Northern Ireland’s second-largest landowner, NI Water, has pledged to plant one million trees over the next 10 years.

The large-scale planting programme will take place across 11,300ha of land.

Over the last decade, NI Water has planted over 150,000 trees across some of its 24 drinking water catchments in Co. Antrim and Co. Armagh.

Planting trees improves water quality, captures carbon, mitigate floods and enhances the natural environment.

Trees planted close to river banks help prevent bankside erosion; as much of the water used for our drinking water comes from our rivers and lakes, trees act as a natural buffer.

NI Water’s director of business services Alistair Jinks said: “Using NI Water land to plant trees, offsets the carbon emissions from NI Water’s electricity consumption.

“Trees being planted near our rivers and streams, helps reduce the effect of climate change by capturing carbon and slowing river flow. Tree roots also act as a natural water filter.

The first phase of tree-planting will begin in January 2021, and continue until March, with approximately 40,000 trees being planted at NI Water sites at Dunore in Co. Antrim and Fofanny in Co. Down.

“There are plans in place for a further approximately 222,000 trees to be planted in Phase 2, subject to funding approval, by March 2022.”

It comes on the back of plans by Edwin Poots, the Minister for the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), to plant 18 million trees over the next 10 years.

Ian McCurley, director for Woodland Trust Northern Ireland said: “We have been working to deliver woodland on NI Water’s estate over the past 10 years and are looking forward to the next decade where we will plant one million trees together, starting with six hectares of native trees at Fofanny.

“The Woodland Trust is the UK’s largest woodland conservation charity and aims to protect and restore ancient woodland, and create new woodland for nature, people and the climate.

Northern Ireland is one of the least wooded regions in Europe, with just 8% of woodland cover compared with the European average of 37%.

“We need to rapidly increase tree cover to help reach net-zero carbon emissions and tackle the declines in wildlife.

“In Northern Ireland, we need to reach a rate of planting 2000ha a year by 2025 in order to achieve our goals by 2030.

“We need to start creating woodland on a landscape scale in order to reach our targets.”