I’m delighted to write that my friend Jan Alexander has just received the 2009 RDS Forestry Merit award for her 20+ year contribution to Irish Forestry. Here she is pictured with Minister of State for Forestry, Tom Killeen at the award ceremony at Kilkenny Castle last thursday. Hurrah!! (Photos taken with my phone, apologies for the blurry quality)As some of you know, Jan’s work started in the mid 1980’s when she startled Ireland’s Gay Byrne’s Late Late TV Show audience (the most watched programme in Ireland) on her views on forestry. Her remarks that Ireland at the time was importing all their beloved Ash hurleys from Wales caught the public’s attention and she also focussed the interview to the under-explored value of growing valuable and biodiverse rich, native broadleafs in a country that has little understood that it has the best tree growing conditions in Europe (in the main, Ireland’s recent forestry industry has almost exclusively concentrated on non-native spruce plantations). To this day, Jan is still stopped by people her saw her speak then and around that time Jan founded and led the Crann tree organisation for 20 years promoting these ideas. More broadleaves were planted but Jan began to realise that Ireland had very little knowledge of managing forests into perpetuity other than monoculture crop farming, clear-fell methods. She is no longer involved with Crann but for the last 8 years she has turned her attention to the important ideas of encouraging foresters, farmers and the country about the Pro Silva methods of permanent, non-clear fell, close to nature, mixed forestry as practiced by leading European foresters.
I was fortunate in recent weeks to be sent as a delegate to the 20th anniversary celebration and conference on Pro Silva Europe in Slovenia. Pro Silva foresters methods are still viewed as radical by mainstream forestry but the long term and wide ranging benefits in regards to biodiversity, climate change as well as steadily increasing forests economic value with sustained employment opportunities, now see Pro Silva organisations reaching across 27 European countries. On its 20th anniversary all Pro Silva foresters from these countries were challenged to push their knowledge and practice of ecologically and economically sustainable forestry to the wider public, to their countries’ political process and to realise that this type of forestry will become an important and significant part of the sustainable ‘green infrastructure’ needed now in all countries. Jan has always easily reached across to both to the general public and professional foresters to show by practical example (Pro Silva organises forest open days around Ireland with visiting european Pro Silva experts) a new vision of forestry. I know she was delighted that perhaps this award will bring more attention to this type of forestry management across Ireland.
It was great to see other Pro Silva members in attendance at the RDS Awards. Journalist, forestry advocate and past RDS forestry award winner, Joe Barry and a member from Mayo, Eugene McCartan – we saw slides of Eugene’s forest and I can see it will be visited by Pro Silva members in the future.
Just a final comment – it was great to see the diversity of work behind the people winning awards- there are 2 main categories, one for successful Farm Forestry and one for excellence in creating forests for Biodiversity. Among the winners was a person involved with a new mushroom industry in his forest who was working with researchers in Limerick University. It was also great to see for the first time an award going to a Local Authority (Kerry) for managing a forest so well. Also, recent head of the Forest Service, Diarmuid McAree was presented with a special award for his long contribution to the industry. Read more in the Irish Examiner here on the award winners.
The long running RDS Forestry Awards are a measure of the excellence of forestry practiced in the country and those of you with trees should all enter in the future!