Thursday 24 October 2019

Backing native in Hazelwood forest

Paul Deering

A €500,000 investment programme for native woodland restoration at Hazelwood on the banks of Lough Gill could begin later this year according to the woman heading up the project.

"It's a superb site and we're delighted that we can do something positive with it," said Dr Aileen O'Sullivan who has worked extensively on biodiversity within the forestry sector, including restoration of bogs and native forest habitats.

She has been an ecologist with Coillte, the Irish state forestry company, since 1999.

She is also responsible for designing Coillte's new bio-classification system that was launched last year, allowing for integrated planning of key biodiversity sites to be managed effectively across the Coillte's 440,000ha estate.

The 'BioClass' system aims to categorise key areas of ecological value, from very high to moderate. The tool enables Coillte to ensure its biodiversity areas are properly managed and resourced. To this end Coillte will spend €500,000 on restoring the northern half of Hazelwood which is classed as Special Area of Conservation.

Some work has already taken place in this section where it floods from the Lough GIll and it has sprung back into life with plenty of natural species.

Dr O'Sullivan explains how the work will involve the removal of invasive species such as Rhododendron and it may also include taking away some sycamore trees which is not native to Ireland and which tends to shade large areas.

"We aim to do up a proper plan with the aim of having a positive effect," said Dr O'Sullivan. Such restoration work is expensive but Dr. O'Sullivan feels confident it will have a real impact on the forest which she emphasiss is one of of the most ecologically significant sites not only nationally but Eurpoe wide.

"That's one of the reason we pushed for this for Hazelwood, it is a top notch site," she said.

Dr O'Sullivan pointed out that the northern half of the forest fllods frequently but has a very biodiversity value while the southern half is drier would be most familiar to the general public and where most of the amenity activity talkes place.

She hopes the habitat restoration programme could get underway later this year. And, once an area is restored to its native natural habitat, that doesn't mean the job is finished.

"Rhododendron for instance always threatens to creep back in so it is a matter of keeing an eye on it.

"We feel that the work we did some time ago in the northern half was a good success and it was lovely to see the native species springing back but we are constantly having to keep an eye on it," she said.

A number of assessments have to be carried out in advance of any work but Dr O'Sullivan is hopeful of work getting started later this year.

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