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 This issue sponsored by

The Woodland League


The Woodland League

Ciaran Hughes


What is The Woodland League?


The Woodland League (WLL) is dedicated to restoring the relationship between people and their native woodlands. It is a not-for-profit, independent, community-based organisation. Its aim is to restore the relationship between people and their woodlands, a relationship that has been all but destroyed in recent centuries. An all-Ireland body, our members are non-denominational, non-political advocates of the UN initiative known as Agenda 21. Agenda 21 gives local communities some degree of control over developments in their areas. Such developments include operations in forestry and the sale of forest land. If implemented correctly, the provisions of Agenda 21 would give communities the opportunity for not only consultation but also active participation in the decision-making surrounding developments in their area.


We aim to share resources and create relationships with other like-minded Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and we wish to promote the concept of 'co-operation' for which we use the analogy of the wooden barrel made by coopers. Each stave of the barrel is weak on its own. It is only when all are united within the barrel hoops that each reveals its true strength. Agenda 21 promotes this idea of partnership and working together as opposed to the competition that is the destructive order of today's economic reality.


The Woodland League came together fully as an entity via the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification initiative, though the various members had been working together prior to this and had already begun the process of forming WLL. FSC is an Agenda 21-based process and, with this understanding, we engaged in this consultation process, along with many other communities and NGOs.


Simultaneously, Coillte were seeking an eco-label verification to satisfy the Irish State's commitments to Sustainable Forest Management under the Helsinki and Lisbon agreements. Coillte, wholly owned by the Ministers for Finance and the Environment, is the largest landowner in the state and by far the largest forestry company in Ireland. With FSC being the most credible of the SFM eco-labels, this was naturally the label they sought. Shortly after the establishment of the FSC National Initiative, Coillte gained FSC certification using a draft standard. This standard, however, had never been through a proper consultation process. WLL believes that the process leading to certification in this case was highly questionable and the certification inappropriate.


During the FSC process, and as a result of Coillte's impending certification, it was realised that there was a need for an umbrella/focus organisation to highlight and communicate the benefits of 'continuous-cover' multi-use native woodlands to encourage the creation of new community-driven native tree nurseries and woodlands. To this end, we plan to create a central database of information on the historical records of Ireland's great forest tradition and culture as well as up-to-the-minute information and developments. We are also making communities aware, under Agenda 21, of their rights and entitlements to clean air, soil and water that can result from more extensive use of native woodlands.


In 1993, prior to the introduction of FSC to Ireland, the government signed up to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Convention, in its definition of 'sustainability,' emphasises the importance of protecting native flora and fauna in situ and, in particular, native trees irrespective of geographical origin since they are nature's highest achievement in the plant kingdom. The Convention states that native forests must be granted highest priority for protection, conservation and enhancement because they confer stability to soil, air and water. The Woodland League wants this Convention to be fully implemented in Ireland.



Founding members


Three people founded the Woodland League: Ted Cooke, Brendan Kelly and Andrew St. Ledger.


Ted Cooke started the first environmental group in Ireland in 1984 - the Macroom Environmental Group - which is still going strong. Andrew St. Ledger is an experienced wood-carver and artist and was on the Steering Committee of the FSC process until he resigned. The other founder member was Brendan Kelly, an organic farmer who, with his wife Helen, established Ireland's only pesticide action group, People Against Pesticides. Brendan was also on the Steering Committee of the FSC process in Ireland until he too resigned.


Ted Cooke and Andrew St. Ledger are involved in promoting native trees - tree lore, planting, crafts, history and general information on the benefits of native trees - through the 'Heritage in Schools' scheme which is administered through primary schools. Ted Cooke has been doing this for 21 years. Both are also engaged in widespread national events such as Heritage Week, Biodiversity days, CELT (Centre for Environmental Living and Training,) 'Weekend in the Woods,' and exhibitions of craft and carving at heritage events with Muintir na Coille and Coppice and Allied Trades Association of Ireland.

