The Woodland Trust Northern Ireland has purchased land within Mourne Park in Kilkeel.Thanks to funding from DAERA, Garfield Weston Foundation and gifts in wills, the UK’s largest woodland conservation charity has taken ownership and management of 156 hectares (386 acres) of the Mourne Park estate with ambitions to restore ancient woodland.
The charity plans to open the woodland to the public for free, once the first phase of works is completed in 2022.
Mourne Park, which is set at the southern side of the Mournes just beyond Kilkeel, has been in private ownership for over 500 years.
With such important levels of precious ancient woodland, the Woodland Trust in Northern Ireland is proud to be entrusted as the new custodians of such a special place for conservation.
Mourne Park will enable the Woodland Trust to protect and restore ancient woodland, re-establish new habitats for wildlife and to open the woodland for free for people.
Work has already begun as the Woodland Trust has been restoring the existing 73 hectares of ancient woodland for the past three years in partnership with the former owners.
With ancient woodland so scarce in Northern Ireland at 0.04 per cent of landcover in the country, a key focus will be to protect this extensive area of precious habitat through the ongoing removal of invasive species such as rhododendron, laurel and other work.
Ian McCurley, Director of Woodland Trust Northern Ireland, said: “We want to thank NIEA, DAERA, who have funded £972,000 and Garfield Weston who have donated £500,000 for their incredible investment and thanks to those who kindly remembered the Woodland Trust in their wills, all enabling the Woodland Trust to purchase land within Mourne Park.
“We are so excited to add land within Mourne Park, which is an incredibly special place, to our estate.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Woodland Trust in Northern Ireland, allowing us to fulfil our vision of protecting and restoring ancient woodland.
“There are 73 hectares of precious ancient woodland in Mourne Park alone, which is phenomenal to find in Northern Ireland as it is so rare.
“To be able to protect woodlands on this landscape scale means more for nature, more for climate change and more for people.”
Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots said: “I am delighted to have been able to provide significant financial support of £972,000 through DAERAs Environment Fund to enable the Woodland Trust to deliver this exciting project at Mourne Park.
“It will protect and enhance existing rare and important ancient woodland and other wildlife habitats, as well as create valuable new woodland through an extensive programme of native tree planting as part of the Forests for Our Future initiative.
“Public access will also be facilitated to enable visitors to connect to nature and enjoy a charming area that is part of Mourne Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
“I look forward to the planned opening of the site to the public in 2022.”
The Garfield Weston Foundation is a family-founded charitable grant-making foundation which supports a wide range of causes across the UK, donating over £80 million annually.
The foundation supports a range of environment projects and charities that undertake active conservation work.
Philippa Charles, Director of Garfield Weston Foundation, said: “The trustees are pleased to support the Woodland Trust with the purchase of ancient woodland in Mourne Park.
“This is a rare habitat and one that’s important to preserve. The foundation is delighted that future generations will be able to enjoy the beauty of this precious resource.”
Brother and sister Bonnie and Philip Anley, whose family have owned the woodland at Mourne Park for around 500 years, said: “It has been our pleasure and our privilege to carry on our family legacy in safeguarding this magical and precious woodland.
“After much soul searching, we feel that the Woodland Trust are better placed than us in taking the woodland management forward.
“The dedication and expertise of the Woodland Trust will ensure the woodland’s sustainability and they will continue to provide access to nature lovers to enjoy this unique haven for wildlife.”
To find out more visit www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/northern-ireland