THERE’S a lot of talk about reforesting Ireland, but it seems to Dúlra that precious little is ever done about it.

Trees are promised by the millions but all the while, hedgerows are hacked down.
Few of us realise – Dúlra didn’t until recently – that our country was once a temperate rainforest just as precious the tropical one we champion today in the Amazon. But just leave your garden untended for a while, or look at a scratch of forgotten ground between our homes, and you’ll see that same rainforest taking seed.
Centuries ago, a wildlife we can barely imagine thrived here under an ancient oak-dominated canopy, beloved of the druids.
Then disaster struck. Lord of the Rings portrayed this ecological catastrophe brilliantly as ‘Tree-Slayer’ –  Saruman hacked down forests to build his army. Those scenes were replicated across Ireland centuries ago as nature became fodder for an empire. Only a few slithers survived in inaccessible outcrops – 0.01 per cent of our native woodland – and the dearth of old trees around Belfast is sad evidence of this.
But times have changed. Lockdown has taught us to appreciate the priceless treasure that is our countryside. We all want to live in a greener environment and have broadleaf forests on our doorsteps.
And one group of tech-savvy people have decided to take on this mammoth challenge head-on.
“It’s like couch-surfing for the environment,” said James McConville of “You supply the land, we’ll supply the trees.”
James, an architect from Rostrevor, County Down, now living in Stockholm, owes his ‘reawakening’ to the Swedish schoolgirl who has single-handedly changed the world.
“Greta Thurnberg started her worldwide movement for change just across the street from my office,” James told Dúlra. “I could actually see her protesting on her own when she refused to go to school unless the climate emergency was tackled.
“How could I not get involved?”
Restorify’s mission is simple – to restore our planet’s forests. Its digital platform connects tree donors with available land, which it terms missions. The donors include many of Belfast’s big tech companies who are determined to leave a green footprint, and so far there have been 11 ‘missions’ across Ireland.
“Our long-term goal is to be the go-to digital tool for local people wanting to rewild or reforest their communities.
In a blurb launching the project, James writes: “Restorify grew out of the fact that until I was 29 years old, I never knew the story of my ancestors, the ‘forest people’. Once upon a time, Ireland was the most forested country in Europe with eighty per cent tree coverage.
“Legend has it the red squirrel could traverse through our island’s tree canopy from north to south without ever touching the forest floor. Within this arboreal environment lived my ancestors, the Gaels, whose name translates as the ‘Forest People’.
“However, as a result of deforestation for fuel, materials and agriculture, Ireland’s once mighty oak forests were reduced from eighty per cent to one per cent by the end of the 19th century.”
But James soon found out that reforestation is complicated. He wanted to reforest his local area around Rostrevor but hit roadblocks. “First you need to find suitable land, then you have to find the right trees, then you need to plant them correctly and then maintain them, not to mention finance it all.
“There wasn’t a reforestation project local to me, like on the disused piece of public land in my town or around my local school or even on the barren uplands beside my home. This was the lightbulb moment for Restorify.
“What if there was an online platform that connected local tree donors with available local land?”
Their pilot project involved six schools in south Down successfully planting their own mini-forests.
Restorify’s ‘Your Tree Your Story’ allowed the schoolchildren to ‘own’ their individual tree – even name it – which will be stored for future generations. “Maybe some day they’ll be able to bring their grandchildren back to the tree they planted,” said James.
“Our long-term goal is to be the go-to digital tool for local people wanting to rewild or reforest their communities.
“Ireland is covered cumulatively with thousands of hectares of available planting sites, whether it is on unused land owned by schools, local authorities, sports clubs, private citizens or companies.”
And now restorify hopes to spearhead a “forest masterplan” for Belfast. “We need to get to think globally and locally at the same time,” James said. “We really need to start seeing forests as not just a bunch of trees, but a thing that joins communities.
“We need to think bigger and create a forest across Belfast, connecting communities, bisecting the walls that divide us..
“In Manchester they’re planning a forest from coast to coast and in Tirana in Albania they’re building a forest around the city, which is similar to what we could do in Belfast. Why not?”

It’s a project so big, so life-changing, that no one has been brave enough to tackle it. Until now.
If you’ve any nature questions, or have seen anything interesting, you can text Dúlra on
07801 414804.