What better way to celebrate 20 years than to plant a small native woodland. Tralee Educate Together National School (TETNS) was delighted when LEAF Ireland approached them and asked if they would be interested in planting a Choill Bheag (Little Woodland) on the grounds of Tralee Bay Wetlands.

During National Tree Week, the senior classes visited the Wetlands with staff from LEAF Ireland. Students got to know the soil and the biodiversity at the Wetlands and learned about how important both are when it comes to healthy ecosystems.  The students returned Tuesday 28th March and planted 200 native trees of mixed variety, suitable to the soil type. As it is a wetland, alder, willow and birch were the predominant species selected for planting, along with a mix of other native species.  The after care of the trees was also discussed with the students. Over time, as the woodland matures it will become a treasure trove of biodiversity, a place where the students can return and explore with their families and friends.

Rachel Geary of LEAF Ireland said: ‘Planting and caring for our trees is vital, they give us so much. They purify our water, they clean our air, they capture and store carbon and can therefore help fight climate change, they provide food and medicines, and improve our well-being.’

It is hoped that over the years, other local schools will benefit from this new woodland at the Wetlands and will come and learn how to care for these special habitats. In 2021, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launched the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a “rallying call for the protection and revival of ecosystems all around the world, for the benefit of people and nature.” Despite their smaller size, An Choill Bheag presents a healthier and more biodiverse alternative to the trimmed lawns and concrete slabs that are so often seen in schools and on public grounds. They provide an opportunity to educate the next generation of nature restorers with hands-on knowledge and skills of natural spaces and encourage educators to use nature as a classroom.

Mary O’Connor of Tralee Bay Wetlands said: “It has been a pleasure to work with LEAF Ireland on this brilliant An Choill Bheag initiative. We hope that all our visitors will enjoy watching this little woodland grow and change through the seasons and that we can use this biodiverse, living classroom as part of our education programmes and our Guided tours.”

Rachel Geary from LEAF Ireland (EEU) said: “We were absolutely delighted to collaborate with Tralee Bay Wetlands, Kerry County Council and TETNS on this wonderful project. It is now important than ever that we protect and restore our habitats, but it is also critical that we educate both adults and students about the importance of these habitats, and ensure they have the skills to protect and maintain them after we have completed the projects.”

Mary Brosnan Principal of Tralee Educate Together said: “We are delighted to be part of this Choill Bheag project. Outdoor Learning is a feature of our school, and this wonderful tree planting project is the perfect way for us to mark our 20th Anniversary. The planting and conservation of trees motivates the children to protect nature while also leaving a lasting environmental legacy. Thanks to LEAF Ireland for planning and coordinating this special project.”

An Choill Bheag is an initiative of LEAF Ireland and the Environmental Education Unit of An Taisce.  This An Choill Bheag project is being supported and funded by Tralee Bay Wetlands.