George hailed one of ‘Nature’s Keepers’

George McLaughlin pictured recently with Michael Mansfield QC in Derry, has been recognised for his work to protect Prehen Woods.
George McLaughlin pictured recently with Michael Mansfield QC in Derry, has been recognised for his work to protect Prehen Woods.

Leading local environmentalist, George McLaughlin, has received international recognition for his work to protect Derry’s historic Prehen Woods.

Mr. McLaughlin, who has, for decades, acted as a guardian of the ancient woodland on the outskirts of the city, has been officially selected as one of Friends of the Earth Europe project’s ‘nature’s keepers’, joining a group of tireless environmental activists and volunteers from across the Continent.

While honoured to receive the recognition, Mr McLaughlin said: “Even though this award is centred around my activities and the campaign to protect the Prehen Ancient Woodland, it is important to acknowledge the support of my family and people like Damian Martin and many others in the wider community without whose support it would not have been possible to continue the very necessary work in which I am engaged.”

A founder member of the Prehen Historical and Environmental Society and former member of Foyle Civic Trust, George has also served as Northern Ireland/ UK national representative for Conservation Volunteers and is a member of the Friends of Prehen House.

Locally he has held various roles including being a member of Derry City Vision Environmental Issue Group, co-ordinating the preparation of the Foyle Valley Landscape document and assisting with research in tourism and engaging in business support programmes, as well as the Trees in the City Initiative and Healthy Cities project.

His ties to Prehen go back seven generations and his grandfather, George Phillips, worked for the famous Knox family in the 1890s as a ‘herdsboy’ who looked after the cattle in the then 900 acre estate.

George said it was vital that the woods are preserved.

“It was said at one time there was so many hundreds of acres of woodland that a red squirrel could travel from Derry to Strabane without touching the ground and we are down now to around 16 acres. We have a very low per centage of woodland generally, but the lowest per centage of ancient woodland is in N. Ireland and this is why it is so important to save what we have,” he said.

Mr. McLaughlin said in generations past the woodland was cut down and used to facilitate shipbuilding, for barrel making for whiskey distilling and in more modern times to make way for developments.

“If we don’t change our ways and look after our woodland and the natural environment especially, it is just heading for disaster,” he said.

Prehen Woods is one of the last tracts of ancient woodland in the North and one of the top ten Bluebell Woodlands in the UK.

Commenting on Nature’s Keepers, Jagoda Munic, the chair of Friends of the Earth International said: “The future will show us that these nature’s keepers are true visionaries, keeping the treasure of Europe for future generations.”