Farmers and landowners in and around Derry could hold the key to regenerating the city’s woodland heritage, according to forestry experts.
A new initiative launched by the north’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) offers landowners financial incentives to reverse the decline of native woodland right across the six counties.
Few in Derry will need reminding that the city is synonymous with woodlands - and named for the oak tree.
A DARD spokesman says many place names reflect that once the dominant feature of our landscape was woodland and forest.
“For example diarbhr, meaning an oak wood anglicised to Derry, iubhar meaning yew, as in Newry, “the place of yews”, and sail, meaning willow (or sally bush), as in Drumsillagh, “the hill of the willows”.
“Such placenames are a reminder today of just how important our ancient native woodlands were in the lives of our ancestors and how much they relied on them for both shelter and sustenance.”
But, he says woodland has been in gradual decline for centuries.
In Derry, Prehen Wood, Oak Wood, Burntollet Wood, Ness Wood and Ervey Wood skirt the city - but are merely remnants of the woodland that once would have been so dominant on the local landscape.
Across the north the decline is every bit as stark. A lack of woodland means the growth of many native species is stunted.
“We are now in the unfortunate position that barely 1% of our land area is made up of native woodland,” the DARD spokesman says.
“This is bad news for many of our native woodland flora and fauna species. So the question for each of us is, what can I do to create new native woodland and ensure that this rich and valuable habitat is once again an important feature in our landscape?”
Now DARD is hoping that their new initiative will spur people into action.
“Natural colonisation or regeneration of native tree species would normally be the preferred method of creating new native woodland, but we simply don’t have enough existing native woodland to act as a seed source with which to regenerate new woodland. The only practical way to achieve this is to plant up suitable areas using native trees and shrubs,” the spokesman says.
Landowners could earn up to £2,400 per hectare to create new native woodland through the Woodland Grant Scheme, while farmers are being encouraged to take land out of agriculture to create woodland.
DARD says farmers could earn £60 to £290 per hectare annually for up to 15 years, depending on the quality of the land - and in many cases farmers will also be able to retain their single farm payment on land planted with new woodland.
They say Forest Service will provide landowners interested in creating new native woodland with the necessary advice and guidance through its team of professional foresters.
Anyone interested or who would like to get more information can contact the Forest Service on 028 9076 5391, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Information is available online at www.forestserviceni.gov.uk