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Woods and trees under threat

More than one-eighth of ancient and long-established woodland has been lost in the last 40 years. Ancient woodland is irreplaceable. It takes hundreds of years to evolve, and, once cleared, it is gone forever.

Yet ancient and long-established woods in Northern Ireland are still under threat. Even while the inventory was being produced, areas of old woodland were being cleared. For example, at Castle Hume in Co Fermanagh, creation of a championship golf course in 2005 resulted in clearance of 17 hectares of ancient or long-established woodland, and the removal of 24 veteran oak trees.

The Woodland Trust is committed to preventing any further loss of ancient woodland, but we need your help. You can tell us about ancient or long-established woods, and ancient trees, that may be under threat here. You can also find out about existing threats to woods, and cases we are currently fighting, or get information on how to campaign to save a wood yourself.

Clearance for development and agriculture may be the most immediate threats to ancient and long-established woods, but there are other, more insidious threats that are potentially more disastrous.

Around a third of woods that can be viewed with any certainty as ancient have been replanted with fast-growing non-native conifers, or a mixture of conifers and broadleaves. The process of felling and replanting, and the heavy shade subsequently cast by closely planted conifers, all take their toll on the fragile wildlife that depends on the stable conditions provided by ancient woodland. Vulnerable communities of ancient woodland animals and plants cling on in these commercial forests, but could be wiped out altogether if another round of felling and replanting takes place.

The Woodland Trust would like to see restoration of all conifer Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS).

However, the greatest threat to ancient and long-established woods in the longer term is climate change. The evidence is undeniable: our climate is changing, and the effects for wildlife could be catastrophic. The ancient woods of Northern Ireland are scarce, and mostly small and fragmented. The species that depend on ancient woodland have poor powers of dispersal. A major rethink in policy is needed to cut emissions and to create landscapes that enable species to adapt in the face of change. The Woodland Trust is campaigning on climate change, but there is a lot you can do to help, too.

In Northern Ireland, the Woodland Trust is calling for a series of specific measures to help protect our ancient and long-established woods and their wildlife in the face of all these threats.

Woodland under threat. Photo: Philip Sansum

Castle Hume golf course development, Co Fermanagh. Photo: Martin Lawson

Plantation on old woodland site. Photo: Geoff Wallace