Library of Creative Sustainability

Inspiring examples of sustainability outcomes achieved through artistic collaboration. Read our introduction here

The Hollywood Forest Story

A project by ecological artist Dr Cathy Fitzgerald turning a conifer plantation destined for clear-fell into a permanent, species-rich productive forest using new continuous cover forestry methods. Fitzgerald worked with professional foresters and used her perspective as an artist to tell the story of the process and help others envision and enact new land practices with environmental, social and economic benefits for enduring local and planetary wellbeing. The project thus contributes to a broader shift in cultural attitudes towards more ecological ways of thinking and acting for sustainable living.

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Project Description

Context

Over the last century, forestry in Ireland has for the purposes of creating a profitable timber industry promoted an industrial, capitalistic forestry model. Fast-growing, often non-native ‘monoculture’ (consisting of one species) tree plantations are grown commercially at scale. With relatively short-rotation cycles of 40-60 years, the primary focus of industrial forestry is on economic returns. Additionally, with limited community involvement, few outside the forestry sector understand or have experienced what constitutes a healthy, biodiverse forest ecosystem. 

Existential challenges to industrial forestry and agriculture are now evident. Global scientific and social data confirm industrial land practices for singular economic aims degrade biodiversity, soil fertility, decrease disease resilience and other indicators of ecosystem viability, and also reduce forests’ potential for social benefits. All these factors are increasingly recognised as essential for enduring local and planetary wellbeing. 

Alternative, ‘Close-to-Nature continuous cover forestry’ practices have arisen across Europe in recent decades. These involve periodic selective thinning so that the integrity of a forest is not damaged, and natural regeneration of trees occurs to replace thinned trees. This results in more stable biodiverse, disease-resistant forests with greater soil fertility, carbon sequestration, social benefits and employment potential. However, changes to adopt a more complex and diverse forestry with diverse-sized timbers and broader environmental and social aims rests on a profound cultural shift that requires improved ecological education across society. In Ireland, these long-term permanent forestry practices, spearheaded by Pro Silva Ireland since 2000, are starting to be implemented at the time of writing. 

Ecological artist Cathy Fitzgerald has worked since the late 1990s with foresters and others involved with forest NGOs like Crann (Trees for Ireland) and Pro Silva Ireland who are exploring  alternative, more ecological, community-oriented forestry for Ireland. She began with modest ideas of combining art and ecology. In 1996, with forester Noel Kiernan, she created original illustrations and text for a calendar to highlight rare Irish native hedgerow shrubs and trees for the Crann Hedgerow Awareness project, and later returned in 2006 to document the outcomes of Crann’s community native forest-planting project in the 1990s in south Leitrim, Ireland, in an exhibition. 

Having spent ten years working at a science research institute in Aotearoa/New Zealand, she later undertook contemporary art practice education and doctoral research at the Irish National College of Art and Design. She has been interested in how ecological insights profoundly challenge accepted conventions of contemporary modern art practice and how we tend ecosystems for enduring personal, collective and planetary wellbeing.

The Hollywood Forest Story

In 2000, Fitzgerald inherited a piece of land with her husband, where she now lives and works, which included a pre-existing monoculture Sitka spruce forestry plantation planted in the mid 1980s. In 2008, inspired by situated ecological art practitioners Helen and Newton Harrisons’ work in the USA, she planned a long-term project to explore new ecological forestry practices that turn a monoculture tree plantation into a permanent, mixed age, diverse species forest through selectively removing existing trees and encouraging the natural regeneration of native species.  She used the Close-to-Nature continuous cover forestry approach advocated by eastern European foresters through Pro Silva and volunteered as public relations officer for Pro Silva Ireland for nearly a decade, establishing valuable long-term connections with forestry experts. 

Close-to-Nature continuous cover forestry management fosters environmental, social and economic benefits over the long term. Encouraging the widespread adoption of these practices thus requires cultural effort to instil understanding of ecological interdependence and the need to adopt new values to guide all peoples’ actions for enduring, thriving forests. Fitzgerald saw independent creative-led collaboration as an inclusive way to re-envision forest management for herself and others, promoting new ecological thinking, values and practices.

