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Palace NeighbourWood Park – connecting a community with their environment

A new NeighbourWood in Roscommon exemplifies a local community’s determination to reconnect with nature. Noel Kennedy, Forestry Development Officer describes the genesis of the project and how it is working out.

Elphin is an old cathedral town in north Roscommon. Like so many rural Irish towns and villages it exudes a strong community spirit with the betterment of local people’s lives at its core.

In 2018, having been introduced to the concept of a NeighbourWood at a local Teagasc forestry meeting and convinced that this was an ideal fit for Elphin, a local community enterprise group set about transforming the idea of a new community woodland into reality.

Having obtained the blessing and a long term lease from Roscommon County Council on a six acre plot of land beside the restored 18th century windmill, the group worked with local forester Shane Beirne to plan a new community woodland supported under the DAFM NeighbourWood scheme.

Adjacent to but integral to the land mature Scots pine, Lime and Horse Chestnut trees line a remnant of what was a historic private walkway from the Bishop’s Palace built in the early 18th century by  Edward Synge, Bishop of Elphin – author of the celebrated “Synge Letters” now curated by the Trinity Library.

Planting of the newly named Palace NeighbourWood Park began in spring 2019 with a range of trees including many native species. Almost 5,000 Oak, Scots pine, Birch, Alder, Hazel, Rowan, Lime and Holly trees were planted by a team of volunteers led by Sean Neary and Barry Beirne following a carefully planned design incorporating areas of unplanted land.

Above: Native Scots pine - over a dozen native tree species are planted in the NeighbourWood

These unplanted areas termed Areas of Biodiversity Enhancement or ABEs form an essential element of planting a new NeighbourWood. 30% of the area is allocated to ABEs including an element of retained habitats and the remainder for open spaces.

In Palace NeighbourWood Park the open spaces were designed to accommodate both environmental and practical functions. This includedproviding public access along a network of stone and grass pathways, rest stops at picnic tables and seating and information signage.

Since then work on developing the park has continued apace. As well as maintaining the trees, ponds have been constructed to encourage wetland and aquatic habitats with support from the Local Authorities Water Communities Fund. In addition, led by Hannah Mole, Leader funding supported the planting of over five hundred pollinator plants including Honeysuckle, Crab apple, Dog rose, Whitethorn, and a range of fruit trees with wild meadow flowers sown along the pathways.

Education opportunities

An outstanding feature of Palace NeighbourWood Park is the opportunity it presents local schools for their young students to learn about nature and the environment in their own community woodland on their doorstep – and this is exactly what has been happening with regular school visits.

Later this year students from Elphin Community College, following a Heritage Council Award to become Heritage Keepers will be using Palace NeighbourWood Park as a living classroom.

Sensory Garden

Presently, the focus of attention for the Park is the ongoing construction of a sensory garden which will be planted with different trees and plants reflecting the senses of texture, taste and sound. Although not part of the NeighbourWood scheme, the wellbeing, peace and tranquility the new garden will offer will perfectly complement the many positive physical and mental impacts of the neighbouring woodland environment.

Community spirit

With the new Palace NeighbourWood Park have come visitors – both young and not so young, from near and far - to experience the young growing woodland environment, a myriad of environmental features and a space for time and tranquility.

Palace NeighbourWood Park exemplifies a local community’s determination to reconnect with nature by utilising State supports for the betterment of that community.

The ongoing commitment and dedication by a small and largely volunteer workforce supplemented by the ongoing involvement of local FAS and CE workers is a testament to this cross community spirit and above all a belief that they are doing the right thing at the right time for the people of Elphin and the environment in which they live.

Above: Roscommon IFA group visiting Palace NeighbourWood Park

NeighbourWood scheme

Since 2001, the scheme has been supporting both public and private landowners, working in partnership with local communities to develop attractive close-to-home woodland amenities or ‘neighbourwoods’ for public use and enjoyment.  

A neighbourwood can be a stand-alone amenity, or can be linked into other amenities and attractions in the area.

Administered by DAFM, NeighbourWood Establishment and Enhancement elements fund the silvicultural enhancement of existing woodland with an NeighbourWood Facilities element funding the installation and upgrade of recreational facilities. 

The NeighbourWood scheme offers up to 85% of eligible costs subject to a maximum of €5000/ha for Establishment (plus an additional fencing allowance), €5000/ha for Enhancement and €5,000/ha for the Facilities element.

For more information on the NeighbourWood scheme and application process from Teagasc Forestry see NeighbourWood Scheme                  

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