Big thank you from

The tragedy of our disappearing woodland

by Paul Cormacain

WE tend not to think about holly except at one particular time of the year. Yet all year round birds use holly bushes to roost in, nest in, and - when there is a supply of berries - to feed in.

Insects, including one particular butterfly, also use the holly tree. Being evergreen, holly graces our countryside, hedges and gardens at all times.

So it was with particular pleasure that I learned of the commencement of planting of two hundred young holly trees near Lisburn at Dorothy's Wood. Birds and insects will be delighted!

Have you yet heard that a massive survey of woodland is to take place in the near future? The Woodland Trust hopes to list all ancient woods, and these woods are defined as over four hundred years old.

When you consider that after the last Ice Age, perhaps ten thousand years ago, the island of Ireland was covered with trees, and look at it now! The first inhabitants, partly farmers, landed on the north coast.

The fishing was good, the berry crop, (including holly), was good. But more ambitious chaps wanted to grow crops and rear cattle. So they had to chop down some trees.

We have been chopping down trees ever since. Our countryside is (generally) beautiful, but our trees have decreased in numbers over the centuries.

It has now got to the stage that here in the north anyway, we have the lowest afforestation in Europe. I cannot imagine the south being any better.

In Europe they have a rate of 36% for wood cover. In the north we have a rate of a mere 6%, probably about the same in the south. So we have to find out exact details of forestry, alongside encouraging more woods and trees. Lets hope the survey has a positive result, with a good future follow-up.

There may be a deficit of trees at Strangford Lough, but there is certainly a huge number of birds. We took ourselves off there last week, and were most pleasantly surprised at the number and variety of birds.

One of the more prominent birds was the shelduck, a bird which breaks the rule about the male being the gaily-coloured chappie, and the female being dull. The theory is that the female does all the work with eggs and young, so does not want to draw attention to herself.

Both male and female are brightly coloured with black, white and chestnut plumage. The bill is red, and the only difference between male and female is that the drake has a red knob at the base of its bill.

Coming Events

Saturday 3 April - Julian Greenwood will talk about back guillemots to Belfast RSPB, details from Ron Houston 9079 6188

12April - Why not go along to the egg-stravaganza at Scrabo Country Park, 3pm, more from 9181 1491

Wednesday 14 April - Trevor Boyd will talk about Mainly Moths in the museum at 7.15pm.

Saturday 24 April - Why not go to the Belfast Harbour Estate for a walk on the wild side with Anthony McGeehan? More from the RSPB on 90491547

Ulster Star