Trinity College uncovers 100 baby birch trees during no-mow May: ‘It’s a happy accident’

University to give away seedlings on first-come, first-served basis from 10am at Trinity’s front square

Trinity College Dublin is to give away more than 100 baby birch trees which it discovered growing on its usually manicured lawns during no-mow May last year.

The university transformed its front square lawns into wild flower meadows last summer and decided to extend the no-mow approach into autumn when a rare orchid was discovered.

Ground staff later found that two large birch trees on the front lawn of the main square produced more than 100 birch seedlings, which were harvested and potted by Trinity’s estates and facilities team.

To mark the launch of Trinity’s first sustainability strategy, the university is to give away the foot-high birch seedlings to anyone who has a place to plant them on a first-come, first served basis from 10am at Trinity’s front square today (Wednesday).


Jane Stout, professor of botany and vice president for biodiversity and climate action, said the unexpected harvest was sign of what can be achieved in terms of biodiversity by doing nothing at all.

“It’s a happy accident of no-mow May,” Prof Stout said. “We were amazed when the rare orchid came up. We extended it throughout the summer and autumn; that’s when we saw the seedlings.

“In all, we found 30 different species of flowers and more than 100 birch seedings were able to establish and grow. It shows if you give nature a chance, it can come back.”

The ecological approach has not been universally popular among those who favour neatness, but ground staff have been careful to maintain the outer perimeter of the lawns.

“It shows it was the intention all along; not just laziness,” Prof Stout said.

The seedlings giveaway is timed to coincide with Trinity’s new sustainability strategy 2023-2030, to be announced on Wednesday afternoon, which sets out targets including reducing the university’s greenhouse gas emissions by just more than 50 per cent by 2030 and reaching net zero emissions by 2040 across all categories of emissions.

Another target is to be “nature positive” by 2030 by conserving, managing and restoring at least 30 per cent of Trinity’s land area for nature.

The strategy also sets out actions to support a “culture shift” by improving access to plant-based diets and programmes that enable active lifestyles.

Prof Stout said that while Trinity’s lawns have been carefully maintained for decades, the results of its no-mow policy were not just encouraging wildlife but engaging people as well.

“It shows there’s another way of doing things. Hopefully, it gives licence to others to try something different,” Prof Stout said.

“By giving away these seedlings, we’re hoping to draw attention to the fact that trees are very important in mitigating climate change and encouraging biodiversity, as well as engaging people who can plant their own seedlings, watch them grow, and improve their connection with nature.”

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent