Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy: Glenarm Forest

Ministerial Statement – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:45 pm on 8th November 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP 12:45 pm, 8th November 2021

I have received notice from the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Mr Edwin Poots, that he wishes to make a statement. Before I call the Minister, I remind Members in the Chamber that, in light of the social distancing being observed by parties, Mr Speaker's ruling that Members must be in the Chamber to hear a statement if they wish to ask a question has been relaxed. Members participating remotely must make sure that their name is on the speaking list if they want to be called. Members in the Chamber must also do this but may do so by rising in their place as well as notifying the Business Office or the Speaker's Table directly.

I remind Members to be concise in asking questions. This is not an opportunity for debate, and long introductions will not be allowed. In accordance with long-established procedure, points of order are not normally taken during a statement or the question period afterwards.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Thank you, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to talk to the House about the recent accreditation of Glenarm Forest as Northern Ireland's first Queen's Commonwealth Canopy (QCC) project, in which Northern Ireland will join a pan-Commonwealth network committed to saving one of the world's most important natural habitats: forests.

The QCC is a unique global network of sustainable forest conservation projects that involves all 54 countries of the Commonwealth in conserving and protecting forests for future generations. I am delighted to announce the successful accreditation of Glenarm Forest as Northern Ireland's first QCC project, which I had the privilege to launch on 25 October 2021 at Glenarm Forest. I also had the privilege of planting an oak tree there after a stiff walk up one of the glens.

Being part of the QCC requires a clear commitment to forest conservation objectives. The accreditation recognises that Glenarm Forest is now dedicated to sustainable forestry and its role in contributing to people's well-being and the enjoyment of the community now and for the generations to come. The accreditation of Glenarm Forest as a QCC forest is an ambitious 350-hectare initiative that will result in an increased opportunity to link people with the forest, create woodlands and promote the sustainability of woodlands for social, environmental and recreational tourism that will act as a catalyst for economic benefits for the area.

Glenarm Forest is ideally situated in the wider Glenarm Castle estate with its rich cultural history and historic woodland. The estate is steeped in a wealth of history, culture and heritage and attracts 100,000 visitors annually from all over the world. At the event, invited guests were able to savour the significance of the accreditation and the wonderful forest setting. The accreditation of the QCC initiative at Glenarm Forest is a result of innovative collaboration and partnership working between DAERA's Forest Service and Glenarm estate, with substantial contributions from a wide range of external and internal stakeholders.

As I mentioned, QCC forests are dedicated to conservation for communities and future generations. I very much welcome the participation of local people in developing the project. I acknowledge the work and support of those involved in achieving this accolade, in particular, Glenarm estate, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, local community groups, staff and students from Seaview Integrated Primary School and the Glenarm QCC forest working group. The QCC forest project will help to raise awareness of the importance of forests to society and encourage landowners to plant woodlands in line with my Department's Forests for Our Future programme to plant 18 million trees by 2030.

The announcement of this achievement for Northern Ireland, highlighting the importance of conserving and protecting forests on a global scale, is particularly timely, with the UK hosting the twenty-sixth UN climate change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November 2021. That significant summit aims to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris agreement and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The purpose of the statement is to recognise, rightly, the recent accreditation of Glenarm Forest as Northern Ireland's first QCC project. I am delighted for Northern Ireland that Glenarm Forest has joined the QCC network to conserve and protect forests for the benefit of communities and future generations. It creates a physical and lasting legacy of the Queen's leadership of the Commonwealth.

Photo of Declan McAleer Declan McAleer Sinn Féin 1:00 pm, 8th November 2021

I thank the Minister for his statement. He will know that, in the past, the island of Ireland was the most forested part of Europe, but, unfortunately, we now have the dubious distinction of being the least forested part. Some great initiatives are taking place at Dunmoyle and Altmore in my constituency; indeed, most recently, there are proposals on the table for Seskinore Forest.

