Scroggy Wood: An Island of Trees
I am standing in the midst of a young forest. If I’m quiet I can hear the twittering of the birds amongst the tree tops and the gentle rustling of the wind though the leaves. It’s a sunny day in October and the trees are creating a dappled shade on a floor of fallen leaves. The young trunks of alder, oak, and ash are stretching above my head and file away into the distance. Welcome to Scroggy Wood, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
In 2007 this land was unproductive farmland. Two streams flowed sluggishly through it to form a boggy field. Before Ian Scroggy purchased this land, it lay unused and waterlogged. Ian masterminded the idea of using this space to plant trees and in 2007 applied to ITF for funding. With our help, he planted over 1,000 trees, transforming the land and landscape.
Ian tells me he comes from a family of tree-planters. “We Scroggys have been planting trees all over the world, from Scotland to New Zealand. I felt it was time for me to have a go.” In 2007 Ian bought this site as a base both for his horticultural business, and as a place for him to host his own forestry project. As I stand here thirteen years later I can’t see more than 30 metres in front of me, the tree trunks appear like a wall of living wood.
Restoring a biodiverse heaven
This is a small island of trees in an otherwise deforested valley. For centuries the land here has been intensively farmed for sheep and cattle, leaving trees only in the perimeters of fields and roadside verges. Recent EU farm subsidies have exacerbated the situation, with funding offered for the creation of new grazing land. This has resulted in the loss of hedgerows and even whole areas of biodiverse gorse and scrubland in the upper valley. Further up, the farms give way to the Garron Plateau, the largest intact bog in Northern Ireland. Needless to say, no trees grow there.
Scroggy Wood sits amidst this landscape like a tiny piece of biodiverse heaven, sheltering me and the countless animals that call it home. Many stoats and bats live here, and a recent ecology survey recorded 28 different species of birds present on the site. In addition, this is one of the few corners of the UK and Ireland that native red squirrel is still at large and they’ve been spotted in the wood here.
Their future, however, hangs in the balance. The population is effectively isolated from the neighboring valleys, simply by the lack of tree cover in between. But Ian is hopeful: one day he would like to extend the wood, providing continuous trees cover over to the neighboring glens.
The wood itself is split into two sections, the upper and lower wood, with a fast running stream running in-between. Paths have been created to let Ian walk through most of the wood easily. The rest is very much left to nature: between the trees brambles and nettles compete for dominance – all excellent shelter for the insect, birds and small mammals.
In both sections, Ian has planted a lot of Alder to try to absorb some of the land’s moisture, while giving back some much-needed nitrogen to the soil. This strategy has worked and the drier soil today now allows the growing of other species, such as Oak, Ash, and Birch. In time, even more tree species may take root, such as Rowan, Holly, Wild Cherry, Whitebeam and Beech, either blown in by the wind, or brought in by the birds using this wood as a convenient stopping off point, mid-Glen, as it were.
We cross the stream and enter the lower wood. ‘This is the bit ITF helped me with’ Ian explains. A single path now goes down the centre of the wood, with tall rows of alder on either side. Ian puts his hand against the tree and looks up at the canopy. “The canopy is almost complete” he says. Alder, ash, oak, birch. A single holm oak too.
Seeing an ITF project so many years later is a real treat to me and it is an energizing reminder of the bright and fruitful future of our tree planting projects in the UK and around the world.
As Ian and I say our goodbyes, two goldfinches twitter sharply above our heads.