Teagasc highlight the benefits of forests

‘Planting and Managing New Forests’ webinar next Monday (13th)

By Noel Kennedy (Teagasc Forestry Advisor, Roscommon)

Now more than ever, individuals and society are questioning ‘the meaning of life’ and seeking answers. Now, new native woodland in Roscommon is offering a reconnection with nature.

In the quiet, gently rolling limestone fields of south Roscommon, Hillside Holistic Farm offers a helping hand to people looking for guidance towards wellbeing and fulfilment. Since 2004, the farm has been run as an organic beef farm and holistic centre by Sean and Helen Butler.

Described as “a unique family farm with a holistic approach to farming and life”, the synergy between farm, recently planted native woodland, holistic healing, and life mentoring, is palpable. Sean describes himself as an energy healer and organic farmer, with a mission “to help people to find peace with themselves”, and is the fifth generation of the Butler family to work the land. Helen is not from a farming background, and “brings a different type of thinking” to the enterprise.

Concerned by increasing animal health issues and dependence on medicines in conventional intensive farming, the Butlers looked for a more natural approach. In 2001, they began a two-year conversion to an organic system that created a less stressful environment for the animals and produced healthier meat. Unexpectedly, the move to organics also brought welcome health and lifestyle benefits for Sean and Helen. Wishing to share these positive health and lifestyle benefits with others, they also developed their interests in alternative therapies.

Today, Hillside Holistic Farm is a working organic farm and a recognised hub for holistic healing, youth and project mentoring and social farming. With a dedicated therapy room, which can be used by groups and therapists, the farm itself provides a calming backdrop and unique opportunity to re-connect with nature.

Sean has long harboured a desire to plant a broadleaf forest to complement the farm environment and offer additional therapeutic benefits. In addition to the many positives for biodiversity and water quality, he and Helen also noted wider wellbeing benefits of spending time with trees.

In 2019, the Butlers dedicated eleven hectares to planting a new native woodland. To accommodate the new trees, they made the difficult decision to get out of sheep and concentrate on the suckler herd.

Liaising with a registered forester from Western Forestry Co-Op, a Native Woodland Establishment (NWS) grant application was submitted in 2019. A grant approval was issued by DAFM in early 2021 with planting completed in March – during National Tree Week!

The Butlers’ new native woodland has three main species – pedunculate oak, Downey birch and hazel – all supporting a rich biodiversity as they grow. Other minor species include wild cherry, hawthorn, holly and scots pine – an iconic native conifer.

The woodland was planted and will be maintained by the Western Forestry Co-Op until the trees are established and the annual forestry premium will yield €7,500 for fifteen years.

All grass control is manual and no herbicides will be used to establish the trees.

The Butlers already see many opportunities for the new woodland, not least the therapeutic potential for energy healing and facilitating social farming initiatives with vulnerable groups.

Of particular interest is the Japanese concept of Shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing”, which allows people to take time out, slow down and connect with nature.

Hillside Holistic Farm also facilitates social farming, which Sean says “has given us the opportunity to share the benefits of farm life with others”.

As we slowly recover from the impacts of the pandemic, the unique skills, services and facilities offered by Hillside Holistic Farm maybe sought after as never before.

More information on Hillside Holistic Farm is available at hillsideholisticfarm.ie. To learn more about planting Native Woodlands and other forestry planting options go to teagasc.ie/forestry or contact Noel Kennedy (Teagasc Forestry Advisor, Roscommon) on 087-9090504, or Liam Kelly (Teagasc Forestry Advisor, Longford) on 087-9090495. Noel and Liam will be holding a webinar on December 6th at 8 pm on Zoom, titled ‘Planting and Managing New Forests’. Register at bit.ly/RNLDzoom.