DAERA Minister Edwin Poots has encouraged everyone to take advantage of Forest Parks in Northern Ireland, calling them a fantastic natural resource.
The Minister was speaking during a visit to Tollymore Forest Park where he saw first-hand the recent restoration and repair work done within the forest following Storm Francis last August.
Work has recently been completed to restore three pedestrian bridges, Boundary, Rustic & Footstick, that were washed away during the storm; along with some of the 1,900 metres of path and over 6 km of forest road that were also severely affected.
Speaking during his visit, Minister Poots said, “I am delighted to visit this wonderful Forest Park to see the hard work that has been undertaken to repair and restore the damage done by Storm Francis. Forest Parks are a vital natural resource and we are extremely lucky in Northern Ireland to have so many of them on our doorstep. I would encourage everyone to take advantage of the vast open spaces to enjoy exercise and to take in the fresh air and beautiful surroundings.”
A recent visitor survey, commissioned by Forest Service, found that there are almost nine million visits to woodlands here annually, with 98% of visitors rating their visit as good to excellent.
Commenting on the survey, Minister Poots said, “Tollymore Forest Park is one of our most popular areas of woodland and is stunning, both in terms of the forest itself and its location beside the Mourne Mountains.
“I am delighted to hear that the recent visitor survey showed there are almost 180,000 visits annually to Tollymore Forest Park, with 99% of those visitors rating their visit as good to excellent. Our forests also play an important role in encouraging people to adopt healthier lifestyles, with approximately 75% of all visitors to Tollymore saying they had visited for health or exercise reasons. As we move towards spring and summer, I would encourage everyone to take advantage of these fantastic open spaces, which have so many health and well-being benefits.”
The Minister was also keen to highlight the major contribution that forests in Northern Ireland make to the tourism industry here saying, “The many new and improved visitor facilities developed in forests across Northern Ireland during the last five years has resulted in a significant rise not just in visitor numbers, but also in quality of visitor experience. A key factor in this has been the partnerships developed with local authorities and other organisations such as National Trust, ensuring that investment delivers against regional recreation and tourism priorities. This underpins my Department’s strategy to develop and improve the recreation and tourism potential of our forests.”
Concluding Minister Poots said, “Our forests are a hugely valuable asset, benefiting individuals, community and society as a whole, I would therefore encourage everyone to take advantage of these fabulous natural resources.”