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Maam land aims to set the standard for Wild Atlantic restoration of native trees

An area in the heart of North Connemara which had been virtually denuded of native trees is on its way to becoming the first success story of a new €12m nationwide initiative to restore thousands of acres of native Irish woodland.

The Wild Atlantic Rainforest Project aims to restore 4,000 acres over eight sites from Cork to Donegal all along the western seaboard.

Phase one has already begun, with the purchase by Hometree in October of the 280-acre Knockaunbaun site in Connemara’s Gaeltacht region.

This area in Maam has been overgrazed to the point where as few as ten native trees remain on the entire site.

Hometree is a not-for-profit organisation based in Ennistymon in West Clare, which works to establish and conserve permanent native woodland in Ireland through restoration, afforestation, and education.

Other project destinations include west Cork, Kerry, Clare, Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Donegal. The hubs will be created on large, contiguous parcels of land, the sort typically used for sheep farming as the rainforests don’t need deep rich soils to grow.

Hometree has now issued a funding call and is now inviting public, private and corporate partners to join the project.

Historically, they say, up to 80 percent of Ireland was covered in wild forests of birch, pine and oak – but today only one percent remains, and fragments of rainforests cling on in gullies, cliff faces and secluded islands.

“The Wild Atlantic Rainforest Project is all about creating woodlands where they once existed,” said Matt Smith, CEO of HomeTree.

“Our vision for the spaces is not limited to woodland creation, we’ll also restore blanket bogs, species-rich grasslands, and hopefully support vibrant human communities.

“This is a unique opportunity to build climate resilience and repair our connection with nature. The natural habitat of our western uplands is temperate rainforests, with flora and fauna that only exists in five or six parts of the world. It would be fantastic to see some of it restored.”

Oak, willow and birch are among the native trees that will be planted. They are ideally suited for life in the wet, humid uplands and can support immense biodiversity.

Each tree can host up to three hundred insect species, as well as thousands of lichens, fungi and moss. They also provide excellent habitat for rare pine martens, red squirrels and even the white-tailed sea eagle.

The woodlands can turn hills from sources of carbon into powerful carbon sinks; in the process they can build soil, clean air and filter river water.

As part of the plan, HomeTree has allocated a budget of €2.4 million for the local community, farmers, and landowners.

The money will be focused on tree plans that best serve farmers, as well on creating access to public amenities, and supporting landowners in protecting critical ecosystems on their lands.

For more information about the project visit HERE

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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