THERE are plans to turn the Belfast Hills into a massive ‘people’s forest’ in what will be the biggest environmental transformation for the city in centuries, Dúlra can reveal.
The initiative would involve planting millions of trees that will encircle much of the city and be easily accessed by residents living below.
The project has been championed by a group of business tycoons whose firms are based in the city and who “they want to give something back – something that is lasting”.
The proposed forest will cover many square miles from Carnmoney Hill overlooking Rathcoole, across the famous Caveh Hll and Wolf Hill above Ligoniel, then through to Divis, Black Mountain and finally Colin Mountain.
There are many obstacles to overcome before the vision is realised, including getting the backing of landowners and stakeholders on the Belfast Hills.
But the first important step in any project is the vision, and this is one that will excite not just nature-lovers, but every citizen of the city.
A source said: “Many of the companies want to make their mark on Belfast permanently and a city forest would be the perfect legacy for them.
“The industrial leaders of yesteryear built things like the City Hall and even the Titanic, today’s leaders also want to give something back, but now it’s a green vision.
“We’ll all be long gone by the time this proposed forest matures, but that’s the sort of long-term vision that’s needed to really make substantial change and tilt the balance back in favour of nature.”
Central to the vision will be allowing Belfast residents access to their hills by simply walking out their doors and up to the forest.
“This is transformative, and it involves a whole new way of thinking. Other cities, particularly in Eastern Europe, have transformed the lives of their citizens for the better with major environmental projects. This would be brilliant for Belfast and make it a much better city to live in and visit for future generations.”
There are already several projects nationwide to reverse the historic deforestation of Ireland, which has left us with the least tree cover in Europe. Even the Irish diaspora have got involved – the Irish Heritage Tree project, backed by actor Liam Neeson, allows Americans to buy trees to be planted in their ancestral land - they aim to plant 100,000 trees by the end of this year. “The Belfast Hills forest will all be native trees including oak, which can take hundreds of years to fully mature. It would create a beautiful landscape for people to visit with their families.
“It would be a wonderful thing right from the start, but this vision will come to fruition in 2200 - when none of us will be here to see it. But it’s a long-term investment for future generations.”
The Belfast Hills were once home to extraordinary wildlife – Ireland’s first bird book published in 1850 reports that golden eagles were hunting on the wooded slopes of Divis and Black Mountains.
One of the business chiefs involved in the project told Dúlra: “This is exactly the sort of thing I want to be involved in – something that will permanently change Belfast for the better.
“It’s a vision that would transform the lives of millions of people to come, and it’s the sort of big idea that business people respond to.”
Dúlra, for his small part, would give such a scheme his whole-hearted backing. The Belfast Hills are a unique and beautiful asset that should be developed for nature and then opened up for the whole population to enjoy.
Bring it on!
• If you’ve seen or photographed anything interesting, or have any nature questions, you can text Dúlra on 07801 414804.