Farmers unite to green up the Glens

One of Northern Ireland’s most iconic landscapes is in the limelight thanks to a five-year-project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Heart of the Glens landscape partnership scheme, the brainchild of the Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust, is currently focusing on landscape resilience. This joined-up approach, with support from conservation charity the Woodland Trust, has at its core the backing of local farmers and is aimed at conserving and enhancing the natural and built heritage of the beautiful Glens of Antrim. High on the list of anticipated outcomes is also a boost to the area’s tourism and the profitability of farms.

Thousands of new native trees are already taking root across the landscape which, although famously scenic, is extremely lacking when it comes to trees and woodland.

Dr Réamai Mathers, the landscape partnership manager, explains that they are putting the business needs of the farmer first and foremost: “We’ve seen challenging times for farmers, with extremes of weather and flooding commonplace. And, essentially, we’re using ‘green infrastructure’ – trees, hedging, woodland and species-rich pasture – as a natural ally to tackle a range of issues. We’re even exploring new stock options,” he said.

Dr Mathers also points out that they are surveying each farm individually and developing separate farm plans based on particular needs. Trees are being planted where they are needed most and for a variety of reasons, these could be shelter for livestock, a sustainable source of wood fuel or improved water quality and drainage.

Gregor Fulton, estate and outreach manager with the Woodland Trust added that a consortium of farmers have already benefited from expert advice and that grant-aid for tree planting has come from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, with the support of the Woodland Trust for areas ineligible for government funding.

Trees and farming shouldn’t be a contradictory land use. Rather, in today’s challenging climate trees bring real benefits – to the soil, water, livestock and crops – and with the potential to offer an alternative income for the farm,” points out Gregor.

We’re encouraging some of the farmers to plant hedgerows with a difference. They typically include a double row of hedgerow species and a double row of trees, with fencing on either side. Over four metres wide in places, they’re much thicker and robust than the usual hedgerow and will soon resemble a long narrow strip of woodland. Because of the fencing, the grasses are protected from grazing, so we’ll start to see wildflowers, the likes of primroses, coming up. And, in time to come, the network of trees and hedges will provide a habitat and corridor for mammals, including the population of precious red squirrels,” he added.

With its landscape approach the scheme aims to keep some traditional skills such as stone walling alive and encourage a return to traditional flower-rich meadows, which are both easy on the eye and important for pollinators.

Thirteen farmers in the Glens are already on-board and so far 198 acres of land and over six miles of hedgerows have been planted. Planting has been taking place during 2016/17 and the remainder will take place during the current 2017/18 season.

Sheep and cattle farmer in Glendun, Paddy McSparron, (pictured above) was one of the first to get planting underway. Paddy features in a short film about the project and is available here.

Farmers in the Glens of Antrim wishing to follow suit should contact Réamaí Mathers on 028 2075 2100 or email

Would-be tree planters elsewhere in Northern Ireland are asked to contact the Woodland Trust. The charity will offer expert advice, guidance and, in some cases, funding. Contact the Trust’s woodland creation team on 0330 333 5303 or email

Sheep and cattle farmer in Glendun, Paddy McSparron, was one of the first to get planting underway. Paddy features in a short film about the project and is available here.

Picture credits: Banner: Carey Nr Ballycastle, County Antrim, credit: Doug Shapley; middle: View of Glenarm Village from Straidkilly, credit: Michael Topping; Bottom, middle: Paddy McSparron, credit: McAuley Multimedia.