It’s a lot more than you might think!
The Giants Grove project is a partnership between Crann – Trees for Ireland, and Birr Castle Estate. On the surface it’s basically an 8 hectare (20 acre) green-field afforestation project in the heart of Ireland that was launched by President Higgins in 2017, who also planted it’s first tree. But the Giants Grove is so much more than just your average forest, it’s a lot more special than you might think.
The Giants Grove is a Redwood forest, and it’s the largest Redwood forest outside of the United States. It is home to both the Giant Redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) and the Coastal Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), the most massive and tallest tree species on Earth. While Redwoods are common in parks and gardens, a Redwood forest, especially a newly planted Redwood forest, is very rare indeed. Each tree has been planted at a luxurious 6 – 10 meters spacing which will give them plenty of room to develop on their 1000-year road to maturity at Birr.
And they won’t get lonely either, because the large space between the giants has been planted with a diverse mix of native Irish trees, including oak, birch, alder, holly, hazel, willow, rowan, spindle, yew, and guelder rose. Of course, these natives will eventually be shaded-out over time by the faster growing foreigners, but not for 50 years or so, and the wildlife they attract, and the biodiversity and habitats they create, will add so much more to the project.
Climate change is a tremendous threat worldwide, but the Redwood species are particularly vulnerable. As temperatures and rainfall levels change in their native California, the Redwoods cannot adapt to the new norms and their very futures are in doubt. In the past few years alone, it is estimated that up to 20% of the Giant Redwood population has been wiped out by forest fires caused by climate related droughts. While Ireland is also experiencing climate change, our current climate is ideal for Redwoods, and the Grove at Birr will provide some additional protection for both species long into the future.
The Irish Diaspora
Surprisingly, recent scientific analysis has revealed that Redwoods were native to Ireland before the ice age about 3 million years ago. The world has changed a lot since then, and they cannot now be considered as ‘native’ Irish species, but their history should not be forgotten. The Redwoods long absence from Ireland reminds us of so many Irish sons and daughters who had no choice but to leave our shores, and their return to Birr symbolises our hopes that the Irish around the world, or their descendants, will someday return home themselves, even if only for a short visit.
Redwoods are some of the best trees on the planet for carbon sequestration. Considering their fast growth rates, their very long lifespan, and their potential height and girth, Redwoods can store up to 5 times more carbon than any other type of forest. Where an average person in the developed world uses around 520 tons of carbon in their lifetime, a big Redwood, like the famous General Sherman, has soaked up over 1,400 tons in its life. Studies have found that mature Redwoods store more carbon in their bark than what was found in entire neighbouring trees.
Over the next 100 years, the Redwoods in the Giants Grove will soak up over 21,000 metric tonnes of carbon from our atmosphere, and in their lifetimes will store more carbon than 250,000 average trees. Nothing takes so much carbon, and gives so much habitat, as a Giant Redwood.
Every Redwood in the Giants Grove, and the Giants Grove itself, is a living memorial. Each tree will be sponsored, and every sponsor can dedicate their tree as they wish and add a few words to a label that will remain with its tree in perpetuity. Every Giant in the Grove, and the land the Grove is in, is legally protected – it cannot be cut down, cannot be sold, few things in life are as secure. What a beautiful way to be remembered! Who knows, maybe someday, some of the trees at Birr will be as famous as the most famous Redwoods today – Hyperion, the tallest Redwood, or General Sherman, the largest Redwood.
The Giants Grove is not a park, it’s a managed wilderness. We planted the Redwoods, and the natives in-between, and apart from some grass-cleaning and filling-in we basically let nature take its course. It might appear a little unkempt or messy, but it’s a haven and a heaven for a vast range of species that have made it their home. Apart from the 12 species of trees planted, there’s a huge variety of flowers, grasses, mushrooms, mosses and lichens, insects, spiders, birds, and mammals present. There’s species diversity, age diversity, structural diversity, and this diversity is because the Giants Grove isn’t a habitat, it’s a range of habitats. And it’s only 5 years old.
And there’s so much more
The Giants Grove is many things. It’s a classroom where we sometimes teach a little, but mostly learn a lot. It’s become an international focus with visits from the Save the Redwood League, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC International), and the International Dendrology Society, among others, and the interest is growing daily.
And the Giants Grove is also a charity. Much of the work is voluntary, and we do what we can with what we’ve got, because really, it’s all about the Redwoods. And it always will be.
The Giants Grove Project is an Partnership between Birr Castle Estate and Crann – Trees for Ireland, and is managed by Ecoplan Forestry. It is the largest Sequoia / Redwood forest outside of the United States.
Trees are still available to Sponsor in this forever forest of Giants.