‘I remember growing up in a really beautiful place, a wild countryside and that was why people came to Ireland. They didn’t come to use the motorways and look at all the empty houses’, says Brabazon, founder of NAMA to Nature, an organisation planting indigenous trees across unfinished and often unoccupied housing developments.
NAMA is the National Assets Management Authority, set up by the Irish government in 2009 to administrate bankrupt properties. The vast majority of these building sites have been abandoned by builders and property tycoons. Tools and supplies lie scattered around the sites. In many cases a full phase of work has been completed meaning that some of the houses in these ghost towns are occupied.
Brabazon tells of one woman who spent two years campaigning to get the developer to return and cover up open manholes. ‘Her children were playing around open sewage and holes that were six foot deep. She just wanted them to be safe; it’s not too much to ask’.
To date NAMA has made little progress in pushing through legislation that would see these estates either demolished or finished. ‘Unfortunately, some of these ghost estates are in places they shouldn't have been built in the first place’ states the chief executive of NAMA Brendan MacDonagh. He also points out that ‘the banks are supposed to lend. You would think that one of the least risky forms of lending is residential mortgages, but they aren't lending’. The result is that most of the properties, particularly in rural areas, remain in a bureaucratic limbo.
According to Brabazon the planting of trees serves a number of purposes. Firstly it is an act of protest against the greed of the Celtic Tiger. This was an era when speculation was so rife that a staggering 750,000 houses and apartments were built to satisfy the market demand in a get-rich-quick property bubble. Secondly, ‘nature will regenerate, so we are giving it a helping hand’ says Brabazon who comes from a family of foresters. ‘We are planting really hardy trees like Alder, Birch and Hazel. In time they will regenerate the soil and eventually they will destroy the empty houses’. This is not an unreasonable prophecy considering the group has already planted several thousands of trees over four estates in Dublin and Leitrim.
NAMA to Nature has also started donating trees and seeds to communities and schools alike; they have also produced a video about how and where to plant trees. The hope is that their actions be replicated across the country.
By planting trees, people are not only helping Ireland reach its EU quota of forestry per acre, which is currently the lowest in Europe, but they will also help the country return to its former natural beauty.