The Hollywood Forest Story is an ecological art practice instigated by Fitzgerald but also a collaborative participatory inquiry to seek wiser forest management in response to the environmental and social challenges of the ecological emergency. The Hollywood Forest Story both shares the story that a thriving local forest depends on more holistic ways of valuing and tending them, and demonstrates the social power of long term ecological art practices to engage diverse audiences in new values, ideas and actions for ecological wellbeing. Fitzgerald documents these twin aims throughout in her blog, written with a creative, reflective style that is accessible to non-experts and emphasises a ‘new story’ for enduringly beautiful and biodiverse forests. Her blog posts, articles and academic contributions, with short films and photographic documentation from within Hollywood forest engage online audiences and landowners seeking more ecological forestry methods.

The blog highlights how permanent forestry management advances multiple environmental, social and economic benefits and overlaps with ecological art practice. Fitzgerald shares how some leading continuous cover foresters intuit ecological forestry as both an art and science. Foresters develop artful improvisational skill with dynamic living systems. They recognise how to best ‘sculpt with light’ to encourage seedling growth on the forest floor while also managing forests in the most scientific ‘Close-to-Nature’ way possible. Most importantly, Fitzgerald shares that it is hard to ignore how Close-to-Nature managed permanent forests become increasingly beautiful and valuable as biodiversity and soil fertility increases and that they promote wellbeing for present and future generations. 

As Fitzgerald’s ecological literacy of permanent forestry evolved, her confidence to advocate for new ecological forestry increased. She contributed a sustainable forest policy to the Irish Green Party which was adopted and launched in 2013. Fitzgerald also had Hollywood Forest listed on the Irish COFORD forest research database of forests using ‘low impact silviculture systems’ and the forest was inspected by them in 2013. Sector and public pressure has since led to new initiatives for the Irish forest department to move toward permanent, mixed species, non-clearfell forestry, with new government grants for transforming monocultures into forests now available in Ireland at the time of writing. 

Nevertheless these are urgent times for the world’s forests. Hollywood Forest has faced serious setbacks, such as the arrival of ash dieback disease in Ireland, the severity of which was increased by industrial globalised forestry practices. This adversely affected ash seedlings and saplings that were the predominant naturally regenerating species arising following the Close-to-Nature continuous cover forestry management. The depletion of the ash tree, the second most common native Irish tree, supporting much wildlife and of immense cultural significance, has been an immeasurable loss for Hollywood Forest and nationally. Warming winters in Ireland due to climate breakdown have also, like elsewhere, seen increases in severe conifer aphid attacks, with some mature conifer trees dying

Fitzgerald used this work as a basis for a Creative Practice-led PhD to explain the potential and challenges posed by situated ecological art practices that creatively increase ecological understanding for general audiences. Since Fitzgerald completed her doctoral studies, she has sought to share the rewards and challenges of bringing creativity and ecology together. Alongside writing articles, giving talks to artists, educators, curators and art researchers, she hosts the online Haumea Ecoversity, offering ecoliteracy and ecological ethics courses for creatives and cultural professionals. Her and her husband’s work to transform Hollywood Forest continues with regular management from Pro Silva foresters and Fitzgerald has since 2017 used the ecological arts practice framework to advise community artists working to restore a nearby wetland for the Creative Drummin – Druimín Cruthaitheach programme.

Partners & Stakeholders

  • Dr Cathy Fitzgerald, an ecological artist originally from Aotearoa/New Zealand, spent ten years working at the science research institute MIRINZ, but since 1996 lives in Ireland. Inspired by New Zealand’s remnants of near-pristine forests, Fitzgerald became involved with Irish ecological forestry NGOs. These connections offered her a means to explore new continuous cover forestry practices while advancing frameworks to explain the workings for sustainable behaviour change through long-term ecological ‘ecosocial art practices’. 
  • Pro Silva Ireland (Latin: ‘for forests’), part of Pro Silva International, is a European-led confederation of professional foresters across more than 25 countries who promote ‘Pro Silva Close-to-Nature Forest Management Principles’ as an integrated ecological alternative to industrial clear-fell, short-rotation tree plantation forestry. Irish foresters from Pro Silva Ireland worked periodically on the transformation of Hollywood Forest as well as offering advice and support.
  • Landowners, creatives, arts officers, curators, contemporary art and landscape architecture educators and their students from County Carlow and beyond, have visited the site.
  • Creative professionals and researchers from further afield also respond to and learn from the site either through in-person visits or through the HollywoodForest.com blog and associated publications.
  • The Irish Green Party, a political party that Fitzgerald worked with to advocate permanent, mixed species, continuous cover, non-clearfell forestry for Green Party forest policy in 2012. In 2022, with the Irish Green Party in government, this new forestry management is part of the government forestry strategy and policy for Ireland’s forests.
Cathy has brilliantly transformed the communication system amongst members of Pro Silva Ireland and Pro Silva International through the use of social media. She has done fantastic work in helping Pro Silva get its message regarding Close-to-Nature forest management beyond our membership into society in general. Paddy Purser, Irish forest manager, consultant with Purser Tarleton Russell Ltd. and co-founder of Pro Silva Ireland

