Community Woodland: Best of the Best Award 2022

This Award is about recognising and celebrating the best examples of how woods and forests benefit people. Following five years of regional Excellence in Forestry Award the regions’ winners went head-to-head this year for the title Best of the Best.

By Wendy Necar · July 14, 2022

1 Slieve Gullion Forest Park, Meigh, Co. Armagh

Owned and managed by DAERA, Forest Service

Pictured: Slieve Gullion Forest Park

Set in the grounds of an old estate, Slieve Gullion Forest Park is halfway between Belfast and Dublin. It is also close to the border with Eire. The Hawthorn Hill part of this 900ha forest park was entered into the award.

Visitors come from near and far. Numbers have dramatically increased over the last 20 years, from approx 20,000 to around 500,000. The site has become one of the premier countryside attractions in Northern Ireland with newly installed interpretation bringing the local story to life.

Families enjoy the award-winning adventure play park and much-loved interactive trail and app based on the Giant’s Lair story. Walking, cycling and horse riding are popular along with a scenic 7-mile drive around the upper reaches of the Ring of Gullion.

The site is a haven for wildlife, notably the red squirrel and pine marten populations. Partnership working with the local red squirrel group provides a variety of volunteering opportunities.

Education and training programmes are delivered by the Clanrye Group Services, based in the site’s beautiful courtyard. These include opportunities for young adults with learning difficulties or social issues to gain qualifications and skills in woodwork and horticulture. Patients are also referred by GP for a range of therapy sessions.

UNESCO global geopark status is being sought.

One key element for the judges was the positive working relationship between Forest Services, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and the Clanrye Group Services. Each bringing their expertise to the table.

More on Slieve Gullion here.

2 Warley Woods, Smethwick

Managed by Warley Woods Community Trust

Pictured: Walking in Warley Woods

Warley Woods Community Trust was set up in 2004 to manage a site of 100 acres on a long-term lease from Sandwell Council. The park is a mixture of woodland, open meadow and golf course. It is designated as a Site of Important Nature Conservation.

Warley Woods is in the heart of an urban setting and used regularly by the local community. Since the Covid pandemic the site has seen an increase in visitors from further afield.

A current HLF funded project has been concentrating on the biodiversity of the site and engaging volunteers and local residents to help carry out wildlife surveys. These surveys feed into site and woodland management plans.

Interaction between the Trust and local community is enhanced by its social media presence and regular newsletters to its growing mailing list. The annual picnic in the park event has proved very popular.

Income from the golf course, shop and regular donations are building a sustainable future for the site. The Trust aims to build a bigger, more fit-for-purpose visitor centre in the heart of the site.

What stood out for the judges was the passion of the a small but highly dedicated team of staff and the volunteers and trustees.

More information here.

Receiving their Awards

Left: Community Woodland Award 1: Slieve Gullion Forest Park, Co. Armagh. From left, RFS President Sir James Scott, sponsor Christine Reid from Woodland Trust. Receiving the Award, John Joe O’Boyle, Chief Executive, Forest Service with Dawson Jones and Gareth Casement from Forest Service  and judge Trefor Thompson

Right: Community Woodland Award 2: Warley Woods, West Midlands. From left, RFS President Sir James Scott, sponsor Christine Reid from Woodland Trust with Viv Cole and John Newman from Warley Woods receiving the award

Thanks to our sponsor