Following Slieve Gullion Forest Park's success in winning the Royal Forestry Society's (RFS) Community Woodland regional award in September 2021, it has received further recognition by winning the Best of the Best Award in this category against all regional winning projects over the past five years.
The Community Woodland award is about recognising and celebrating the best examples of how woods and forests benefit people and Slieve Gullion Forest Park, located near Meigh, Co. Armagh, won the overall award.
Slieve Gullion Forest Park is one of the premier countryside attractions in Northern Ireland and has seen visitor numbers spiral in recent years from less than 30,000 to nearly 500,000 visits per year. It is a fantastic resource for recreation, boosting well-being, volunteering, learning and skills development, serving both the local population and visitors from further afield.
The forest park is owned and managed by The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Forest Service who have worked in partnership and invested together with Newry and Mourne and Down District Council, alongside the Clanrye Group Services, to ensure Slieve Gullion Forest Park has become one of the best attractions in the North.
DAERA Minister Edwin Poots MLA welcomed the award saying: "I am delighted that Slieve Gullion Forest Park has received further recognition from the Royal Forestry Society, and I had the pleasure of visiting Slieve Gullion Forest Park last year and saw at first hand the excellent results and benefits that can be gained from positive and effective partnership working, in this case between Forest Service and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and the Clanrye Group Services."
Judging took place in May 2022 and resulted in Forest Service winning the overall award. The awards were presented at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire on Friday 15 July 2022, at which Forest Service representatives attended the event to receive the award.
Receiving the award on behalf of DAERA, Forest Service CEO John Joe O'Boyle said: "This prestigious award recognises the importance people attach to this woodland and the forest park. In particular, it demonstrates how development of the park meets specific criteria for this award. Working with our partners, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and the Clanrye Group Services, we have developed a strong sense of engagement with the natural environment. This includes promoting health, wellbeing, and wider community benefits. We are fortunate to have such a wonderful woodland resource to build on."
Chairperson of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, Councillor Michael Savage said, "The Council are pleased Slieve Gullion Forest Park has won the Best of the Best Community Woodland Award for the UK, from the Royal Forestry Society. The Partnership working between Council, DAERA and Clanrye Group at the site was a key element for the judges in awarding Slieve Gullion Forest Park this prestigious award.
"The Council, in managing recreational facilities at the Forest Park, has invested significant resources and has been successful in securing funding to invest in a wide range of facilities which now provides a premier outdoor attraction for both the local community and visitors to Newry, Mourne and Down who can enjoy a wide range of activities in this spectacular setting."
Describing the award as 'richly deserved', judges said: "We selected this as the winning entry because of the scale and wider reach of the project which has grown and evolved since receiving Peace Money funds back in 1997. It provides a tremendous and sustainable resource that excels in all four criteria of this award - place, people, community and environment."