From ancient woodland to pastoral demesne to biodiversity restoration and sustainability enhancement – a journey through time at Ballyfin.
Nestled in the foothills of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, Ballyfin has been settled from ancient times and has seen its terrain evolve over the millennia from dense native broadleaf woodland, when Fionn Mac Cumhaill was but a young warrior, to the ancestral home of the Ó Mordha clan, the Crosbys, the Poles, Wellesley-Poles and later to the Cootes family with the surrounding countryside becoming more pastoral over the centuries. Following a turbulent period in Irish history, in May 1666 the estate of approximately 3,500 acres was conferred on Periam Pole, originally from Devon. Pole and his son William expanded the estate, built a ‘modern’ house and reshaped the entire gardens and demesne. William planted woodlands and constructed the 30 acre artificial lake which remains a feature of the estate today.
Utilising the design philosophies of Capability Brown, with an emphasis on natural and sweeping vistas, pleasure gardens, open lawns and woodlands with follies, an expansive lake with an extensive trail system leads to the old-growth woods, where chestnuts and oak trees shelter vast swathes of colourful undergrowth.
In spring, Ballyfin Demesne’s woodlands are brimming with bluebells, Ramsons, Herb Robert and Greater Celandine with meadows full of wildflowers which greatly enhance biodiversity with bees and butterflies in abundance.
The current custodians of Ballyfin Demesne, have embarked on a major sustainability and biodiversity enhancement journey and have appointed Ecology and Arboriculture experts Veon to help them achieve their goals.
This significant project will commence with a Carbon report being undertaken which will cover an analysis of the standing stock and biological growth over the duration of the project following which a Carbon Forest Management Plan will be created to explore strategic solutions to help maximise carbon sequestration and storage within the forest portfolio.
The Ballyfin estates sustainability team will work with Veon foresters and ecologists to incorporate woodland and tree planting projects as well as rewilding projects into the estate’s development plans to help achieve their sustainability goals and carbon neutrality.
The sustainability and biodiversity enhancement programme will commence with a gradual conifer thinning and removal programme on trees that have reached the end of their lifespan and to protect visual amenity and to increase light to promote undergrowth on the bluebell walkway.
Introducing a new native woodland will enhance aesthetics and screen the estate and especially the clay pigeon shooting and archery area from any conifer removals. A new native woodland area will be planted with oak, hazel, rowan, cherry, Scots pine, alder and birch and protected with biodegradable tree shelters and protective deer fencing.
Over a four year period, the native broadleaves will be well established and will screen out the eventual removal of the mature conifers. This four-year work programme will dovetail with the conservation and rejuvenation of approximately 40 hectares of native woodland area under the Native Woodland Conservation (NWC) Scheme including the removal of invasive species such as laurel, rhododendron as well as unsafe, dead or non-native trees and replanting with native broadleaves creating a healthy continuous cover forestry (CCF) system.
Broadleaf thinning operations will take place on any of the previously planted broadleaf areas to enable the remaining trees to develop by removing the sick, underdeveloped and poor-quality trees. Other broadleaf areas including stands of birch will be continually assessed for suitability to CCF thinning.
In order to achieve the success of this extensive biodiversity enhancement and in keeping with the sustainability objectives of the Ballyfin Demesne, a Natura Impact Statement will be submitted to cover all hazards to the local environment by all the woodland operations and to mitigate against any risks proposed. The NIS will cover all woodland operations including the new road construction, felling of trees, woodland conservation and the new native woodland planting.
It is proposed to inspect and survey the internal roadways and to carry out a tree survey of all trees within falling distance of any road, car park or structure on the estate. Trees will be geo tagged using a state-of-the-art geo referencing system with built in data analysing software and a photo taken before critical measurements are taken and observations made.
The Ballyfin Demesne has 614 acres of great natural beauty to explore and a range of activities for everyone to enjoy such as clay pigeon shooting, archery, horse riding, mountain biking and falconry.
Ballyfin Demesne is full of wildlife with wild birds such Kestrels, Sparrow hawks, Hen Harriers, Buzzards, long eared Owls, Cuckoo, Pheasants, Kingfishers, Swans, Cootes and Moorhens along with glimpses of Foxes, Deer, Red Squirrels and Pine Martens.
It is a testament to the vision of Krehbiel family to develop the long term sustainability, carbon neutrality and biodiversity of the estate and ensure that future generations will continue to appreciate its natural beauty as they have done over the past millennia.