A short distance from Sligo Town, nestled between the Garavoge River and Lough Gill is a special type of woodland, now rare in Ireland. Hazelwood is a small area, just 25ha of alluvial woodland, a habitat protected under the EU Habitats Directive. These are woodlands of wet places, and usually have standing water during the winter months. So you can image, they are difficult to manage commercially for forestry, yet efforts were made to do so in the past. When I mentioned to Aileen O’Sullivan, Ecologist with Coillte, that I was passing through Sligo she immediately suggested visiting Hazelwood. She arranged for a colleague of hers, Barry Rintoul, to show me the site.
Hazelwood is well hidden and not sought out by walkers for it is fairly inaccessible. Yet a narrow path leads through part of it, a humid clearing alive with hoverflies when I was there. The woodland has large moss and fern-covered boughs growing through a tangle of undergrowth. A few large undesirable Beech trees stand erect, but dead, having being ring-barked, giving the wood an old-forest feel.
The Strawberry Tree grow here, its most northerly site in Ireland. Other interesting plants recorded here include Bird Cherry, Wild Cherry, Spindle and Ivy Broomrape. Red Squirrels and Pine Marten live here, and Woodcock and Water Rail skulk around the waterlogged woodland floor.
In recent years Coillte has been working to enhance the ecological status of the woodland, as part of a EU LIFE funded programme. The key challenges are to deal with invasive and non-native species; trying to control Rhododendron and Dogwood, and taking out Sycamore and Beech trees.To be honest, I couldn’t quite get excited about the woodland, probably because my untrained eye was unable to detect the botanical nuances of the site which make it interesting. Next time I visit I must bring a botanist with me!
As today was a rest day, Josephine, Seppie, Pauli and Felix visited us for the day. We had a lovely lazy day enjoying the invigorating sea breeze at Strandhill beach. And as only mothers can celebrate properly, we popped a bottle of champagne on the beach to mark the ending of Bella’s Secondary School phase of life. Onwards and upwards – Prost!