SUAS Pilot Project Completes Extensive Tree Planting Programme

The SUAS Project has recently completed an ambitious two-year programme of native tree planting in locations across the Wicklow and Dublin Uplands. Just in time to celebrate the recent National Tree Week, the extensive operation has now successfully delivered a total of over 6,000 new saplings across 23 of the 25 locations participating in the innovative agri-environment project.

Working closely with hill-farmers across the Wicklow and Dublin Uplands, one of the key pillars of the EIP- agri funded pilot project is to restore upland habitats to a thriving, balanced ecosystem through various initiatives, such as the recent tree planting, bare peat restoration work, vegetation management and other activities.

One of the many locations that’s benefited from a sustainable management approach under the scheme, is the Glencap Commonages that surrounds one of Wicklow’s most popular outdoor attractions – The Great Sugar Loaf.

Working within the time periods permitted by the Heritage Act 2018, an extensive programme to remove self-seeded invasive and non-native tree species such as sitka spruce, from the natural heathland habitat has taken place over the last few months. Owing to the varied and often rocky terrain, the complex operation involved both mechanical and hand saws being deployed across the 313 hectare site.

In their place, over the last few weeks native broadleaf trees have been successfully transplanted in clusters across the location by local hill-farmers participating in the SUAS Project. Sourced locally from None-so-Hardy Nurseries near the village of Shillelagh, the oak, rowan, alder, willow and birch will now grow to offer shelter and a welcome food source to wildlife.

Launched in 2018 by Wicklow Uplands Council, the 5 year ‘Sustainable Uplands Agriculture-environment Scheme (SUAS) Pilot Project is working with both commonage groups and individual hill farmers across the Wicklow and Dublin Uplands, focusing on the sustainable management of the unique, natural habitats the area is renowned for.

With over 4,500 saplings being transplanted this year alone, many of the other upland sites that were involved in the tree-planting programme, selected to plant alongside the mineral rich soil areas of watercourses and gullies, often in remote and difficult locations. Here, their root systems will assist in stabilising stream banks to prevent erosion, slow the water runoff from the hills and reduce flooding pressure further down in the river and floodplains. 

As the Wicklow and Dublin Uplands are home to important freshwater sources, such as the Vartry and Poulaphouca Reservoirs, and rivers such as the Liffey, Dargle, Dodder and Kings River, the value of managing upland watercourses and stabilising the land around them, is integral for numerous reasons.

Declan Byrne, Project Manager of the SUAS Project shared;

“The cornerstone of the SUAS project is for upland farmers to collectively agree and implement sustainable management practices to ensure that land and hill-farming practices complement each other to ensure the upland’s health for future generations”. 

Commenting on the long-term impact of the recent tree planting activities, Declan Byrne shared;

“In time, self-seeding will see further growth of the native species that have been planted and a return to a thriving upland ecosystem made up of a mosaic of diverse habitats.”

Brian, Dunne, Coordinator of Wicklow Uplands Council, who founded the SUAS Project shared:

“It’s an important step to preserving our natural heritage and promoting biodiversity where its impact can be measured and monitored. Healthy upland habitats can increase our resilience to the impacts of climate change so positive intervention measures such as this should continue to form part of our national response to the climate and biodiversity emergency”. 

Speaking about the SUAS Project’s recent activities, Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity, Pippa Hackett shared:

“The value of Ireland’s various EIP Projects that are addressing vital environmental issues and reversing the decline of biodiversity across sensitive habitats, is now evident in the many positive actions taking place nationwide”.

“I’d like to congratulate the hill-farmers and all involved with the SUAS Project, for taking the decisive steps needed to continue the restoration of one of Ireland’s key natural assets, the Wicklow and Dublin Uplands”.

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