The President of the National Tree Council of Ireland has said it is people's responsibility to plant and protect trees, not only for themselves but for future generations.

Éanna Ní Lamhna was highlighting the importance of National Tree Week which is running all this week.

State forestry company Coillte has donated 150,000 native tree saplings, which are being distributed for planting by local communities.

The theme for National Tree Week this year is 'Biodiversity Begins with Trees'.

The Tree Council is urging people to remember that trees are essential to the environment and they have the biggest role to play in slowing down biodiversity loss. They also provide food shelter and nesting materials for many species.

Trees are also one of the most effective ways of tackling climate change because they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They can also contribute to improved habitats, water quality and wellbeing.

Community groups who want to plant trees in their local area this week can register with the Tree Council of Ireland.

People interested in obtaining oak, birch, alder, or rowan saplings for their own local planting initiatives are invited to contact their local county council for further information.

Millennium trees - 23 years on

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In the year 2000, millennium trees were planted at 16 different forests located all around Ireland. Now, 23 years later, Coillte's Head of Communications, Pat Neville, says the Millennium Forest project has clearly been a huge success.

"One of the lovely things about it, is that the seeds for the trees that were planted were gathered by hand from older trees, and then placed back into the same forest. We planted about 1.3 million trees, one for every household in Ireland. People received a certificate through their letterbox to tell them specifically where their tree was planted."

The trees planted included native broadleaf trees such as Oak, Birch and Rowan planted. But Scots Pine was also planted, Ireland’s native coniferous tree which is considered important for species like Pine Martin, Red Squirrel and nut eating birds which feed on its pinecones.

The millennium forests were not planted on greenfield sites but instead involved the expansion and restoration of existing forest locations. Ecologists say this was important because the existing woodland sites chosen already had a range of creepy crawlies, insects, bugs, birds, bees, and other aspects of biodiversity which helped the forests and nature to perform better.

The largest of the Millennium Forests in the country is Coill an Fhailtaigh, 200-acres of woodlands in Co Kilkenny where the trees planted have grown very fast.

Twenty-three years on, the birch trees might appear slightly skinny but they are very tall.

Most already appear significantly bigger than a two-storey house.

Coillte's Mary Clifford is the forest manager. She says that most of the broadleaf trees will live to be 200 to 300 years old.

"As they get older and start fruiting, we're going to have regeneration and the natural offspring of the trees will start growing up underneath. It's mother nature doing its own work", she said.

Éanna Ní Lamhna is President of the Tree Council of Ireland. It is raining when we meet at Coill an Fhailtaigh but she is not a bit bothered by that.

"Sure, all forests are rain forests and if we didn’t have rain, we would have deserts," she says dismissively.

Éanna's eyes light up as she talks about ivy growing up the beech trees around her, and lily-type plants on the forest floor bursting through.

It is a mass of biodiversity she says with trees as the basis.

There will be various insects and aphids living off the plants, then herbivores feeding on them, and carnivores including birds eating them.

"There was always a kind of a mystical tone about the woodlands. You can hear all the different sounds – the wind, the rain, the birds. And you can smell all the different smells - the leaves, the flowers, the fungi. Then you can see what you can see with your eyes. It is a feast for all your senses. If that doesn't do your mental health good, then I don't know what would," she said.

These days Coillte does not invite people to seek out and locate the specific tree that was planted for their household back in the year 2000. But it does encourage them to explore the native woodlands in which their tree was planted.

That is because nature takes its own course. Some of the trees will have grown better and faster than others. Other trees and saplings might be eaten by squirrels or deer.

But they have contributed to new native woodlands which are going to be around for hundreds of years.

Pat Neville says that "23 years ago, we may have been less concerned about climate change and nature than we are today. And there is no doubt that 23 years into the future we will know more again. We know far more now about the benefits of trees and about how forestry can help us tackle climate change and help with the conservation of wildlife. They are also great places for people to come to walk and exercise."

All 16 millennium forests are open to the public. In addition, Coillte has an open forest policy so that people are welcome to go and walk in any Coillte forest anywhere in the country.

About 250 of the Coillte forests are designated as recreational forests with maps and marked out walking trails.

"This is National Tree Week, our week where we celebrate all of the good things about trees. So I would encourage people, even though it's raining, to get their boots on, get the brolly out and come and take a walk in the forest" said Mr Neville.