One of the most diverse and mature woodlands in the country has been discovered under our very noses in County Westmeath.
The Native Woodland Trust say that Ardan Woods, off the N6 near Tyrrellspass, could have huge tourism potential for the area after a multitude of rare woodland species were discovered on the seven-acre woodland.
There is a strong possibility that the horseshoe-shaped woodland is an ‘ancient woodland’, at least 200 years old. Some 99.9 per cent of our ancient woodlands have been lost in Ireland.
Whereas most woodlands have five or six species of trees and shrubs, Ardan Woods boasts at least 19 species of trees and shrubs, which is “close to a record in Ireland”.
Some of the rare species found there include bluebells, enchanters nightshade, early purple orchid, yellow pimpernel, wild strawberry, and wood anemone, as well as rare trees such as buckthorn, wild crab apple, wild privet, and at least two Irish whitebeams. Irish whitebeam is the the only tree unique to Ireland, and there are only 150 official records in the country.
“We have never found so many tree species in one woodland, especially one so small,” said Jim Lawlor, director of the Native Woodland Trust, addressing councillors at last Friday’s Kilbeggan Area meeting.
The Native Woodland Trust are proposing to lease the woodland so that they can monitor the wood and ensure it is safe from threats such as illegal tree felling, theft of trees, grazing, flytipping, or other misuse.
They also want to increase use of the woodlands for walking and recreation, as “an under-used woods more likely to be lost”.
“Ardan is a jewel, and we want to bring people in and show them how special it is,” said Mr Lawlor.
Access will be improved, signage and information boards will be provided, and guided walks, particularly in spring, are to be run by the trust, who will engage with nearby neighbours to ensure goodwill and involvement from the local community.
Councillors welcomed the presentation, with Cllr Colm Arthur describing the development as “very positive for the area” and Cllr Ger Corcoran hailing it as “a major tourist attraction”.
The Native Woodland Trust also suggested the establishment of a small local tree nursery, with the intention of collecting seeds from Ardan Woods and planting trees locally. The trust has a strong record of planting woodlands as well as running a Trees for Schools programme with schools across the country.