MORE than 2,500 native trees now dot the banks of the Burntollet River in County Londonderry’s beautiful Faughan Valley.
The riverside planting comes from a partnership between the Loughs Agency and the Woodland Trust, with support from Northern Ireland Water and the backing of local farmers.
The new additions – a flourishing mix of oak, alder and willow – already cover some three hectares (seven acres) of land. And according to the partners, this is just the beginning of a large landscape venture.
Planting by the banks of the Burntollet River will ultimately stretch over a 10-mile strip and it is hoped that, with collective efforts, the project will be replicated elsewhere in the valley.
It’s a joined-up approach, but with numerous and individual rewards in the offing. Farmers are planting for a variety of reasons. The stabilisation of riverbanks, improved drainage and shelter for livestock are high on the list; with wildlife and water quality also set to benefit.
Dave Scott is the Woodland Trust’s Treescape Development Lead and said: “This is a perfect example of how the economy and conservation can benefit in equal measure. As well as helping river quality, trees can help stop money from, literally, going down the drain.
“As the trees mature, their roots will help to bind and strengthen the sides of the river preventing erosion. In the Faughan Valley, landowners have seen parts of their fields essentially wash away, and while trees can’t solve everything, they certainly could have reduced the damage.
“Trees planted in the right place also help to prevent the run-off of resources such as fertilisers – soil erosion and nutrient loss are a real cost to the farming business.”
With extremes of weather now commonplace and memories of last year’s floods across the north west all too vivid, the charity is keen to highlight the role of trees in helping to prevent flooding.
Studies at Pontbren in mid-Wales, according to a Woodland Trust report, found that water absorption into the ground increased by 60 times within five metres of tree shelterbelts, and after just three years of planting.
Art Niven, Fisheries Biologist with the Loughs Agency, said: “The Loughs Agency appreciates the need for diverse riverside areas that act as a buffer between the land and our watercourses.
“Native fish species and other aquatic plants and animals benefit from native trees in a number of ways, including the provision of shade which keep our rivers cool during the summer months. Salmon and trout in particular require cooler water temperatures. In recent years the Loughs Agency have recorded water temperatures of 27°C in tributaries of the Foyle where no trees are present along the river corridor. An increase in woody debris within the river channel also provides food for invertebrates which fish feed on and can provide refuge from predators.”
The Burntollet River flows into the famous River Faughan. Both are designated Special Areas of Conservation and both sources of drinking water for the city and surrounding area. However, sediment levels – mainly due to bankside erosion – put a greater burden on the water treatment process, reflected in a direct cost to the economy.
Roy Taylor, Catchment Manager for Northern Ireland Water, commented: “This is another example of how we can work effectively together to sustainably protect and enhance the water environment through managing the surrounding land. Trees planted along river banks can provide many water management benefits, acting as a buffer zone to prevent pesticide drift from reaching watercourses and tree roots help stabilise river banks.
“The resultant improvement in water quality coming into water treatment works reduces chemical and power usage, thereby reducing both treatment costs and the carbon footprint.”
The Burntollet project begins at the townland of Glenconway, winding approximately 10 miles downstream as far as Brackfield.
Landowners here, and across the Faughan Valley, are invited to find out more by contacting Dave Scott at the Woodland Trust on 0343 770 5519.