Forests for the Future across Mourne Gullion Strangford Geopark
Every year the AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) teams in Strangford and Lecale and the Ring of Gullion, give away thousands of saplings for people to plant in their gardens or on their farms across the AONB and Geopark. Many of these trees have come from commercial nurseries across Ireland. But from this year, we will be growing our own in a new tree nursery in Castlewellan Forest Park.
Trees grow better if they are of local provenance; the more local, the better. We have already been sourcing our trees from Irish nurseries to avoid importing potentially dangerous plant diseases from Europe, but growing them ourselves will be even better, as they will be adapted to our particular weather, soil and even our local microbes.
We will also be growing these trees peat free. Peat may be cheap, but it costs the earth. We do not use peat because peat extraction and mining adversely affect our climate and the unique biodiversity of the bogs where it grows. Also, peat is naturally nutrient-poor, so without artificial fertilisers, it’s no good for growing plants anyway. This nursery is also pesticide and herbicide free. Using age-old methods and modern pest and weed control techniques will make the tree nursery sustainable for future generations.
Our growing model is based on a woodlands’ natural regeneration processes where saplings grow in dense communities in rich biodiverse soils. Did you know that healthy soil is teaming with life? A single teaspoon of rich garden soil can support up to one billion bacteria, several meters of fungal filaments, several thousand protozoa, and scores of nematodes.
We will focus on soil health and ecosystem function to provide climate and pest and disease resilience resulting in rapidly establishing trees. We will be growing our trees in groups, copying how trees shed their seed and seedlings grow in clumps – there is safety in numbers. We will line the seedlings out with more space when they are established.
Conor Mallon Director of Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism Department at Newry Mourne and Down District Council said,
“We are planning for this nursery to become a community resource. As we learn and develop the techniques we will pass this teaching around. We will help groups, new and old, to create natural spaces and regenerate local ecosystems. This helps to encourage a fulfilling sense of community and provide tranquil spaces for people to enjoy”
Every autumn, we need people to collect seeds. We hope children and families will add seed collecting to their regular walks and encourage everyone to gather and bring us hawthorn berries, sloes, alder cones, acorns, hazelnuts and crab-apple pips. These will make the forests of the future.