It used to be a patch of grass... now it's an urban wood teeming with wildlife
The trees were planted just 15 years ago, but this infant wood on the outskirts of Bangor has now been named a Local Nature Reserve.
Kilcooley Wood is the latest woodland to become one of 27 Local Nature Reserves across Northern Ireland – areas rich in wildlife that are accessible to people and provide them with opportunities to be close to wildlife.
It is the third Local Nature Reserve in the North Down council area, joining Balloo Wetlands and Balloo Woodland.
The wood is a green oasis stretching along one side of the busy Rathgael Road. On the other side of the road, the magnificent veteran trees within the privately-owned Clandeboye Estate provide an impressive backdrop.
The land is owned by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, which once maintained it as mown grass parkland. It leased the land to the Woodland Trust in the late 1990s.
The news comes as the Belfast Telegraph launches Blooming Marvellous, a drive to inspire readers to transform their surroundings with a little green-fingered magic. The campaign will feature a wealth of gardening coverage, horticultural offers and a series of competitions. Patrick Cregg, director of the Woodland Trust, said the designation of Kilcooley Wood recognised the invaluable role played by local people.
"We're extremely grateful for the invaluable support received from everyone, including the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and Kilcooley Community Forum, who helped this well-loved woodland to take shape," he said.
"Some 15 years ago, local residents, groups and schoolchildren rallied to help us plant thousands of native trees here – mostly oak with scatterings of willow, alder and birch in the wetter areas. Today, the young trees have flourished and already tower several feet above the tallest of walkers."
Woodland Trust volunteer, Peter Lyons, said: "Kilcooley Wood is the most amazing urban woodland, enjoyed by walkers on a daily basis.
"In springtime, visitors will find scatterings of lesser celandine and bluebells, mostly along the woodland edge, while summer brings early purple orchids and meadow brown butterflies. You will often see chaffinches and, if you're lucky, the occasional sparrowhawk, no doubt visiting from Clandeboye Estate.
"This welcome designation recognises the importance of the wood, in terms of nature conservation and community value."
The Local Nature Reserve declaration was received from North Down Borough Council in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside.
Mayor of North Down, Councillor Andrew Muir, said: "The council was very pleased to recommend Kilcooley Wood for LNR designation and would congratulate all those involved in enhancing this area and helping to secure this important conservation accolade."
Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) are areas that have been specially set aside for biodiversity.
In contrast to other designated sites, such as National Nature Reserves, LNRs do not have to contain rare or threatened species or habitats. LNRs are sites where the principal objective is nature conservation.
e The Belfast Telegraph has launched a gardening drive called Blooming Marvellous. We're calling on gardeners and novices across Northern Ireland to take up a trowel and breathe new life into dismal gardens.
e We'll be launching a province-wide competition and serving up a wealth of horticultural articles this spring. Whether you're a gardening club, allotment group or you've spotted something unusual among the tulips, let us know by emailing: email@example.com