Neil McCabe of Grown Forest, which aims to plant 50,000 trees across Ireland by the end of next year to widen Ireland’s biodiversity and revive our wild forests. Picture: Conor McCabe.
Three green-fingered firemen are on a new lifesaving mission to revive wild forests — with the help of old Irish dancefloors.
Neil McCabe, Stephen O’Reilly and Damian Bligh of Grown Forest have bought parcels of land right across Ireland, and have planted native Irish trees which are guaranteed for ten generations and can be gifted for €25.
They plan to buy up to 24 acres in Leitrim and Roscommon in the New Year.
In a novel initiative, the wood from long-gone dance halls from around the country, still bearing revellers’ stiletto and heel marks, will frame the cards sent to those who receive the green gift.
“This is about trying to make Ireland wild again, to widen biodiversity and rewind the clock a little so we can look forward to a better future,” said Neil, 43, from Rush in North Dublin.
“This is a labour of love for us and we’re asking people to gift a native Irish tree, either to themselves or to someone else.
“We’ve bought a few acres in Wicklow, Wexford and in early January we’re buying 24 acres in Leitrim and Roscommon.
“These trees are planted and protected for generations to come, long after we’re gone and are legally protected from being cut down at any stage.”
Their eco-conscious customers will be helping out another cause — 10 per cent of the proceeds of each tree sold goes to Dublin Zoo, which warned last month that tumbling revenues during the pandemic threatened to close it.
The enterprising trio — who run ethical clothing brand, Grown, a sister company of Grown Forest — have so far planted 9,000 trees and aim to have another 40,000 in the ground in the next 12 months.
“The land is cleared, planted and all of the trees — native woodland species Whitethorn, Oak, Holly, Hazel, Alder, Birch, Yew, Blackthorn and Hornbeam — are tagged.”
Other trees which have naturalised over time in Ireland are planted around them to form a protective border, building up a rich collection of natural bacteria and insects to support a healthy biodiversity which includes native wildflowers, weeds and native bees.
“As your tree grows it will supply oxygen, reduce carbon emissions, restore biodiversity, create new and important space for our wildlife and offer aid to our fragile and damaged ecosystems,” said Neil, who is based at Dublin’s North Strand Fire Station.
Tree buyers receive a woodland certificate designed by Irish illustrator Sally Caulwell, explaining where your tree is — it can also be framed for €23, using wood from the old Coolaney dance hall in Sligo and other venues.
Neil, Stephen and Damian have backgrounds in design, advertising, sustainability and fashion and met through their day jobs in Dublin Fire Brigade.
Year-round sea swimmers and surfers, their eco drive was fuelled by concerns over microplastics polluting the world’s oceans.
In 2018, they launched Grown, which produces a collection of men’s and women’s shirts, tops and hoodies, made entirely from 100 per cent organic cotton, hemp and recycled fibres.
Every cent in profit from the clothing firm goes straight back into the ground with Grown Forest.
“We all went without pay to buy land all over Ireland,” said Neil.
“At the moment it’s just the three of us, we then pull along other people who have bought from us and ask them to come to our planting days.”
For more information: www.grownforest.ie.