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RFS Community Woodland Excellence Award 2021

Slieve Gullion Forest Park near Meigh, Co. Armagh, has won the RFS Community Woodland Excellence Award. Second place was awarded to Llyn Parc Mawr, Anglesey.

By Wendy Necar · September 3, 2021

This Award is about recognising and celebrating the best examples of how woods and forests benefit people.

1 Slieve Gullion Forest Park, Meigh, Co. Armagh, owned and managed by DAERA, Forest Service

Dawson Jones, Forest Service, collects the Community Woodland Award with John Joe O’Boyle, Forest Service Chief Executive. Also pictured are Malcolm Beatty, EIF Awards judge, Gareth Casement, Forest Service and James Hamilton Stubber, NI RFS chair. Photo: Chris McCullough

The Hawthorn Hill part of this 900 hectares (ha) forest park has been developed into a hub for visitor experiences.  This makes it a great resource for recreation,  boosting well-being, volunteering, learning and skills development. It serves both the local population and visitors from further afield.

Outdoor pursuits like walking and cycling encourage community engagement. Strong links are made with the myths and legends of the area via the award-winning play park and visitor centre. An outdoor amphitheatre is planned to further these cultural links with plays and poetry, including use and revival of the Irish language.

Receiving the award on behalf of DAERA, Forest Service CEO John Joe O’Boyle said: “Slieve Gullion Forest Park is an exemplar of partnership working. We work together to maintain and improve facilities and visitor services with local councils and others. The award is great recognition for investment and development that has taken place over recent years. It also recognizes the use and enjoyment local communities and others get from this wonderful resource.”

Describing the award as ‘richly deserved’, judges said: “We selected this as the winning entry because of the scale and wider reach of the project which has grown and evolved since receiving Peace Money funds back in 1997. It provides a tremendous and sustainable resource that excels in all four criteria of this award – place, people, community and environment. Great work and congratulations Slieve Gullion!”

2 Llyn Parc Mawr, Anglesey, managed by Tim Peters on Welsh Government land managed by NRW

Llyn Parc Marw’s Melissa Dhillon, left, and Tim Peters, right, collect the award from Christine Reid from sponsors Woodland Trust

This unusual woodland was planted to stabilise shifting sand-dunes in the 1950s. It has become a haven for Anglesey’s iconic red squirrels and a range of other protected species including goshawk, otter and great-crested newts.

The area entered into the award includes 24 ha of a 500 ha woodland owned by Natural Resources Wales within a wider sand-dune and grassland ecosystem. It was taken on five years ago and has become a Community Woodland Group providing learning and recreational locally.

Llyn Parc Mawr has received support from Heritage Fund, M&S and the Co-op Local Community Fund and is viewed as an incredibly valued resource for the community.

Tim Peters commented:  “As a relatively new community woodland we are pleased that the judges have acknowledged all the hard work done by the volunteer directors, staff and community members to manage this beautiful woodland for the benefit of local wildlife and the wellbeing of all those who visit. We are particularly proud of the stunning lakeside green-roofed hide, built by local traditional craftsman, as when we consulted the local community, this was the most frequently suggested improvement to the site. ”

Judges said: “This project came a very close runner up due to the commitment and passion from the community delivering an incredibly valued resource for the community. It is an exemplar community woodland project in a part of the country where it has, and will continue to be, greatly appreciated.”

The RFS Excellence in Forestry awards are made up of five categories. Entries were accepted in late 2019/spring 2020 from the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland and Wales. Covid restrictions delayed judging until 2021. Our thanks to all who took part and to the judges for their patience.

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