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Testing the water with trees

Just before the Easter break, over 2,500 native trees were planted along the banks of the Burntollet River in County Londonderry’s beautiful Faughan Valley. This is one of a few key areas in the UK where we are focusing our efforts to create a resilient landscape that will benefit both wildlife and people.

Part of our aim is to build and rekindle partnerships that will deliver increased woodland cover by planting the right tree in the right place to maximise their potential. The riverside planting comes from a partnership between us, the Loughs Agency and Northern Ireland Water, with the backing of local farmers.

Some of the trees planted by Loughs agency staff on the Burntollet River (Photo: Dave Scott)
Some of the trees planted by Loughs agency staff on the Burntollet River (Photo: Dave Scott)

Setting the scene

The Faughan Valley lies 6 miles south east of the city of Derry-Londonderry. It extends to 190 sq. kilometres, sitting in a setting of rolling hills, narrow valleys, rivers and wooded glens. 

The Faughan Valley has a wealth of natural heritage. The River Faughan runs through its heart and is designated an Area of Special Scientific Interest in 2008 and Special Area for Conservation in 2009. It is one of the best salmon rivers in Europe, something local anglers will testify to, though I’ve never seen any with a catch under their arm! 

The Faughan Valley boasts Ervey, Ness and Bonds Glen, all Areas of Special Scientific Interest ancient woodland sites. The Oaks Wood and Killaloo Wood are local nature reserves, forming hugely important and stunningly beautiful wildlife reservoirs. 

The right trees in the right place

Riverside (riparian) tree planting is increasingly being recommended as best practice for land management. It can control riverbank erosion, intercept rainfall, improve soil structure and drainage and keep rivers cool. Trees and woodland in the landscape ensure the water that reaches our rivers is controlled and clean. By acting now to increase the area of native tree planting along our river corridors, we are contributing towards building resilient landscapes for future generations.

The Burntollet River flows into the River Faughan, which is used as a source of drinking water for the city of Derry-Londonderry and surrounding area. The discolouration of the water, due to high sediment levels mainly from surface runoff and bank erosion, makes the cost of treating drinking water much higher, a direct cost to the Northern Ireland economy.

As the trees mature, their roots will help to bind and strengthen the sides of the river, preventing erosion. In the Faughan Valley, landowners have seen parts of their fields essentially wash away, and while trees can’t solve everything, they certainly could have reduced the damage. Trees planted in the right place also help to prevent the run-off of resources such as fertilisers – soil erosion and nutrient loss are a real cost to the farming business.

With extremes of weather now commonplace and memories of last year’s floods across the north west of Northern Ireland all too vivid, we have been talking to landowners and partners to highlight the role of trees in helping to prevent flooding. 

It’s a joined-up approach, but with numerous and individual rewards in the offing. The farmers we talk to appreciate the need for the right tree in the right place, once they learn about the benefits of planting native broadleaves. The stabilisation of riverbanks, improved drainage and shelter for livestock are high on the list, with wildlife and water quality also destined to benefit.

This is a perfect example of how the economy and conservation can profit in equal measure. As well as helping river quality, trees can help stop money from - literally - going down the drain.

Planting in partnership for wildlife and people

Planting by the banks of the Burntollet River started before Easter and amazingly it stopped raining when we met on site to set up for a week's work. The staff from Loughs Agency were there ready to plant and even brought their own all-terrain vehicle to ship the trees and guards supplied by NI Water across the fields. Huge thanks to Loughs Agency for their time.

Loughs Agency staff unloading their all-terrain vehicle which saved a lot of heavy carrying of equipment and trees! (Photo: Dave Scott)
Loughs Agency staff unloading their all-terrain vehicle which saved a lot of heavy carrying of equipment and trees! (Photo: Dave Scott)

After just a few days, the new additions – a flourishing mix of oak, alder, aspen and willow – covered some 3 hectares (7 acres) of land. This is what we hope will be just the start of riparian planting across the Faughan Valley, which will mitigate against the damage of floods and slow the flow of water in the upland stretches of the river.

The project will see us working towards a resilient landscape in the Faughan Valley for many years and thanks to the partnerships developed through this project, we are on our way to delivering the many benefits that trees and woods can bring.

If you’re interested in planting trees in the Faughan Valley, or anywhere in the UK, get in touch. We offer expert advice, guidance and in some cases, funding too.

From a single sapling to a whole wood

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