Rev Trevor Sargent’s Ecological Notes for Autumn 2020 – Plant a tiny forest to boost biodiversity & fight climate change

A recent post on Twitter caught my eye. It came from the World Economic Forum and the headline read:

‘People are planting tiny forests to boost biodiversity & fight climate change’

The idea is simple – take brownfield sites, plant them densely with a wide variety of native seedlings, and let them grow with minimal intervention. The result, according to the post, is complex ecosystems perfectly suited to local conditions that improve biodiversity, grow quickly and absorb more CO2.

Chief advocate of planting multiple tiny forests is Japanese botanist Dr. Akira Miyawaki. His idea is inspired by the protected areas around churches, temples, shrines and cemeteries in Japan which contain a huge variety of native vegetation that co-exist to produce resilient and diverse ecosystems. This contrasts with the monocultural conifer forests primarily grown for timber – that dominate Japan’s landscape.

The popularity of what are called ‘Miyawaki forests’ is growing, with many examples in India, Brazil and Europe. Projects such as ‘Urban Forests’ in Belgium and France, and Tiny Forests’ in the Netherlands, are bringing together parishes and various community groups to plant up grassy corners and neglected patches in their own localities.

This photograph taken in southern Mumbai, India, shows 5,000 diverse saplings from 33 species planted by a dedicated group of 500 citizens. They planted 1,200 saplings over a weekend and 3,800 more by the following Thursday in one week last year. The species planted included fruit trees such as mango, jackfruit, tamarind, custard apple and cherry.

Grants for growing mini-woodlands in Ireland under the Government’s ‘Neighbourwood Scheme’

In 2017, Minister of State, Mr Andrew Doyle TD, in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine launched a Forest Service project to grant aid landowners and public bodies who want to develop small woodlands. This is a thoroughly beneficial initiative to help biodiversity, fight climate change, boost mental health, build community spirit, provide outdoor education, and give some effect to the Fifth Anglican Mark of Missionto safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

The ‘Neighbourwood Scheme’ grant aids up to 85% of eligible costs (exclusive of VAT). Depending on the aspect of the scheme being considered, the maximum grant amount is either €3,500 or €5,000. The minimum eligible site area is a tenth of a hectare. The application requires submission of a site drawing on a 1:5000 scale OSI map and the application needs to be signed by a registered forester. Each application is assessed on the basis of silvicultural and environmental suitablility. Work can only commence after a Letter of Approval has been received and acknowledged. Work then has to be completed by the completion date set down in the Letter of Approval.

Details about the ‘Neighbourwood Scheme’ are available from the Forest Service, Johnstown Castle Estate, Co. Wexford (LoCall 0761 064 415 / e-mail

Imagine if churches in Ireland became famous for being ‘green oases’ like the 35,000 Orthodox churches of Ethiopia, each surrounded by a church forest?

These church forests, like the one pictured, are in most cases the last remnants of Ethiopia’s natural forest cover, which has reduced from 45% to 5% of land area in the last 100 years. The Orthodox church, to which more than half of Ethiopians belong, views these church forests as a symbol of heaven on Earth, where every creature is a gift from God and needs its habitat.

These church woodlands are also important for adjacent agricultural lands because many of the birds and insects that populate them also pollinate crops and control pests. These church woodlands also sequester carbon, conserve water, reduce soil erosion and provide natural medicine, as well as providing shelter for buildings, space for contemplation and prayer, and burial areas.

In this Covid-19 period, there is much to be said for being active outdoors. Planning and planting a mini woodland, near a church, or wherever possible, is a healthy way to enhance the lives of this and future generations, to the glory of God.

All good gifts around us
are sent from heaven above;
then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
for all his love.