Minister of State Pippa Hackett has officially turned the sod on a new native woodland park in Co. Sligo.

Yesterday (Monday, February 21), the minister, who has responsibility for land use and biodiversity at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), planted the first tree in the 105ac park.

The development is being completely funded by the department as part of its Woodland Creation on Public Land scheme; it encourages public bodies to use their lands as public spaces.

“Native woodlands are an important part of Ireland’s natural, historical and cultural heritage, and are unique in terms of their biodiversity. This is why I introduced a scheme to encourage public bodies to use their lands for creation of native woodlands and [this] site is an excellent example of how this scheme is working,” Minister Hackett said.

The Cloonamahon site, around 10km from Sligo town, is owned by the Health Service Executive (HSE) and is bordered by Coillte forestry and land owned by the Western Forestry Co-op.

Coillte has committed to convert its 15ac conifer plantation into native woodland and Western Forestry Co-op has confirmed it will develop a project on its holding.

The co-op has also committed to enhancing 55ac of old native woodland as a public amenity, including walking tracks and picnic areas.

The HSE site has been used as a residential setting for people with disabilities but that has been changing in recent years to reflect national policy to support people to move from congregated settings into the community.

CEO of the HSE, Paul Reid also confirmed that €300,000 will be made available from the executive’s 2022 Capital Programme for the project.

This once-off contribution is part of the proceeds from the sale of land to the National Roads Authority (RSA) for the N4 road realignment.

“It will support the capital costs associated with the upgrade of the old farmyard and orchard to create a sensory garden and horticulture area, for use initially by disability and mental health day services,” Reid said.

Cathoirleach of Sligo County Council Paul Taylor stated that the sod-turning event was just the first step for the development of the site.

“With further investment, the Cloonamahon complex can be developed to create further opportunities for all citizens to spend time in nature through the creation of spaces to engage in therapeutic, horticultural, respite and recreational activities,” Taylor explained.