On this day, two years ago, the Woodland Trust Northern Ireland announced it had purchased 156 hectares of Mourne Park which included 73ha of ancient woodland. Mourne Park is one of the most important areas of ancient and semi natural woodland in Northern Ireland, a special site for restoration and conservation.
Thanks to lead funder Ulster Garden Villages Limited, NIEA, gifts kindly left in wills, donors and a public appeal, the Trust can extend Mourne Park by 32 hectares of neighbouring land. The conservation charity plans to continue to restore and protect ancient woodland through the acquisition of this new section of land.
Three new trails were completed last summer, and on 1 August 2022, the Woodland Trust opened 156ha of Mourne Park for the first time in 500 years. Since then, the public have paid over 60,000 visits and the Trust, in consultation with the local community, is planning future works including more pathways.
Ian McCurley, Woodland Trust Northern Ireland Director said: “As Northern Ireland doesn’t allow unrestricted access for the public, opening up Mourne Park has given us an ideal opportunity to provide access that historically wasn’t been available – giving the public the chance to reap the benefits of this beautiful site.
“The Woodland Trust asked for public support to acquire additional land that came up for sale last year. And thanks to our appeal and financial support from lead funder Ulster Garden Village Limited supported by funding from NIEA, we will be able to buffer a stretch of vital ancient woodland by planting thousands of native trees on the neighbouring land. The additional trees will cushion part of the boundary of Mourne Park and extend vital habitats for nature.”
Ancient woodland restoration in Mourne Park has been underway since before the Woodland Trust purchased 156hectares of the private estate in 2021, and to date just under 39ha invasive species has been cleared out of the 73ha of rare ancient woodland. More restoration work needs to be completed, otherwise the invasive species will take over and the native woodland will slowly decline Ancient woodland supports the most diverse range of plants and animals – with an ancient oak tree supporting up to 2300 different species.
Dave Scott, Woodland Trust Estate and Project Manager and said: Our ancient woodland restoration at Mourne Park is hugely important to save hundreds of ancient and veteran trees back to their former glory – through invasive species management, regeneration and careful site planning.
Dave continued: “We’re thrilled to see our restoration efforts so far having such an immediate benefit to the biodiversity of Mourne Park, being colonised by foxglove, bluebells, wood anemone and the red squirrel too. We’re already seeing a huge difference in our work, clearing invasive species such as laurel and Himalayan honeysuckle to create pathways and restore stunning views overlooking this beautiful landscape.”
Dr Tony Hopkins CBE, Chairman of Ulster Garden Villages Limited (Lead funder) commented: ‘We are delighted to have provided early funding support to the Woodland Trust to reclaim a further vital piece of land connecting two areas of important ancient woodland. The anticipated planting of thousands of new native trees on this land is an exciting opportunity to both expand and restore the health of the woodland, guaranteeing its future to be enjoyed by many generations to come both in the local community and visitors alike.’
Mark Hammond, NIEA Director of Natural Environment Division said: “Ancient woodland is one of the most biodiverse terrestrial habitats known. However, it only covers 0.04% of Northern Ireland’s land area and most of it is not in good condition. It is therefore vital that ancient woodlands, such as those at Mourne Park, are protected and restored.”
Mark added: “It is also important that we expand the amount of native broadleaf woodland in Northern Ireland to help nature recovery and to mitigate climate change by removing carbon from the atmosphere. We recognise that there is significant scope at Mourne Park to do all these things, to protect, restore and expand our native woodlands and for the site to provide a valuable space for people to improve their health and well-being through their enjoyment of this quality, natural resource.
“The NIEA is therefore delighted to provide the Woodland Trust with support from the Environment Fund to help with the purchase of additional land for Mourne Park.”
Located just an hour from Belfast from tourist hot-spots Belfast and Dublin, Mourne Park is the perfect idyll to relax and enjoy the sights of nature – 365 days a year.
Ian McCurley, Woodland Trust Northern Ireland Director concluded: “As a conservation charity, we rely on the goodwill of our members and are grateful for the financial support of our funders. Our appeal for Mourne Park is still open as we continually need to fund raise to support the work of the Woodland Trust in Northern Ireland.”
Find out more about Mourne Park by visiting woodlandtrust.org.uk/mournepark