NI woodlands approaching ‘crisis point’

Northern Ireland is the least wooded country in the UK and Europe, with just eight per cent woodland cover compared to a UK average of 13 per cent, according to new findings published today.

Wednesday, 14th April 2021, 7:00 am
Trees planted at Titanic Belfast

The State of Woods and Trees report from the Woodland Trust, also reveals Northern Ireland’s ancient woodland (woodland in existence since the 1600s) makes up just 0.04 percent of our total landscape.

Northern Ireland also has the lowest levels of accessible woodland in the UK, with 59 per cent of the population living within 4km of an accessible wood that is 20 hectares or greater. This compares to a UK average of 66.6 per cent.

However, woodland cover in the province has increased by 2.9 per cent since 1998, this is the largest percentage increase (but lowest total hectares) in the UK.

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The report is the first of its kind to focus on native woods and trees. It shows that five major threats - declining woodland conditions; climate change affecting woodland lifecycles; direct loss and fragmentation of trees and woods; pests, diseases and pollution; and slow rate of woodland expansion - are compounding to result in negative impacts that “could spell disaster” for wildlife including plants, birds, butterflies and insects.

Commenting on the findings, Ian McCurley, director of Woodland Trust Northern Ireland, said: “To be able to create new native woodlands and protect and restore our precious ancient woodland means more for nature, more for people and more for climate change. We have to rapidly increase tree cover to help reach net zero carbon emissions and tackle the declines in wildlife. In Northern Ireland, we need to reach a rate of planting 2,000 hectares a year by 2025 in order to achieve our goals by 2030. We need to start creating woodland on a landscape scale in order to reach our targets.

“We at the Woodland Trust have a crucial role to play and so does everyone. To increase tree cover in Northern Ireland, we need to pursue a mix of approaches, at a variety of scales appropriate to the landscape. These must include expanding native woodland, sustainable commercial plantations, agroforestry, urban trees, hedges and individual countryside trees. Trees will need to be planted on an unprecedented scale, but the right trees in the right places are needed.”