Sustainability Issues

  • The Hollywood Forest Story has benefits for local biodiversity, soil fertility, carbon sequestration and sustainable forest livelihoods through ongoing Close-to-Nature management.
  • Numerous personal connections were developed with people who visited the site, who developed confidence and skills to embark on similar projects that have taken place since.
  • The transforming forest created a space for people from different backgrounds and perspectives to come together and imagine broader ecological perspectives and draw connections between thriving, enduring ecosystems, social justice and how we can act for improved personal, collective and planetary wellbeing.
  • The ‘story’ element of this endeavour (‘the little wood that could’, as Fitzgerald describes it) helps increase interest and contributes to developing changes in public opinion that are essential for influencing local and national forest policy.
  • Sustainable forest management, alongside scientific and technical knowledge and skills, requires the development of new ways of knowing and seeing the world. The Hollywood Forest Story shared ideas, values and actions to empower people to develop these. 

Lessons, Tips & Advice

  • Neuroscientific research has suggested that human behaviour change happens through both reason and emotion. Stories can bring these together and are thus crucial to contribute to the necessary cultural shift towards ecological understandings and values. The Hollywood Forest Story created an engaging way to invite informal conversations about what an enduring ecologically-managed forestry entails.
  • Fitzgerald found that her experience of working with professional foresters and her first-hand forest management experience, developed her confidence to contribute to new forest policy in Ireland and advocate for a developing international law against ‘ecocide’ (the crime of ecosystem destruction).
  • As continuous cover forestry management slowly transforms Hollywood Forest over years, a blog was an ideal format for sharing the efforts and the increasing thriving of the forest for local and distant audiences. Fitzgerald sought engaging methods of communication and deliberately adopted a personal and conversational tone for her blog. Other artists involved in long term ecological art projects have used similar blogging to curate and document their work while fostering audiences. 
  • The Hollywood Forest Story tells a story of a specific forest’s transformation over a long period. Understanding the ecological wellbeing of a place requires intimate observations of a place and community. This has repercussions for approaches to arts funding, which are often focused on individual creatives or short-term outcomes. It also raises issues for artists who can struggle to commit to long term projects or cover living costs.
  • Artists bring social skills and mutuality to environmental projects, finding ways of connecting and communicating across disciplines and linking up immediately engaging artistic outputs like films with wider movements.

Hollywood Forest is an example of how small woodlands can drive change in the physical and cultural landscapes they inhabit. While it is the smallest Close-to-Nature managed forest in Ireland, The Hollywood Forest Story's key value is how it has encouraged landowners to embrace more ecological forestry practices.

Sean Hoskins, forester for Hollywood Forest, and Public Relations Officer, Pro Silva Ireland

Funding

Fitzgerald with her husband inherited ownership of the land that included the existing plantation. This allowed her to bypass many of the difficulties involved in buying and renting to trial new land practices. 

Long-term funding models for situated, durational ecological art practices that evolve over years are not yet realised or available through national funding bodies. Given the urgency of the ecological cultural shift needed, Fitzgerald advocates a basic income and sector-wide continuing professional development for essential ecoliteracy, which is not currently available in many art colleges.

As Hollywood Forest’s trees grow, regular thinning provides increasing valuable returns as thinned larger trees provide timber to offset forestry management fees and fuel for all domestic heating. As Ireland, with its ample rainfall has the best tree growing conditions in Europe, in 2022, it is predicted that there will be more timber for sale than is needed for domestic use.

Quotations

Ecological art practices are inherently social inquiries about how we can live well with the Earth and its inhabitants. The social power of such practices, “the emergent form” is to radically change the conversation of a community toward life-sustaining living—to invite them to live well with their environments in perpetuity. Dr Cathy Fitzgerald, artist
The orientation of Cathy’s activity is simultaneously ecological, creative, political, and educational. It’s cross-referenced through extensive personal interaction and strategic use of social media – both of which are aimed at multiple constituencies. Her intention in cross-fertilizing forestry with creative film work, writing, and political action is to encourage exchange between diverse constituencies so as to provoke ecosophical thinking Dr Iain Biggs, educator, artist and researcher. Quote from ‘Identity, contemporary art and ecology’

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