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Farmers unite to green up the Glens

Thousands of new native trees are taking root across a Northern Ireland landscape which, although famously scenic, is extremely lacking when it comes to trees and woodland. It’s all thanks to the Heart of the Glens landscape partnership scheme, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. 

Headed by Dr Réamaí Mathers of the Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust, the scheme aims to conserve and enhance the natural and built heritage of the beautiful Glens of Antrim. A boost to the area’s tourism and the profitability of farms are high on the list of anticipated outcomes. The scheme is currently focusing on landscape resilience – and that’s where we come in, along with the backing of a consortium of local farmers.

Glenarm village from Straidkilly County Antrim (Photo: Michael Topping)


A natural ally to the farmer

Farmers and landowners have had their fair share of challenges in recent years, with extremes of weather and flooding commonplace.

Réamaí and his team are all about putting the business needs of the farmer first and foremost. They’re using ‘green infrastructure’ – trees, hedging, woodland and species-rich pasture – as a natural ally to tackle a range of issues. 

Individual farm surveys are being carried out and separate farm plans produced. With grant aid from Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, trees are being planted where they’re needed most and for a variety of reasons. Shelter for livestock, a sustainable source of wood fuel, improved water quality and drainage are just some of the reasons cited.


Environmental gain

It’s good news for farm profits and at the same time, we’ll see undoubted and multiple environmental benefits.

We’re encouraging some of the farmers to plant hedgerows with a difference. They typically include a double row of hedgerow species and a double row of trees, with fencing on either side. Over four metres wide in places, they’re much thicker and more robust than the usual hedgerow and will soon resemble a long narrow strip of woodland.  

Because of the fencing, the grasses are protected from grazing, so we’ll start to see wildflowers, the likes of primroses, coming up. And in time to come, the network of trees and hedges will provide a habitat and corridor for mammals, including the population of precious red squirrels.

The scheme aims to keep some traditional skills such as stone walling alive. It also encourages a return to traditional flower-rich meadows, which are both easy on the eye and important for pollinators.

Glendun farmer Paddy McSparron was one of the first to start planting.


A joined-up approach

Thirteen farmers in the Glens are already on board, with 860 hectares (2,125 acres) of land surveyed. As a result, 80 hectares (198 acres) of land and over 6 miles of hedgerows have been planted. 

Paddy McSparron, a sheep and cattle farmer in Glendun, was one of the first to get planting underway. Find out more in this short film

You can view the Glens of Antrim Resilient Farms Project report here.