Forestry Awards celebrate best in all Ireland

L-R: Andrew Doyle, Chair of Oireachtas Committee for Agriculture, Hon. Shane O'Neill, Shanes Castle Estate, Catriona Goughty, Learmount Community Association & Matt Dempsey, President RDS.
L-R: Andrew Doyle, Chair of Oireachtas Committee for Agriculture, Hon. Shane O'Neill, Shanes Castle Estate, Catriona Goughty, Learmount Community Association & Matt Dempsey, President RDS.

Northern Ireland’s foresters came out on top at the Irish Forestry Awards in Castletown House, Co Kildare recently.

Shane’s Castle Estate from Co Antrim and Learmount Forest in Co Derry received two of the major honours at the Awards in recognition of excellence in forest management.

The Irish Forestry Awards are jointly awarded by the RDS and the Forest Service of the Republic of Ireland. Andrew Doyle TD, Chair of the Oireachtas Committee for Agriculture and RDS President Matt Dempsey were on hand to award the prizes.

Speaking at Castletown House, RDS President Matt Dempsey said: “These awards provide an excellent opportunity to showcase all that is good about Irish Forestry. Good farmers make good foresters and forestry is an important element of Ireland’s farming sector. The long tradition of RDS commitment to quality and excellence in agriculture is maintained by these annual awards. Indeed, the RDS has been involved with Irish forestry as far back as 1740.”

Winning a prize of €2000 and the RDS Silver Medal in the Multipurpose Forestry Category, Shane’s Castle Estate is an excellent example of the economic and environmental benefits that good forestry brings. Owned by Lord O’Neill, and managed by leading UK and Irish forest management company Scottish Woodlands Ltd, the 315 hectare woodland has a history of continuous planting over the last three centuries providing a sustainable source of timber production, income and employment opportunities in the local area. The woodland is also a haven for wildlife and is home to many species including a heronry of 40 breeding pairs on the lake front.

The judges noted that Lord O’Neill has a passionate interest in both his trees and their associate woodland, providing access to walkers, bee keeping huts and preserving many of the unique features of the woodland including numerous ancient trees, some of which have been in existence since at least 1600.

While not as long standing as some of the trees in Shane’s Castle Estate the O’Neill’s relationship with the RDS stretches back 219 years to 1796 when the Lord Viscount O’Neill was elected as a member of the society.

Making it a Northern Ireland double this year, Learmount Forest won the 2015 Irish Forestry Community Woodland Award. Situated some 30 km from Derry City, Learmount Forest covers 118 hectares of woodland in the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains. Bought by the Forest Service of Northern Ireland at the end of the Second World War, it has over 15 different tree species planted, with some of which are over 100 years old.

The Learmount Community Development Group is very active in the area and use the forest extensively for various activities and events throughout the year. Their drive and initiative has resulted in persuading other organisations to make resources available for the development of amenities in the woodland. The judges commented that Learmount Forest is an excellent example of where joined up thinking and action can achieve an outcome that meets the needs of not only the local residents, but also provide an amenity that can be enjoyed by tourists and visitors from the wider community.

Narrowly missing out on making it a hat trick of wins for Northern Ireland Baronscourt Estate near Omagh, Co Tyrone, was runner up in the Production Forestry Category. Winning a prize of €1000 and the RDS Certificate of Merit, Baronscourt Estate, extends to over 58 hectares and compromises a mix of both broadleaf and conifer species which are managed in a successful and sustainable way.

Finally, Seaforde Estate in Co Down which is owned by the Forde family and also managed by Scottish Woodlands Ltd were awarded the RDS Ulster Provincial Certificate of Merit in Recognition of Woodland Excellence.