Matthew Carlson speaks with environmental activist Orla Farrell
Most people on the street don’t think much when they pass a tree. They walk past it without any thought or regard to it. Orla Farrell is not one of those people. In fact, she is one of the directors for an organisation called Crann which helps raise awareness for the environmental importance and significance of trees, with her specific emphasis working with school children. Orla has been involved in taking care of trees for almost 20 years. She says her fascination began as a little girl.
“I first heard when I was six that Ireland was at the bottom of the league for tree coverage,” says Orla. She explains that after that her interest in trees grew. Her first opportunity to plant herself came in 1999. Since then, she has always been interested in trees, and jumped at the chance to plant a grove of native trees. That was only the beginning.
Orla says that after she saw Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth, which released in 2006, she started a Green Flag initiative at St Laurence in Baldoyle where she is a teacher. She was then inspired by a German teen by the name of Felix, who challenged the children of the world to plant one million trees in each country. “We have one million school children here in Ireland including the North, so that comes out to on average one tree per kid.”
Orla was inspired to begin this initiative in Ireland.
“Last week we planted the last of 3,305 trees in our local park with ten different schools.”
She doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon and says that her goal is to have all one million of Ireland’s trees planted by the year 2023.
Orla helps put together tree academies, which educate school children on how to properly plant trees and then continue to take care of them.
“For the first few years, the trees need help looking after them. The right knowledge is needed to know how to do that properly,” says Orla.
Orla continued to say that Ireland stands at the near bottom of the league in terms of tree coverage, only above Holland. “Our tree coverage is sitting at 11.5%, which is not good,” says Orla.
She explains how the UK used to be in a similar situation but has since put initiatives in place and they have seen improvement in their tree coverage. Orla is trying to get a similar agenda going in Ireland. Although a positive person, Orla realises that Ireland has a problem in the area of capturing carbons. “Trees are the best catchers of carbons that we have,” says Orla. “They’re tried and tested. We could wait for some engineers to build great machines to capture carbons but in the meantime, planting trees is the best hope we have.”
She continues that there is a lot of damage done in terms of carbons being in the air, especially in the realm of agriculture, and that trees are the best way to combat that.
Orla hopes that by the end of the year, there will be a new tree planted for every school in Ireland. “Citizens can do a lot in finding a little corner a little space where they can plant two or three trees. All of these trees planted can be added to the global tree counter which is at 15 billion at the present,” says Orla.
As it stands, Crann has aided in the planting of one tree for every primary school in Ireland. This winter they hope to continue and plant one for each secondary school as well as primary schools in the North. Orla says that their organisation is always looking for schools and individuals who want to run a tree academy for children, similar to the one started at her school.
Orla says that her organisation was even contacted by the organisers of Pope Francis’ trip to Ireland. They are in coordination to incorporate a tree planting element to his visit in August. They are currently waiting to hear back from the organisers to decide on which event will be most suiting for the Pope.
Some of Orla’s most recent work has taken her as far as Kilfenora and Kerry in Ireland where they host planting parties in which every child in a school will come out and participate in a tree planting.
Orla says that it is important to get people involved and talking about issues involving trees and the environment. “People are frightened about climate change and they feel like it is something too big for them to cope with.”
Orla references a video that describes the 28 native trees in Ireland to help people in deciding what trees to plant themselves, because she believes that change will happen when people get involved even on a small scale.
“Bit by bit we will get these trees in the ground,” Orla says.
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