Northern Ireland is languishing at the bottom of the European tree league and is one of the least wooded regions in Europe. Woods cover a mere six per cent of the landscape compared to a European average of forty four percent. Northern Ireland has lost 273 ancient and long-established since the 1960s due to a lack of legislative protection.
In response to this the Woodland Trust has launched ‘A vision for woodland in Northern Ireland’. Our manifesto calls on the Executive to urgently take the actions needed to safeguard the future of woodland and the natural environment it helps support.
To prevent any further loss of ancient and long-established woodland – our equivalent of the rainforest – the Trust expects the Executive to reintroduce the requirement for a felling licence. Given its great value and rarity, all ancient and long-established woodland on the Ancient Woodland Inventory should also be afforded absolute legislative protection.
Woodland can greatly contribute to our quality of life by offering us an opportunity to reflect and relax. Both MIND and the UK Sustainable Development Commission have demonstrated in their own work that ready access to green spaces improves physical and mental health. To address the lack of woodland cover in the province the Trust is asking that the Executive hold to the commitment to double woodland cover in the next fifty years. This requires no less than a trebling of the woodland creation target held within in the Programme for Government.
Legislation is important in setting the framework to deliver sustainable forest management. In Northern Ireland it is over fifty years since the last Forestry Act, and as a result, current legislation is antiquated and in need of a radical overhaul to reflect the needs of the 21st century. Next spring the Executive propose to bring forward a new forestry act which the Trust hope will provide a unique opportunity to deliver on many of the ideas in our vision. Bold and dynamic leadership on the natural environment is now at a premium and most definately in order.