NORTHERN Irish Water, the second largest landowner in Northern Ireland, has launched a large-scale planting programme to deliver over one million trees over the next ten years.

NI Water is delivering a the programme across 11,300 ha. Over the last decade, it has planted over 150,000 trees in some of its 24 drinking water catchment areas in Counties Antrim and Armagh.

Phase 1 of tree-planting will begin in January 2021, and continue until March, with approximately 40,000 trees being planted at NI Water sites at Dunore in County Antrim and Fofanny in County Down.

Plans are said to be in place for a further 222,000 trees to be planted in Phase 2, subject to funding approval, by March 2022, with trees to be planted at NI Water sites at Annalong and Spelga, County Down, Ballykelly in County Londonderry.

“Using NI Water land to plant trees offsets the carbon emissions from NI Water’s electricity consumption. Trees being planted near our rivers and streams, helps reduce the effect of climate change by capturing carbon and slowing river flow. Tree roots also act as a natural water filter,” explained Alistair Jinks, NI Water’s director of business services.

In March 2020, Edwin Poots MLA the Minister for the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), launched the 'Forests for our Future' programme to help tackle climate change, pledging to plant 18 million trees over the next 10 years. Minister Poots commented: “This is an excellent response by NI Water, and a great example of how working in partnership with DAERA’s Forest Service and Woodland Trust can bring forward publicly owned land to help us achieve the aims of the Forests for our Future programme.

“I am leading the development of the Executive’s Green Growth strategy which the NI Water initiative supports by capturing carbon, improving the landscape and environment and moving towards a net zero carbon economy.”

Working in partnership with the Woodland Trust and Forest Service NI over the last ten years, which has provided the funding, NI Water has planted a diverse range of trees, native to Northern Ireland.

Ian McCurley, director for Woodland Trust Northern Ireland, commented: “We have been working to deliver woodland on NI Water’s estate over the past ten years and are looking forward to the next decade where we will plant 1 million trees together, starting with 6 hectares of native trees at Fofanny.

“The Woodland Trust is the UK’s largest woodland conservation charity and aims to protect and restore ancient woodland, and create new woodland for nature, people and the climate. Northern Ireland is one of the least wooded regions in Europe, with just 8 per cent of woodland cover compared with the European average of 37 per cent. We need to rapidly increase tree cover to help reach net zero carbon emissions and tackle the declines in wildlife. In Northern Ireland, we need to reach a rate of planting 2000 hectares a year by 2025 in order to achieve our goals by 2030.

“We need to start creating woodland on a landscape scale in order to reach our targets.”

Alistair Jinks concluded: “As we begin the next decade of tree planting, we would welcome the next generation to get involved and to build on our legacy. Together we can all play a part in combatting climate change, on our road to becoming carbon neutral by 2050.”

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