There is something magical about walking in the woods. It is because in there, among the trees, you let yourself get lost, distracted from the ways of the world. In there, among the trees, and the fallen branches, and dried up leaves, you can learn more about yourself than a thousand books would ever reveal.
In there, you hop between the belief that the woods are simultaneously the safest and the most dangerous places to be. The fairytales of our childhood, though mainly Germanic and Scandinavian in origin, feature dark woods where danger and wonder lurked around even corner. Every wood is a natural theme park, twisted and shaped into shapes obscure enough to fascinate. Every child should have access to a wood, every adult should access a childhood to which the wood offers a return.
I write this in a week when a report stating the bleeding’ obvious was published, stating that a trip to the local park twice a week could pay dividends in personal health terms, particularly mental wellbeing. How long have we known this? How much of our childhood was spent wandering in woods, wishing to camp out in woods? How many of you have built childhood camps from branches and foliage, and made a home away from home in a wooded area? How many of our nighttime dreams feature us deposited in the middle of a wood, alone with the plaintful howling of a wolf, or the yelp of a startled mating fox.
The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI ) was commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA ) to evaluate not just the health benefits of such areas but how people might be incentivised to make the most of them. The Irish project surveyed 1,050 adults between February and May last year on how often they visited green spaces. They were then asked to rate their own physical and mental health and a correlation was drawn between two sets of complex data. However, it warned that going more than twice did not show any increased benefit, so going twice is the same benefit as you would get if you were living in the woods, like the Wombles.
This week, community and environmental campaigners have praised the Galway City Council’s decision to establish a full time permanent grounds staff unit for Galway city’s three main parks. By doing this, they suggest that a new approach to the benefit of parks and woods is being adopted. That by fighting for the woods, the justification for the battle is being recognized. That the concept of a hummus-eating treehugger is being consigned to the recyclable waste bin.
By valuing these resources enough to staff them adequately, the Council is supporting the enthusiasm and dedication of the wardens. But there is a lot going on to protect our green spaces, and clean our air. Last Sunday saw the first large-scale public tree planting in Galway city since 2013 when the staff of Aerogen and their families planted over 500 trees in Terryland Forest Park. This company has also recently funded the development in the Ballinfoile Community Organic Garden of the city’s first community tree nursery, which will become a valuable long-term resource for schools and neighbourhoods.
Now, we all need to get involved, to use the woods and parks in all our areas. To share in the enjoyment of the great outdoors on our doorstep. To campaign for their retention and protection, for their enhancement. To make them accessible to those whose mobility is limited.
With the turning of the season, play your role in preserving our green spaces by using them and respecting them. Let us not be the generation that lets them be decimated. Find your nearest wood or park and find the wonder, and pass it on.