Pádraic Fogarty is an ecologist, environmental campaigner, and author. (An ecologist is a person who studies how animals and plants relate to each other, their environment and the rest of nature.) His book ‘Whittled Away – Ireland’s Vanishing Nature’ was published in 2017. He is very passionate about helping Ireland’s trees and was kind enough to grant us an interview. Here it is!
When and how did you first become interested in nature and trees?
I grew up near to the Phoenix Park in Dublin and I spent a lot of time there, exploring the woodlands especially – they felt very wild to me at the time. I also had a teacher in 3rd class who really encouraged us to get close to nature and learn more about it.
How did you become an ecologist and campaigner?
When I discovered you could get paid to be an ecologist I decided that’s what I had to do. I was working in a factory making medicine at the time so I had to go back to college so I would be properly qualified. I also started volunteering for the Irish Wildlife Trust at this time and this was a great way to learn new things and meet people. I later became more interested in campaigning when I realised how much nature has disappeared from Ireland and how so few people know about it.
What did you discover about Irish trees when you were writing your book ‘Whittled Away’?
I discovered that we don’t have enough of them in Ireland, or – when we do have them – they’re the wrong type! I also discovered how important trees are to so much of our wildlife as well as people.
What do you think are the biggest problems for Irish trees?
The problem at the moment is that it’s hard to make a lot of money by planting native Irish trees, whereas you can make money by planting trees from other parts of the world but which don’t provide anything for our wildlife. In towns and cities we also see trees as a problem… in case they fall on someone or damage property. We rarely talk about all the amazing things that trees do for us.
We are a children’s campaign to promote, protect and plant Irish Trees and hedgerows. Do you have any advice for us about protecting our existing trees?
Every tree in Ireland has its own story to tell – it has legends and folklore in our history, it has different bark, leaves and berries, and the have different relationships with different plants and animals. There is so much to discover in each species of trees – so my advice is to look closely and learn their stories.
We also want to plant many, many more native trees. Are there good and bad ways to do that? What would be your advice on planting trees?
Trees have been around for a very long time and we sometimes forget that they are very good at planting themselves! If we can just give a bit of space to nature then the trees will come back. Of course, sometimes this is too slow for people who are in a hurry to see things happen. And sometimes there are so few trees around that there are no seeds to provide the next generation. So planting is sometimes a good idea also. Always try to get seeds or saplings from trees which are from your local area as these will be best for wildlife and are most likely to survive.
What is your favourite Irish Tree and why?
My favourite Irish tree is the mountain ash or Rowan. It can grow nearly everywhere in Ireland from the tops of mountains to hedgerows in farms. I even have one in my garden. It has beautiful flowers in the spring and gorgeous red berries in autumn and is great for wildlife.
We love Rowan trees too! Thanks for your thoughts on trees! What are you currently involved in doing, in your plight to protect nature in Ireland?
We are trying to get the government to allow new native woodlands to come back to Ireland. We’re also trying to get them to stop polluting our rivers and seas, to bring more flowers back to farms to help the bees, and to protect the amazing wildlife that lives in our oceans.
Thanks so much, Pádraic and good luck with everything you are doing for nature in Ireland.
You’re more than welcome, please keep up your good work!