Ted Cooke pioneered the concept of 'treestoration' projects, one of which is in Broadford, Co.Limerick, in a one-hectare quarry site that was left to the people of Broadford by Lord Muskerry of Springfield Castle in the 19th century. The quarry came to be used as a dump and, as such, became heavily polluted. In the 1990s, local developers wished to build on the site but the community opposed this and exercised their rights via Agenda 21. As an alternative, they promoted a plan created by Ted Cooke to convert the quarry into a native tree arboretum as an education resource for the local school, with the added benefit of the power of the trees to clean up the pollution. Firstly, a nursery was established in situ and gradually all twenty species native to Ireland were groomed for planting on the site. This initiative became a millennium project for the community. The first flora and fauna count was taken at the start of the project, and came to 65 species. By 2004 the count had increased to over 400 species with the trees providing a 15ft canopy. The project has been a huge success in restoring a degraded public space using nature.

The other project is in Omagh, Co.Tyrone. Ted Cooke, working as a consultant to the Northern Ireland Woodland Trust, designed a six-acre 'treestoration' project including twenty native species. This was a cross-community millennium project.


These are two of only four places in Ireland where the public can see so many native trees in one place.


Non-Governmental Organisation Co-operation


Though their experience of the FSC process in Ireland was frustrating, it led the founders of WLL to create the Woodland League as a means of better serving the numerous communities and NGOs that they were liaising with and who were also experiencing difficulties with the process.


While we are critical of the FSC process in Ireland, and critical of Coillte's FSC certificate, the members of the Woodland League do recognize that it was through the FSC that we came together. While FSC has done little to help the situation with forestry in Ireland, it was a forum for NGOs to meet and interact, and for a while there was unity and cohesion amongst the NGOs in Ireland. There is every reason to believe that such unity can be achieved again, and in a more permanent form.


Brehon Laws


The Woodland League is also interested in promoting research and discussion on the Brehon laws by which Irish society was regulated until the fall of the Gaelic order. These laws managed our common heritage for the benefit of all. They were time-tested rules based on respected values. They had checks and balances, and an effective system of enforcement. While we recognize that society has changed since the time of widespread use of Brehon Law, the Woodland League feels that Brehon Law still has a place in Irish society, being the best form of law to deal with, for example, commonages.


The Aarhus Convention and Local Agenda 21


The Woodland League embraces the ethos of participation with local communities, which has its roots in Local Agenda 21 and the Aarhus Convention. The Irish government signed up to both of these pieces of international legislation. We believe both need to be immediately implemented in full in Ireland before any effective changes can be made regarding the destruction of Ireland's environment.


Other Activities


The WLL also initiates walks and talks throughout the country promoting native woodland heritage, produce a weekly e-mail newsletter and actively lobby to change Irish forestry policy. We do represent a number of Irish farmers who approached us through frustration and dissatisfaction with Forest Service advice on tree planting on their lands (they wished to plant native trees and they felt that they were being steered towards non-native conifers.)


On our website, we provide web space for communities to highlight local forestry concerns such as illegal tree felling and unsustainable use of forest lands for development.


We also actively help to establish native tree nurseries by working with foresters, landowners, NGOs and community groups. We have a large network of experts to call upon for information and advice in Ireland and abroad, all fully supportive of our initiatives.


Andrew St. Ledger worked with Zulu wood carvers in Durban in 2004 on a large arts project called 'Tangencya.' The theme of Andrew's specific project was a conversation between Africa and Ireland to which he gave the title 'Ukumbisana / Meitheal' (from the Zulu word for 'coming together' and the Irish word for a community work-party). The context of this conversation was the native trees of Africa and Ireland and together they created a sculpture reflecting this which is being used for educational purposes to foster a connection back to native African trees. This project/ conversation is to continue with UN funding over coming years. Andrew St. Ledger is at the time of publishing in South Africa following up on the Tangencya Project.




The Woodland League has been operating without external funding but we are now actively considering accessing ethical funding with no strings attached.


Ciaran Hughes



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