The Woodland Trust Northern Ireland has acquired new land in the Belfast Hills.
Thanks to funding from Biffa Award, as part of the Landfill Communities Fund, and NIEA, the UK’s largest woodland conservation charity has taken ownership of 98 hectares next to Cave Hill Country Park, with plans to conserve and restore the site.
The charity plans to open the woodland to the public for free, once works are completed on site.
Northern Ireland currently has the lowest tree cover within Europe, with just eight per cent cover, of which four per cent are native trees and 0.04 per cent is ancient woodland.
The Woodland Trust aims to create new native woodland for wildlife, people and the climate.
The Biffa Award is a multi-million-pound fund that helps to build communities and transform lives by awarding grants to communities and environmental projects across the UK.
Ian McCurley, Director of Woodland Trust Northern Ireland, said: “We want to thank Biffa Award who have donated £550,000 and NIEA who have funded £50,000, allowing the Woodland Trust to purchase the land in Belfast Hills.
“This is an incredible investment, and we are excited about the opportunity to create a new native woodland within a short drive of the population of greater Belfast, Newtownabbey and south Antrim.
“To be able to create woodlands on this scale means more for nature, more for climate change and more for people.
“We need to rapidly increase tree cover to help reach net zero carbon emissions and tackle the declines in wildlife.
“We want to conserve the land in the Belfast Hills and restore it to a beautiful habitat for people and nature.”
Rachel Maidment, Biffa Award Grants Manager, said: “Biffa Award is extremely privileged to be able to support the Woodland Trust Northern Ireland’s project to purchase 247 acres of land at Cavehill Wood to support woodland creation, improve existing habitats and create new habitats.
“It is hugely important that Biffa Award continues to fund projects which seek to restore, protect and enhance habitats for a wide range of wildlife.
“Through our Partnership Grants Scheme we are able to make significant grants to projects that introduce, conserve or protect our wildlife, paving the way for nature’s recovery on a large scale.”
Welcoming the announcement, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots said: “My department is delighted to provide significant financial support to enable the Woodland Trust to deliver this exciting project in the Belfast Hills.
“It will protect and enhance important wildlife habitats, create valuable new woodland through an extensive programme of native tree planting as part of the Forests for Our Future initiative and facilitate public access to an impressive landscape that is literally on the doorstep of Belfast and surrounding towns.”
The new site borders Cave Hill Country Park, which attracts over 270,000 visitors every year from Belfast and the surrounding areas and will link existing pathways through Divis and the Belfast Hills.
It will also be a vital piece of the jigsaw linking current Woodland Trust sites at Carnmoney Hill, Monkstown Wood and Throne Wood, providing free outdoor spaces for the local community in north Belfast, Newtownabbey, south Antrim and the greater Belfast area.
The news comes after the charity committed to planting 50 million more trees in the UK by 2025 to help tackle climate change.
n To find out more visit www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/northern-ireland