The Woodland Trust is currently creating the single largest native woodland in Northern Ireland.
Aughrim Hill, situated in the heartland of the Mourne mountains in County Down, will be transformed from a bare hillside with no tree cover to a habitat with over 110,000 native trees.
In total the new woodland habitat will stretch to 60 hectares, including 10 hectares planted last year by Mournes Heritage Trust.
Native trees, including broadleaf trees such as Scots Pine, birch and oak, are being planted at Aughrim by hand.
The benefit of this is twofold; one is creating a natural woodland with species of trees being planted in groups together, and secondly it continues to fight against climate change as planting by hand, instead of machines which would churn the earth, means that carbon remains stored in the ground.
The creation of this native woodland habitat is also crucial to our native wildlife; for example red squirrels favour Scots Pine, to name just one species that is expected to thrive here.
These new trees will provide wildlife corridors and havens for a small population of red squirrels which currently live in the adjacent Mourne Park.
The Woodland Trust in Northern Ireland is also trialling environmentally friendly planting, with no plastics and no pesticides.
Young trees are mostly threatened by wildlife such as rabbits, who graze on them. With a lack of rabbits and similar grazing, with the wildlife living on Aughrim Hill it was decided to trial the eco planting project.
The land at Aughrim, which is privately owned, has been leased in the short term by Woodland Trust Northern Ireland in order to carry out the planting.
The project has been made possible thanks to a partnership between the Forestry Service, the Woodland Trust and Mournes Heritage Trust.
There are also plans to implement paths for public access to Aughrim, a move which has been welcomed by the local community of Attical, Aughrim’s nearest village.
Michael Topping, Outreach Advisor for Woodland Trust Northern Ireland, said: “Our aim is to increase tree cover and create new woodland in Northern Ireland and this woodland at Aughrim is set to be our biggest to date.
“I am working with private landowners to plant the right trees, in the right places – we need more areas like this that we can plant on.”
Ian McCurley, Director for Woodland Trust Northern Ire-land, said: “Being able to create woodlands as large as Aughrim means more for nature, more for climate change, more for people.
“We have more work to do in Northern Ireland as we need to almost double our tree cover in our fight against climate change.
“We need to reach a level of planting 2,000 hectares per annum by 2025 in order for Northern Ireland to become carbon neutral by 2050.”
More information on the work of the Woodland Trust in Northern Ireland can be found at www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/northern-ireland