In its 125th year, the Trust’s founding principles of providing and protecting green spaces for public benefit have never been more relevant. In Northern Ireland the Trust has announced a series of commitments including planting more than 125,000 trees over the next 10 years; 890 hectares of priority habitat under restoration by 2025 and managing over 40 hectares of wildflower meadow by the end of 2020 as part of its plan to step up the battle against climate change and nature’s decline.
Locking up carbon by planting trees, more investment in renewable energy and reducing the Trust’s carbon footprint are among the measures being taken to hit the net zero target.
Plans to open up green spaces near urban areas, a year-long campaign to inspire people to engage with nature and address a ‘worrying disconnect’, as well as new plans for culture and heritage programmes are now underway.
Heather McLachlan, National Trust Director for Northern Ireland commented, “As Northern Ireland’s biggest conservation charity, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to fight climate change, which poses the biggest threat to the places, nature and collections we care for.
“People need nature now more than ever. If they connect with it then they look after it. And working together is the only way we can reverse the decline in wildlife and the challenges we face due to climate change.
“Our ambition is to plant more than 125,000 trees in the next 10 years, which will have the benefit of locking up carbon, and providing habitat for all sorts of nature and wildlife as well as being the backdrop to the adventures for future generations.
“We are committed to switching to renewable energy supplies and have set ambitious targets such as generating 50% of our energy use from renewable sources and reducing energy use by 15% in 2020.
“The natural environment and walking through woodland provides a range of benefits from increased mental well-being and physical health to higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction to services such as improving air quality, outdoor recreation and access to wildlife.
“Our urban sites often offer a special setting for tranquillity and the findings from The Value of Nature in Belfast report, an assessment by NI Environment link revealed these places also offer multiple financial benefits to society. In 2018, Minnowburn, on the edge of Belfast, provided £2.7million of public goods and services, 66 times the cost to the Trust of maintaining the site which was £41,000. Over the next 50 years it is estimated that the site will provide net benefits to society worth over £89million. However, the most significant benefit identified was its contribution to people’s health and wellbeing, estimated to have delivered annual savings of over £1.8 million to the NHS.”
With a number of exciting projects underway including a path restoration project at Slieve Donard; reinstating 10.5km of historical pathways at Crom in Fermanagh and the opening of the final section of the seven-mile boundary walk at Mount Stewart Demesne, the Trust is wholeheartedly committed to helping millions of people reconnect with nature.
“We also hope to establish a green corridor in Belfast, making nature more accessible by connecting the city to the Belfast Hills. We’ll do this by building connections through land we already look after, exploring new connections and working with partner organisations.
“The charity is also launching a year-long campaign Everyone Needs Nature that seeks to inspire and connect people with the local natural environment to help address the nature crisis, as well as celebrating the places the Trust looks after for everyone. From a celebration of the Trust’s blossom season, to a year of activities including tree planting, beach cleaning, yoga and dancing in the great outdoors, there will be many opportunities to find yourself in nature with the National Trust.”
Heather concluded, “Everyone needs nature and nature needs everyone. We have made our commitments, and we also today call upon government to create new laws for nature and an ambitious Nature Recovery Network to help wildlife and people thrive throughout Northern Ireland. I urge everyone to become part of our great environmental movement.”