Work has already begun at Mourne Park, which is set at the southern side of the Mournes just beyond Kilkeel, with the Woodland Trust restoring the existing 73 hectares of ancient woodland for the past three years in partnership with the former owners.
The charity pointed out that with ancient woodland so scarce in Northern Ireland at 0.04 per cent of landcover, 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 works.
Woodland Trust was able to buy the woodland thanks to funding of £972,000 from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, along with £500,000 from charitable trust, Garfield Weston, and will donations.
Ian McCurley, director of Woodland Trust Northern Ireland, said: “We are so excited to add Mourne Park, which is an incredibly special place, to our estate.
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“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.”
Brother and sister, Bonnie and Philip Anley, whose family had owned the woodland for five centuries 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.”
Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots added: “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.”
He added it will enable visitors to “connect to nature and enjoy a charming area that is part of Mourne Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.”