A five-year project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund aims to conserve and enhance the natural and build heritage of the Glens of Antrim, boosting the area’s tourism.
The Heart of the Glens landscape partnership scheme, with support from Woodland Trust and backing from local farmers will be focusing on landscape resilience.
Dr Réamaí Mathers, the landscape partnership manager, says: “We’re putting the business needs of the farmer first and foremost. We’ve seen challenging times for farmers, with extremes of weather and flooding commonplace. And, essentially, we’re using ‘green infrastructure’ – trees, hedging, woodland and species-rich pasture – as a natural ally to tackle a range of issues. We’re even exploring new stock options.
“We’re surveying each farm individually and developing separate farm plans based on particular needs. Trees are being planted where they’re needed most and for a variety of reasons. Shelter for livestock, a sustainable source of wood fuel, improved water quality and drainage are just some of the reasons cited.
“It’s good news for farm profits and – at the same time – we’ll see undoubted and multiple environmental benefits.”
Thousands of new native trees are already taking root across a landscape which, although famously scenic, is extremely lacking when it comes to trees and woodland.
Gregor Fulton, estate and outreach manager with the Woodland Trust, added: “A consortium of farmers have already benefited from expert advice. Grant-aid for tree planting has come from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, with support from the Woodland Trust for areas ineligible for government funding.
“Trees and farming shouldn’t be a contradictory land use. Rather, in today’s challenging climate trees bring real benefits – to the soil, water, livestock and crops – and with the potential to offer an alternative income for the farm.
“We’re encouraging some of the farmers to plant hedgerows with a difference. They typically include a double row of hedgerow species and a double row of trees, with fencing on either side. Over four metres wide in places, they’re much thicker and robust than the usual hedgerow and will soon resemble a long narrow strip of woodland.
“Because of the fencing, the grasses are protected from grazing, so we’ll start to see wildflowers, the likes of primroses, coming up. And, in time to come, the network of trees and hedges will provide a habitat and corridor for mammals, including the population of precious red squirrels.”