How a spruce-up of ancient woods will help native species to thrive
It's been choked by an invasive plant for decades - blocking out all natural light.
Now an ancient woodland in County Down is to be opened up to the heavens so that native plants and wildlife can prosper once more.
There's hope that bluebells and wild garlic will grow and the Irish hare will return to the woods on the Rademon Estate near Crossgar as part of an extensive estate restoration.
The battle is on to thin out the dense conifer wood and remove the invasive cherry laurel which has choked the woodland for decades, preventing native plants, fungi and insects thriving.
Almost 50 hectares (123 acres) of woodland within the Rademon estate will be restored to their former glory in a four-year programme run in conjunction with the Woodland Trust.
The estate is owned by Frank and Rose Boyd. Mrs Boyd has taken a particular interest in restoring the natural habitat in the gardens in recent years.
The estate is also home to ShortCross Gin which is produced by the Boyds' daughter and son-in-law Fiona and David Boyd-Armstrong.
Michael Topping of the Woodland Trust said that part of the woodland dates back to the 1800s and described it as a "treasure trove".
He added: "In the 20th century many of our precious ancient woods were felled and replanted with non-native, fast-growing conifers in the post-war drive for timber.
"A number of fine old oaks have managed to remain at Rademon, but today are almost hidden by the fast-growing spruce.
"Ancient woodland restoration must be done sensitively. The gradual removal of dense conifers and invasive species slowly opens up the canopy, allowing sunlight to filter in and giving precious species -our native trees, plants, fungi and mosses - a chance to thrive once more."
Yesterday Michael Quinn, the estate's manager, said that he would plant 1,500 new broadleaf trees such as oak, birch and ash this year and had planted 3,000 trees last year.
"We should see improvements as early as next spring with wood, bluebells and wild garlic growing again once the light is allowed back in. We would love to see the return of the Irish hare and deer, we already have a woodpecker."
He added: "All the timber felled on the estate is used for biomass heating which is enough to entirely heat Rademon House. We have both wind and hydro turbines to meet all our energy needs."
Rademon estate will be planting thousands of new broadleaf trees such as beech, oak and ash. Northern Ireland's ancient woods cover a mere 0.7% of the landscape, and more than 40% of this area is either conifer plantation or a mixture of conifers and broadleaves. The venture is part of the Woodland Trust's UK-wide project which offers restoration advice to owners across 52,000 hectares (200 square miles) of damaged ancient woodland.