Plans to create an outdoor forest hub in the Faughan area of Derry would make the city “the destination for woodland in Northern Ireland”, the Woodland Trust has claimed.
Local councillors were told at a recent meeting that of all the sites in the North, the Trust was now making the Faughan Valley “our main focus”, with a landscape scale project “to create a unique woodland destination experience for the local community and visitors alike”.
In a presentation at the Guildhall, David Scott from the Trust said there was now a wealth of evidence that getting back to nature was linked to improving a person’s health and could even reduce the risk of poor mental health by half. “This is particularly relevant to the Derry City & Strabane District Council area as both the city and district have some of the highest levels of suicide in Northern Ireland,” he said.
The Woodland Trust is currently involved in extending and preserving the important woodlands along the southern fringes of Derry.
Mr Scott said that it was vital to look after the woodland that remained as, apart from Iceland, Northern Ireland was the least wooded country in Europe with just eight per cent of forest compared to 67 per cent in Sweden, 32 per cent of Germany, 12 per cent in the UK and 10 per cent in the South of Ireland with only 0.08 per cent of the woodland here.
Mr Scott said that woodland has huge benefits in terms of climate change, with the Faughan Valley, in particular, identified as being strategically important due to its fragments of ancient woodland and wildlife reserves.
The Trust are heavily involved in repairing and planting more native trees and hedgerows locally, he said. Over the past 20 years they have been acquiring land and working with local farmers to enable the creation of new native woodland and eradicate invasive species of plants, which, in turn, helps stabilise riverbanks and reduces flood impacts, such as that experienced following the massive storms in August 2017.
Mr Scott said this was important here as the city and its environs were deemed “ a high risk” area for flooding. Trees also help clean water before it reaches treatment works, reducing the cost of treatment.
The main issue and cost for NI Water at the Carmoney Treatment Works that supplies much of Derry, is due to the discolouration of the water as a result of erosion and run off.
Mr Scott said all this dove-tailed with the “innovative plans” of the local council, which is pioneering the first ever Green infrastructure Plan and Climate Adaptation Plan in the North. “There is an opportunity to create an hub for outdoor recreation and make the Faughan the destination for woodland in Northern Ireland,” he said, adding that this would increase the tourism offer for the region.
Chairman of the Environment & Regeneration Committee, SDLP Colr. Martin Reilly said; “It is very interesting in terms of stand out figures. We are in single digits compared to other countries and that gives us some cause for concern.”
SDLP Colr. Gus Hastings, a past chair of the Foyle Valley Landscape partnership, said: “You are well placed and have a base of knowledge very few organisations have and we are glad you are using your knowledge to build up our resources in terms of new trees and repairing the older woods. Over the last five years a lot of work has gone into replanting.”
Sinn Fein Colr. Dan Kelly said the presentation had been “very enlightening,”coinciding as it did with World Mental Health Day. He said it was great “to see this project happening and the impact it has immediately on people involved and the potential it has not just for this generation but also for the next and countless generations after them.”
SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney said the Woodland Trust and council pooling resources and working together to enhance the natural habitats when opportunities arise was the way forward.