Jubilee Wood

Founding a future forest - Whitehead’s Jubilee Wood

To mark the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s reign, sixty new woodlands were established around the UK. The only one created in Northern Ireland is in Whitehead, where 60 acres of council-owned land were given over to the planting of 60,000 new trees.

In February 2012, around 1000 volunteers from the local community and much further afield joined forces, under the supervision of the council and the Woodland Trust, to create a future forest from some neglected fields.

To ensure that the new habitat will be of maximum biodiversity value, all of the trees are of native origin. When people first arrived on this island, around 9000 years ago, it was covered in a blanket of forest, mostly oak and elm. Over the succeeding centuries, other tree species began to flourish, including rowan, whitebeam, holly, alder and ash. The Jubilee Wood includes all of those trees but the main planting mix was of oak and ash.

Sadly, a year later, it was discovered that the ash trees had been infected by the Chalara fungus and all 23,000 ash saplings had to be removed from the new woodland. This left some significant gaps around the site, creating the opportunity for new plantings.

A local community group, Transition Town Whitehead, secured funding from the DoE’s NGO Challenge Fund and, with the co-operation of the council, established a new community orchard within the Jubilee Wood. Once again, local people came out in droves to plant apple and pear trees, plums and cherries, nut trees and berry bushes. Only two years later, the orchard started to bear fruit, with the first cooking apples and berries plentifully evident in the autumn of 2015.

The Jubilee Wood has become the focus for a wealth of educational and creative activities. Mid & East Antrim Council’s Parks and Open Spaces team has organised a varied programme of events on the site. A Biodiversity Summer School is regularly over-subscribed by the naturalists of the future; older learners have acquired the new skills of hedge-laying; early risers have enjoyed dawn chorus walks and the creative spirits of the town have ‘yarn-bombed’ the trees in an annual ‘Woollen Woods’ celebration.

Other activities have been organised to mark such occasions as National Tree Week, Apple Day or Love Parks Week. The wood also provides opportunities for team-building; groups of employees from corporate organisations have regularly donated a day of their labour to contribute to the maintenance of the community orchard.

Whitehead is a regular finalist in the annual Britain in Bloom competition, thanks to the efforts of another community group, Brighter Whitehead. The natural landscape of the Jubilee Wood has added a new dimension to the town’s horticultural assets. Residents and visitors alike walk its network of paths in growing numbers, exercising dogs and children.

Northern Ireland is one of the least wooded regions in Europe with just 7% woodland cover, compared with the European average of 44%. In addition, almost 80% of our woodland is in the form of recent conifer plantations, which are much less attractive to wildlife and, generally, less appealing to people as well. Now, the fledgling forest is already attracting lots of birds – everything from buzzards to reed buntings – and the young trees have begun to change the face of this land for the better.

The creation of Whitehead’s Jubilee Wood has made a modest increase to the region’s woodland, in what is necessarily an investment for the future. The hundreds of children who got their hands dirty as they planted these trees in 2012 will be able to grow alongside the trees as the fields become a forest. Perhaps some of them will organise another planting to mark the next royal Golden Jubilee.

Jim Kitchen

For more information, click here to contact Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.