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Eternal Spring’s Hope


If oak comes before ash we’re in for a splash, if ash comes before oak then we’re in for a soak - a common saying as the timing of bud burst of ash and oak trees is supposed to be an indicator of the coming spring weather. John Casey Forestry Development Officer is full of the joy and hope of spring

(Main image above: Cruagh Wood - Ewa Poplawska)

If oak comes before ash we’re in for a splash, if ash comes before oak then we’re in for a soak…is a common saying  as the timing of bud burst of ash and oak trees is supposed to be an indicator of the coming spring weather. I have to say my personal experience has been varied (always some dampness involved at least!!) but March usually sees the end of the frost and frozen weather, accompanied by rise of up to 6 degrees Celsius in soil temperatures. Grass has already begun to grow and trees are shaking off dormancy from their limbs. The sheer potential of this time of the year makes spring my favourite season, with all the new beginnings and new hopes it brings forth.

With Covid 19 restrictions still in place, many people are feeling confined and some may feel that they are spending a little too much time in their own “head space”.  Is there a close-to-home natural resource within 5 kilometres that can offer you an escape from the “daily grind”- a location that offers improved health and wellbeing? The simple answer may be a nearby public forest for local walkers or your own forest for individual owners, where you can simply breathe in the fresh air, watch and listen to nature in all its abundant glories.

The awakening forest

While in March the awakening forest may seem to begin slowly, the ground work is being laid for the explosion of growth and colour that heralds April. For wildlife active all winter, the breeding season is already well under way. Foxes typically give birth to cubs in March and April, and most breeding vixens are preparing to have young underground at this stage. Even in early March, it is possible to discern that our bird activity is shifting up a gear, with increased singing as birds defend territories, with the resultant breeding activity and nesting amongst our trees & hedgerows. 

Similarly, badgers will be clearing out winter bedding soon, replacing it to prepare for arrival of this year’s cubs. While our iconic red squirrel might take a little longer to get going, nonetheless, keep an eye out for them in our conifer trees in the next month. If you are very lucky, you might also spot a pine marten in a similar habitat. Do not forget to look at the forest floor as well, as early flowering plants like primrose and wood anemone begin to bloom. By late March/ early April, ramsons (wild garlic) should be putting in an appearance in the still bare broadleaf understorey. Both the pungent leaves and flowers of this springtime plant are edible. The leaves appear in March and are best picked when young, while the flowers emerge from April to June.

Photo sources: Teagasc forestry photo competition 2020

The sap rising

As for the trees themselves…in early winter, the deciduous trees entered dormancy. They shed their leaves, stored sugars and amino acids in their roots, branches and trunk, and waited for warmer temperatures to return. During this time, as long as temperatures are above freezing, water continued to flow into the roots. Trees absorb water until water pressure in the trees is equal to their surroundings. As the air and soil temperatures rise in spring, the trees are primed and ready to go. They are flush with water and have started to move sugars from their roots to the twigs, supplying the energy needed to grow new shoots and leaves. This process is often referred to as “the sap rising”.

Most conifers trees don’t lose their leaves or needles in winter (with the exception of larch), and continue to transpire, so their sap continued to flow at a reduced level all winter. With the onset of spring, the photosynthesis process begins in all trees, helped by the increased amount of light and increased temperature in the air and the soil. Sunlight is captured by the leaves using a chemical called chlorophyll. The sunlight is converted to sugar, which the trees will use to grow new leaves, flowers and seeds. Be mindful of this incredible chemical activity which nature will display within the next two months as you stroll through the woods and hedgerows of our reawakened countryside.

 The “wake up” between March 20th and the April 26th!! (Photos: John Casey)

Forest - Health benefits

Forests can provide a wonderful setting, allowing you to connect with nature and experience a range of positive benefits for the body mind and soul, while still observing the 2 metre social distancing guidelines. There is solid evidence as to the benefits of regular physical activity in the prevention of many chronic diseases. These include cardio-vascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, obesity and osteoporosis. According to the HSE, being physically active can reduce your chances of developing some chronic diseases by up to 50% as well as reducing the risk of premature death by 20 to 30%.  So why not get fit in the forest and add to your life?

Just a reminder - National Tree Week 2021 will be on from Sunday 21st March to Saturday 27th March. Check out www.treecouncil.ie for some details of virtual events.

Check out the Teagasc Forestry page  to find out more about forestry