Forests Are Vital Community Resource Says O’Neill

Forestry Minister Michelle O’Neill has said that forests are a vital community resource to be enjoyed by all.

[caption id="attachment_42998" align="alignleft" width="270"]Castlewellan Forest Park is a popular forested area  adjacent to the Mournes. Castlewellan Forest Park is a popular forested area adjacent to the Mournes.[/caption]

Minister O’Neill was speaking as she welcomed findings from a recent visitor survey commissioned by the Forest Service, which indicates that there are approximately 4.7 million visits to Forest Service woodlands annually and that 84% of visitors rated the forests they were visiting as excellent or very good.

Welcoming the findings Minister O’Neill said: “The results of this survey are very welcoming and underpin my Department’s strategy of working with operating partners to develop and improve the recreation and tourism potential of our forests, and supports the case for future investment. This effectively means that our forests are the largest outdoor recreation provision in the north.

“Our forests are a vital community resource and it is satisfying to know that forests are playing their part in contributing to healthier lifestyles and that 62% of visitors stated that they had visited for health reasons or for exercise.”

The Minister also highlighted the financial benefits to local communities from visits to forest areas. She added: “Local communities are benefitting financially from the increased number of visitors to our forests. Including accommodation bookings, £76.1million was spent by visitors during their overall visit.

“Significantly, £21.2million of this was spent in local authority areas by visitors who specified their only reason for visiting the area was the forest attraction. These forest visits included approximately 380,000 from outside the north of Ireland.”