It doesn't take a tree expert to plant a tree. Average people across the UK are planting acorns and conkers in pots and parklandss to do their bit to save the nation's forests. Caroline Allen reports.
Norman Taylor is a grown man devoting a great deal of time to protecting Beivoir Park Forest in Belfast. Norman Taylor is a little boy playing cowboys and Indians in the branches of Belvoir's great Deramore Oak, a 500-year-old monster of a tree whose girth is so thick it would take a young Norman and eight of his friends to reach around it.

"I've known Belvoir all my life. I played in it as a boy. I want other children to be able to grow up and say the same thing," Norman says.

Norman has had many successes in protecting the 190-acre park situated just three miles from Belfast city centre for future generations of Wild West sheriffs and swashbuckling swordsmen.

Friends of Belvoir, which Norman began, successfully blocked the building of a road through the centre of the park a few years ago. When officials annouced the road building plans, the Friends distributed petitions, contacted the media, and took officials for walks through the park. They invited woodland expert, Prof Chris Baines to Belfast to speak at a gathering of government officials and members of the public. After the event, officials agreed to gauge public opinion.

"They went on to buses and up to cars and asked the people what they thought. Even people in traffic jams didn't want a road through the park," Norman explains. In 1995, the plans to build the road were officially dropped.

Belvoir Park Forest's wild growth supports badgers, foxes, red squirrels, Gold Crests, sparrow hawks and long-eared owls. Thanks to the Friends, there is now also a nature reserve at the park forest. The reserve recently won pounds l5,000 from a national Children's Environmental Initiative competition, initiated at the Real Earth Summit. With the help of schoolchildren, ponds were dug, 2,500 trees planted and flowers allowed to grow wild. The reserve now supports a rare species of moth and other creatures not seen in Ireland for decades.

"It is wonderful to just let the grass grow," Norman says. "They used to cut it to bowling green length. We let it grow long and wild and look what happens."

Beivoir's 500-year-old Deramore Oak is the real focus of the park, with its gigantic trunk, ponderous branches and enthusiastic string of climbers and huggers. Acorns from the Oak are planted in the park and across Belfast to ensure the propagation of this genetically rich tree.

"One Saturday morning, 80 people showed up rom grandchildren to grandmothers. In four hours, they planted 1,500 trees" from the acorns of the Deramore Oak, Norman explains. Members of the public also plant acorns from Deramore - one for each family member - and set them in an area of the park set aside for such purposes.

"There's something very special about the great Oak. When you touch that tree, there's a sensation of age. It's nice to think the genes of the tree are being passed on, that the tree could possibly live forever," Norman says.