Page last updated at 07:29 GMT, Friday, 16 January 2009

Secret gift to save ancient woods

By Freya McClements
BBC News

View over Faughan Valley
The land at Burntollet will be planted with 36,000 trees

It's an unheard-of gift - but one that will preserve ancient woodlands outside Londonderry for centuries to come.

An "anonymous Canadian tree enthusiast" has donated 150,000 to the Woodland Trust to purchase a 58-acre site between Oaks Wood and Ervey Wood at Burntollet near Derry.

The site - which has already been named Burntollet Wood - is to be planted with thousands of trees to link existing woodlands.

It will also create a buffer zone to protect local flora and fauna, which include the endangered red squirrel.

Gregor Fulton from the Woodland Trust explained that the area had always been wooded.

"The earliest maps we have date from the 16th century, and the area is marked as woodland on those maps," he said.

We want local people to have a sense of ownership of the woods
Gregor Fulton
Woodland Trust
"Obviously woodlands are now rarer, and need more protection.

"This money will allow us to create a buffer zone along the edges of the ancient woodland which will protect the woodland and the species in it.

"Fauna like the red squirrel will now have a larger area to inhabit, and will move into the new woods straight away," said Mr Fulton.

"Flora is a different matter, it can take centuries to encroach into a new area, but now we've got centuries.

"Once these trees are planted, they will be there forever," he said.

Map of woods outside Derry
Burntollet Wood will link Oaks Wood to Ervey Wood

The charity aims to plant 38,000 native trees, mainly oak, on the Burntollet site.

The new land will also make it easier for the public to access the woods.

"We will add another kilometre in pathways, and open up more viewpoints through the valley," said Mr Fulton.

"This is an area that isn't as well-recognised as it should be, and we hope that this will change with better access," he said.

The Woodland Trust is to hold a public meeting on its plans for Burntollet Wood on 29 January at the RAPID offices, Brackfield Bawn, Foreglen Road, Killaloo.

"All our woodlands are community woodlands, and we want local people to have a sense of ownership of the woods.

"It's not just up to us to create what we want for the woods - we want people to have their say, especially the people who live next to it, and we will take everybody's ideas on board," he said.

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