghan in discussion with Ciarán Fitzpatrick examines how this scheme will work and the benefits that it will bring to the Clones area.
Image The new logo for LETS Trada, Local Exchange Trading Scheme

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Save Food, Save Money!


Food waste costs the average Irish house holder somewhere between €700 and €1000 per year. This is according to “A Leftovers cookbook”, produced for last weekend’s Taste of Monaghan Festival as an initiative of the Environment Section Of Monaghan Co Council. Mícheál Callaghan, of Monaghan Ecological Group, reflects on aspects of food waste, as highlighted at the festival by local chefs, and suggests ways in which the ordinary householder can save money and reduce their impact on the environment by cutting down on food waste.


Logo of the Stop Food Waste Campaign, http://www.stopfoodwaste.ie

Quite often, when walking the aisles of the supermarket, we are overcome by the wide array of foods on display, in brightly coloured and well marketed displays. We can find ourselves buying food which we may not really need or want, the so – called impulse buy. If we buy food we don’t need, there is a greater chance that we will end up forgetting about it or throwing out. Not only does this cost us extra money, it also contributes unnecessarily to the carbon dioxide emitted by food our food system, in the form of food miles.

According to stopfoodwaste.ie, preventing food waste starts when you go shopping and continues at home. It urges people to know what they already have and need before they go shopping, make a list and try to stick to it, and also buy loose fruit and veg, as you are likely to buy more than you need when buying in bulk. It also urges us to pay attention to the ‘best before’ and ‘use by date’. If we look to the back of shelves we often find food with longer ‘best before’ dates. It is also important to understand the difference between best before and use by dates. Best before dates simply refer to quality, while use by dates refer to food safety. Therefore if a product is a day or two outside its ‘best before’ range, then it can still be eaten, though it might not be to the same quality as before, however after the use by date has expired, the food should generally not be consumed.

Even if we do find ourselves ending up with too much food or food that needs to be thrown out, there are more environmentally friendly was to do so than simply throwing the food in the black waste bin. Organic and uncooked food can be used to create compost, which can then can be turned into fertiliser for your vegetable patch or flower beds. Composters can be purchased from as little as €30 from the Recycling Centre. More information available at 047 80888. Another option is to have a wormery whereby worms turn your household waste into high quality compost. 

Food cloud is a new social enterprise, started by young Trinity Students, Iseult Ward and Aoibheann O’Brien, which aims to help businesses and supermarkets reduce their food waste by connecting them with charities and community groups that need food for their beneficiaries. They started this initiative after they learned that Ireland wastes over one million tonnes of food every year, while 600,000 people experience food poverty. Through their phone app, they connect businesses with charities to “help reduce food waste, reduce food poverty and to help restore that good old Irish community spirit based on shared food.”

Another key tip mentioned in “A Leftovers Cookbook”, is the idea of making delicious meals with leftover food. Once you have finished your Sunday roast, you can make a variety of dishes from the left overs. Below is a recipe, contained in the booklet, for Mango Chicken, made from the leftovers of a Chicken Roast.


  • 12 oz left over chicken breast or thigh meat (Turkey also suitable)
  • 1 red or green pepper chopped
  • 4 oz mushrooms
  • Half jar Mango Chutney
  • Half Carton Cream or yoghurt


  1. Chop Chickeny and put in a heatproof dish
  2. Add red / green pepper and mushrooms
  3. Lightly whip cream and add Mango Chutney or just add the yoghurt
  4. Pour over chicken and vegetables
  5. Bake in oven at 1800 for approximately 20 minutes or until cooked through
  6. Served with boiled rice or creamed potatoes

If you would like further information on how to reduce food waste visit http://www.stopfoodwaste.ie or go to the environment section of Monaghan County Council website at http://www.monaghan.ie/en/services/environment

Looking to the Past & Future in Castleblayney

On Saturday last the re-enactment of the Fair Day in Castleblayney recalled memories of Fair Days in the small towns of rural Ireland.  MEG member Liam Murtagh went along to the ‘Castleblayney 400’ event and saw a range of produce, crafts, services, games and working farm machinery from bygone days on display.   He now reflects on the importance of the production and use of local food produce into the future.      

The Fair Day which was held in glorious sunshine in Castleblayney on Saturday last brought an air of enjoyment and excitement to the town. It was a welcome development in what has been challenging times for both businesses and for many residents. For some it was tinged with some nostalgia as they remembered the Fair Days of the 1960s.

Pictured at the ‘Fair Day’ in Castleblayney were some members of Castleblayney Community Gardeners along with a customer.  The fruit and vegetables on display were grown in town’s community gardens or locally.

Pictured at the ‘Fair Day’ in Castleblayney were some members of Castleblayney Community Gardeners along with a customer. The fruit and vegetables on display were grown in town’s community gardens or locally.

On the Fair Day in Castleblayney up to the 1960s most of the food produce on sale on the street or in the shops came from the surrounding parishes. It was usually transported to the town by horse and cart and so virtually no oil or other fossil fuels were used in the growing and transporting of the produce. The work of growing crops involved long hours of physical toil on the land – tilling the land with horses and often working in adverse weather conditions. It was ‘organic food’ but such a term was not used in those days.  In the case of my own family, we cooperated with our neighbours at busy times such as at the digging of the potatoes and saving hay.   Incomes were small and erratic and emigration was commonplace.