Will the Minister outline what role the forest at Glenarm and, indeed, any other forest developments across the North can play in promoting and protecting biodiversity here?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Forests can become monocultures and not assist biodiversity, and that is why we need things that will help develop biodiversity. As we seek to tackle climate change, it is important that we ensure that biodiversity goes hand in hand with that and that we have a wide range of biodiversity. For example, Northern Ireland has far more hedgerows than probably anywhere else in the world — it certainly has the most across these islands — and that is a major asset to our biodiversity and for birds and other wildlife. It is something that we promote.

We have set a target of planting 18 million trees by 2030, and we have made a significant start on that. It is getting real traction out there and is being responded to positively. This is another boost for us, and having a forest here that has Queen's Commonwealth Canopy recognition enables us, as part of the Commonwealth, on the one hand, to demonstrate our thanks for the work of Her Majesty and, on the other hand, to do something for the future. That is why we are planting trees from which all our community can benefit.

Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP

I thank the Minister for his statement to the House. Does he agree that the initiative by Her Majesty further demonstrates the royal family's appreciation of nature, the need to tackle climate change and, indeed, the need to protect our environment?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Absolutely. His Royal Highness Prince Charles got a lot of criticism in the 1980s, but he was way ahead of his time on a series of issues. More recently, Prince William and Princess Kate led on the event that recognised things that people were doing to help our environment, and I was delighted that local people were identified for their work on renewable energies. We can be well placed, whether through tree planting, renewable energies or a series of other things, to do the right thing on the environment in order to ensure that we leave this world that we entered in a better state environmentally. That is a real goal for all of us.

Photo of Rosemary Barton Rosemary Barton UUP

Thank you, Minister, for your statement. You referred to Glenarm Forest as Northern Ireland's first Queen's Commonwealth Canopy project. Do you have other locations identified for that project?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

This is the first. We are capable of applying for more. It is not an easy thing to achieve, and a considerable amount of work therefore has to be done to ensure that we are successful. We have been successful with this one, and I am happy that that is the case. We will look positively at whether we can identify other places that may be suitable and then work with the royal household to bring forward further Queen's Commonwealth Canopy projects in Northern Ireland.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

I thank the Minister for the information provided in the statement. In addition to the issues raised around the canopy scheme — we welcome the good news for the scenic town of Glenarm — are schemes such as those that try to address the provision of trees in urban streets being looked at? I ask that because, coincidentally, when the statement was first scheduled, a colleague on Belfast City Council raised the issue with me as a way of increasing forestation in our urban areas.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

We have had a decent response from the councils, or some councils. I believe that Belfast City Council, for example, wants to plant one million trees, which would be hugely beneficial for the lungs of the city. I am supportive of the work of the councils. When it comes to streetscapes, DFI is obviously the lead Department, but, if there is anything that I can do to assist with such schemes, I will be happy to do it. Tree-lined streets really set a city off. The more of those we can have in Belfast or any other city, the better.

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

I thank the Minister for his statement. It was encouraging.

Minister, I take the opportunity of congratulating Ballysillan Primary School in my constituency, which recently received the Queen's Commonwealth Canopy tree for the city of Belfast. Along with a deputy lieutenant, Mr Dawson Stelfox, and some pupils, I was privileged to be involved in planting that tree.

As the chair of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in Stormont, I welcome the announcement. It is great to see Northern Ireland joining the rest of the Commonwealth in such an initiative. Can the Minister outline the benefits that the initiative will have for the area around Glenarm and east Antrim in terms of the environment, tourism and, indeed, the local community?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Glenarm Castle currently receives about 100,000 visitors, and the forest is open for people to visit. When we take a run up the coast road, I would say, a lot of us have the habit of just driving through Glenarm, not realising that it is an absolute pearl of a location to stop at. I hope that the initiative will be a major incentive for Glenarm to be a go-to destination, not a drive-through destination, and that many hundreds of thousands of people will use that facility, not just 100,000.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Glenarm forest is a popular local asset, and the scheme will improve and enhance it to the benefit of locals and, indeed, those from further afield. I welcome the accreditation of the Queen's Commonwealth Canopy scheme. Many have been involved in the project, including the Glenarm Castle estate, councils, community groups and Seaview Integrated Primary School. Can the Minister advise what role his Department played? Can he give any pointers to others who might want to consider such a scheme for their local forest?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The idea was brought to me, and I suggested it to the chief executive of the Forest Service, John Joe O'Boyle — a citizen of the glens, by the way — who embraced it and took it forward. It was taken forward and led by the Department. All of the other organisations were brought in to assist with the project, and we were grateful to all those who participated. It was great to see the schoolchildren from Seaview Integrated Primary School planting a tree alongside the one that I planted. That was a demonstration of good cross-community working in that area to do something that will be of real benefit to the area. Having all the players involved would be critical for any other area that might want to take forward such a scheme.

