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// What happened to the trees we were promised
Bertie's 4 million Millenium Project derided as farce as Coillte admits only one in 10 will survive.
WHEN it was launched in a blaze of publicity in 1999 by then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, the People's Millennium Forests project seemed like a brilliant, even inspired idea.
Indeed, it seemed there were few better ways for forestry body Collite to boost its profile and eco-friendly credentials. Costing just over €4m, the project's aims were to 'rescue and restore' 16 woodlands in which 1.2 million trees would be planted with every house hold in the country receiving a certificate of ownership of each tree.
Anyone with that certificate was at the time encouraged to come and visit their tree. It was a process that was supposed to have been aided with the simple use of specific markers and grid references. Last night, however, an audit into the project by the management committee set up to run it has noted that just lOpc of the trees planted will survive. The report also attacks the public's 'confused' perception of what the whole project was about. It wasn't about single trees -as Ahern had said it was all those years ago -but actually about 'forests'.
It bemoans the fact significant information about it was omitted when it was launched -namely that few trees actually survive. Of the brochure that went to every house hold with a tree certificate, it states:
Regrettably there was no mention of the fact that (in) the process of becoming a mature native forest, natural selection will reduce the original number of trees planted to about a 10th of those planted.' The authors also admit the destruction of the trees planted as part of the scheme is already under way in many cases' because other species of tree have sprung up 'at the expense of planted material'.
The report makes worrying reading for anyone still intent on finding their tree. This is because the process set up to aid people in their endeavours is actually falling apart. The grids used to locate the trees are 'becoming irrelevant as the years pass,' the report says. The Millennium Forests own website claims 'you can go and see the woodland where your dedicated tree is growing', despite the fact that 90pc of the trees probably won't be there. There is a new system that allows people to now only see 'the general location of their tree'.
Natural woodland specialist Ted Cook, 54, tried to find his tree, RACK 048182 in pit 39 in Rosturra forest, on part of the old Woodford Estate in Galway. But what he found was a lot of rotting trees and a few oaks.
He said: 'When this whole project was announced, I was thrilled. But now I am shocked and dismayed. 'My tree is dead and, to be honest, the whole plantation I saw was so disorganised that I doubt anybody else will be able to find their tree either.'
'A shining example of forest mismanagement
In response to growing confusion, The Woodlands League has launched a ‘Where's My Tree' campaign. The group is calling for an independent audit of the scheme by local communities, assisted by The Woodlands League and other •conservationists.
Conservationist Andrew 8t Ledger said: 'If you want a shining example of forest mismanagement, you should look no further than Collite. This Millennium Forests project was a farce from the start, not least because there is always gomg to be a percentage of trees that will never survive -no matter what you do.'
'We also have reports of long established oak trees being uprooted to make way for saplings. The method Collite employs is also questionable. They use bulldozers and JCBs in most cases instead of shovels and this leads to heavy compaction of the earth. It is little wonder that so many trees will die, never mind the natural selection process. From what we have seen of a few of these forests, they are just wild, mismanaged and not at all the glorious gift to the nation that Bertie Ahern promised 10 years ago.' He added: 'What is needed now is a full and independent audit.'
The forests where these would be planted included Ballygannon and Shelton in Co. Wicklow and Rosturra and Derrygill in Co. Galway. Other are Muckross and Rossacroo in Co. Kerry, Derrygorry in Co. Monaghan and Lough Gill in Co Sligo. Mr Ahern had promised 'a lasting Millennium legacy that will be a source of enjoyment and inspiration for present and future generations well into this new Millennium'.
Now, it seems, we the public have got it all wrong. The internal audit attacks how the project was promoted. It states: 'There is a somewhat confused public perception of what the project has been trying to achieve. Most public comment is about the tree rather than the forest.
'Households -who bother - are looking for their individual and this is impacting negatively upon how the public views this project.'
The audit acknowledges that on the original certificates, there was no mention of the fact that ‘a tree is part of a forest'. It recommends that from now on, mention of 'Millennium Trees' should be changed to 'Millennium Forests' as 'this would help move attention from individual trees to the forest'.
Last night, a Coillte spokeswoman insisted the project has been 'an overwhelming success'.
The Mail on Sunday
By Neil Michael