DAERA’s largest ever public tree planting event took place on Monday, March 9, as around 400 school pupils planted 1,000 broadleaf trees as part of the new ‘Forests For Our Future’ programme.

The first tree of the programme was planted by Minister, Edwin Poots of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), at CAFRE’s Loughry Campus.

This is the first of a number of events to kick-start the initiative which aims to plant 18 million trees by 2030 in a bid to help tackle climate change, improve community well-being, contribute to a sustainable economy and increase tourism.

Benefits of the programme and forestry

“Today we are investing in all our futures as around 400 pupils planted 1,000 young trees. These trees will grow, flourish and, over their lifetime, will provide a multitude of benefits,” said Poots.

“I am confident this simple but effective step will reap great rewards for our environment, health, tourism and economy.

Planting 18 million trees will be a huge challenge but a very important one in terms of helping our environment.

“Trees help cool the environment by sucking in and storing harmful carbon dioxide into their trunks, branches and leaves and release oxygen back into the atmosphere.”

As the biggest plants, he said, the trees help the soil and give life, food and shelter to birds, wildlife and insects. “Put simply, they are vital for life.”

Poots continued: “They also help our economy to thrive. The forestry sector, at present, generates about £60 million per annum from timber production activity, sustaining approximately 1,000 rural jobs.

“A further £60-80 million is generated in the local economy from forest-based recreation and tourism. The ‘Forests For Our Future’ programme aims to build on this and expand on these important benefits.”

Poots went on to say: “It is apt that the first trees planted as part of ‘Forests For Our Future’ are by school pupils – they are the future. This generation is very aware of their impact on our environment and the need to take action. After we plant the first 1,000 trees here today, there will only be 17,999,000 to go!

“There are many more things I intend to consider to mitigate carbon emissions, but tree planting is one of the most simple and low-cost options open to us and is a great step in the right direction,” he concluded.

What do others think of the programme?

Helping to plant the trees was Sarah Maguire and Caragh McCloskey from St. Mary’s Grammar, Magherafelt.

They said: “We have a collective responsibility to protect the environment; that is our duty. Today our environment is under threat because of our deeds and decisions. Our actions have results.

“I would like to thank Mr. Poots and the Department of Agriculture for inviting us here today to carry out such an important and fun activity which will benefit our local environment.”

Ian McCurley, Northern Ireland director of the Woodland Trust, which has its own ‘Big Climate Fightback’ campaign, welcomed the event.

He said: “It’s fantastic to see DAERA taking action to help tackle climate change.

Trees are very important. They are good for people and the environment. They improve air quality, store carbon, provide food and shelter for wildlife and provide outdoor recreation.

“We can all follow today’s example and take action against climate change by planting a tree,” he added.