Photo of Maurice Bradley Maurice Bradley DUP

I thank the Minister for his statement to the House. Minister, bearing it in mind that Northern Ireland is still one of the least tree-covered areas in GB or Europe, will the project protect ancient woodlands in the area and lead to increased woodland cover?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Yes. One of the things that will happen is that some of the coniferous trees in the woodland will be removed and broadleaf indigenous trees planted. That will lead to not just new planting but an enhancement of the existing woodland there. There is significant work to be done to ensure that it will be a quality facility and a quality woodland that will be around not for the next 20 years but for many hundreds of years.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

Minister, I join Members in welcoming the Queen's Commonwealth Canopy accreditation for Glenarm Forest, which is in the constituency of East Antrim. I also acknowledge the number of visitors who go there and who will enjoy the forest many years into the future. Glenarm stands in stark contrast, however, to the situation at Woodburn Forest, which is also in East Antrim, where trees were removed to facilitate a futile attempt to explore for oil close to the public water supply; indeed, concern remains for the replacement trees at Woodburn, which are far from thriving. What action will you take, Minister, to protect and expand all our forests across Northern Ireland?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The issues at Woodburn predate my period as Minister. I would welcome any correspondence the Member might wish to contact me with. At this point, I have not received anything from him about Woodburn.

We have set out our target of 18 million additional trees being planted in forests across Northern Ireland. That is no small thing. Organisations are working extremely well with us. One of them is Northern Ireland Water, which may be criticised for other things, but, for what it is doing in planting trees and on renewable energy, I have to give it high praise, because its work is tremendous.

We have a course of work on forests. Over my period as Minister for the environment, we have invested considerable additional money in more trees and in the Forest Service. It is now a policy direction, and I hope that whoever holds the office in future decades will carry on with it.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

I welcome the accolade and the opportunity for Glenarm. On a somewhat related matter, 'New Decade, New Approach' ('NDNA') ushered the Minister back into office. Amongst its many promises was reference to a project that it grandly titled the "Great Ulster Forest". What has become of that project? Indeed, what is it?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The "Great Ulster Forest" was never perceived to be one wood or one forest; it was to be a series of wooded areas across Northern Ireland. Of course, the work we have commenced on tree planting will greatly assist us in delivering on that NDNA commitment, and, indeed, we are working on it.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

I am glad to see projects like this one receiving support. Does the Minister see afforestation having a role as part of the support for a just transition for many farming families?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Yes. I welcome the Member's seeking a just transition, and I hope he will help us to ensure that there is a just transition and will not be persuaded to do something different by people who do not understand agriculture.

On afforestation, we are looking at how we can support people to plant riparian boundaries and to plant out woodlands in areas that are not used as much on the farm so that the woodlands will have the least impact on the farm's production. There will also be opportunities for people to make the switch from food production to forestry, and we have supported people who have done that. It is about working with people in the agriculture sector to ensure that they get the right fit for what they do.

We must — all of us — ensure that we support our rural dwellers and, in doing so, support the agriculture community, which has contributed so much over the years to jobs, well-being and, indeed, the health of our environment. It has so much more to contribute. Farmers are not the environment's enemy but its friend. We should therefore not be the enemy of farmers.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP 1:15 pm, 8th November 2021

No other Members have risen in their place or indicated to me that they wish to ask a question, beyond those who already have.