 In the years since the 1960’s there has been a transformation in the way we grow and buy our food. The number of farmers who grow vegetables for sale or even for their own use is very few. While there are some Irish growers, much of our food travels thousands of kilometres.  Enormous amounts of oil are used to grow and transport both the food we grow here in Ireland and the food we import. The flavour of food that travels long distance is often of doubtful quality.  I find that the carrots or plums I pick from my own garden are always far superior to those on the supermarket shelves.

On the way home from the Fair Day I purchased a daily newspaper. The main headline read: ‘Human Influence on climate change a ‘clarion call’ to global community’. On the previous day, the latest report from the UN’s climate scientists had been published and there was in-depth coverage throughout the media. The challenge of climate change that faces the next generations will be enormous – many say now that it is not a question of averting climate change, it is a matter slowing its progress and allowing humanity to adapt to it.

Summers in Ireland will be warmer and drier, winters will be wetter and milder and  there will be an increase in the frequency of heavy rainfall events.  While this might all seem tolerable, we need to consider that what happens internationally will have a major impact on Ireland. The ‘Stop Climate Chaos’ group claims that Ireland could face an influx of climate change refugees from countries that will be severely affected or even wiped out by rising sea levels.

The role of addressing climate change is one for the UN, for governments, corporations, communities and individuals. Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases by cutting down on using oil is the main way to addressing the problem. As there are considerable amounts of greenhouse gasses produced in the modern agri industry this is an urgent need to address the issue. As individuals we can choose to eat foods that have a low carbon / low food kilometres rating – the lowest would be for food gown in our garden! In Co Monaghan the GIY movement and various community gardens and allotments projects are playing a role in both awareness raising and growing some food locally. Farmers Markets and initiatives such as this weekend’s ‘Taste of Monaghan’ help the marketing and sale of local food. The amount of local produce in supermarkets varies a lot but we can keep reminding them that we would like to have more fresh local produce available.

At a community level in this county, Monaghan Ecological Group  is seeking to harness the efforts of people here to undertake local climate change responses including awareness raising, skills sharing, and projects in the areas of local food, energy and currency – such as the LETS Trada one that was featured in a previous article.

For enquiries or comments please email monecogroup@gmail.com. Check out the Monaghan Ecological Group facebook page or website at http://monecogroup@wordpress.com

Wintering Waterbirds on their way – Can you help them along?

It’s the time of year that some birds leave our county and some others arrive here for a winter stay to join our resident bird population. MEG member Liam Murtagh says that some bird species are in significant decline and we can monitor what is happening locally by participating in various surveys organised by Birdwatch Ireland, like the 2013/2014 one on wintering waterbirds that is about to commence

Sunday the 22nd September brought us an ’Indian Summer’s’ day, and as it was the Autumn Equinox there were equal hours of daylight and darkness. The autumn colours are only beginning to appear in our countryside but many of summer visiting birds such as the Swallow are about to leave us to head south to warmer lands. While these birds leave us there are about one million winter visiting birds such as Whooper Swan and Curlews arriving here from latitudes further north. Both sets of migratory birds can cover thousands of miles. While one may marvel at the homing instinct of these birds and their ability to fly such vast distances we hear that there has been a 23% decline in long distance migratory birds in Europe over the past 30 years. The number of farmland birds is also in sharp decline across Europe. In Ireland the barn owl and the summer visiting corncrake are now very rare. There are various causes, but loss of habitat is one of the main ones.  It is just one aspect of the various aspects of biological diversity on the planet that are under threat.

The Curlew pictured above is a winter visitor to our wetlands. In the past we also had  resident Curlews breeding throughout Ireland but their numbers have been in significant decline in recent years. In 2012 only one breeding pair was recorded in Co Monaghan.

The Curlew pictured above is a winter visitor to our wetlands. In the past we also had resident Curlews breeding throughout Ireland but their numbers have been in significant decline in recent years. In 2012 only one breeding pair was recorded in Co Monaghan.

Ireland’s wetlands and their waterbirds are currently monitored as part of the Irish Wetland Bird Survey (I-WeBS) being organised by Birdwatch Ireland. The 20th season of the Survey is about to start and BirdWatch Ireland would very much welcome your help. I-WeBS is the nationwide scheme for monitoring non-breeding waterbirds – largely the swans, geese, ducks and wading birds – that migrate to Ireland each winter. Whether you are an experienced birdwatcher or interested in finding out how you can contribute to conservation, you can help. You can take on a site yourself or opt to learn the ropes from someone who already participates, but the organisers are always keen to bring new participants on board.

I-WeBS involves conducting counts of all waterbirds at wetland sites once per month from September to March on predefined count days. The counts are recorded on the count forms provided by the I-WeBS Office or entered onto the online data entry system at the end of each visit. Wetland sites range from small ponds and river stretches with small numbers of birds that can easily be can covered by one observer with a pair of binoculars to large complex estuaries that hold thousands of birds and require a team of experienced observers with telescopes.

If you would like to get involved, contact iwebs@birdwatch.ie  letting Birdwatch know where you are based and whether or not you have a telescope. They will find the right site for you. If you would like to be involved in a range of bird watching activities locally you could join the Monaghan branch of Birdwatch Ireland. See www.birdwatch.ie for contact details and also for details of other bird surveys conducted by Birdwatch Ireland.