The current situation
The Forest Service already protects and conserves its Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland (ASNW). Unfortunately, these woodlands are now represented by very small fragmented remnants of woodland that once covered most of the country.
Only three types of Semi Natural Woodland can be found today; upland oakwoods, upland mixed ashwoods, and wet woodlands.
What is Semi-Natural woodland?
Semi-natural woodlands are composed of locally native trees and shrubs which derive from natural regeneration or coppicing rather than planting.
What is an Ancient Woodland Site?
An Ancient Woodland Site must be shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey maps (produced in 1830), and have been semi-natural at that time. Furthermore, tree cover will have been maintained from 1830 to the present day.
What are Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites?
Most ASNW was converted into farmland before 1830. However some areas of Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland were converted into commercial forest plantations during the 20th Century. These are called Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS).
What does the Forest Service intend to do with its PAWS?
The Forest Service intends to restore native woodland on at least 10% of its PAWS, thereby increasing the area of each habitat type over the next 15 years. This equates to the restoration of at least 200 hectares of PAWS.
Native woodland will be restored on PAWS that will be most likely to:-
1. develop the associated ground flora characteristics, and
2. help ensure the long term survival of these rare habitats in our countryside.
Why restore only 10% of the PAWS area?
Most of the woodland that was shown on the 1830 maps was planted. Very little information was available to categorically reject these woodlands, and identify the woodlands that were semi-natural in 1830. Therefore only a small proportion of the PAWS area is worth restoring, because much of it is derived from woodland that was planted on bare ground before 1830.
An evaluation system was used to prioritise those sites which should be restored.
How will restoration be carried out?
The plantation trees will be removed from the site gradually by thinning the trees over a period of time, allowing native trees to establish under the plantation trees before they are all finally removed. Where this cannot be carried out, mainly due to the increased risk from windblow, the plantation will be clearfelled. This will allow pioneer tree species, such as birch, to recolonise.
The native woodland cover will be re-established using natural regeneration where possible, or by replanting with stock grown from seed collected locally.
It will take several years for a restored native woodland to develop into a valuable habitat, exhibiting characteristics such as;
- an uneven age structure,
- large amounts of deadwood,
- sensitive species of woodland ground flora,
- rarer forms of lichen, mosses, and fungi
When was the first restoration project started?
The first restoration (of an upland oakwood) project began in June 2001 at Breen, Co. Antrim followed in 2002 by the restortion of a mosaic of all three native woodland types at Aghaleague in Co. Fermanagh.
The Forest Service is committed to restoring at least 200 hectares of native woodland before 2015.