Northern Ireland is the least wooded part of the UK and Europe, but its woodland is also being badly affected by invasive species and high levels of nitrogen deposits.
The Woodland Trust is launching a ground-breaking new report on the state of the UK’s woods and trees to help track and improve the situation.
Trees and woods are an important part of nature, playing a vital role in tackling climate change, but also improving our health and wellbeing.
However, Northern Ireland has the lowest levels of accessible woodland in the UK.
Just 59% of the population live within 4km of a wood they can walk in that is at least 20 hectares.
That compares to the UK average of 66.6%.
The amount of woodland cover in NI, compared to the UK average of 13%
Of the woodland Northern Ireland does have, only 1% that is designated as an Area of Special Scientific Interest is in favourable condition.
According to the Woodland Trust, 61% is in an unfavourable condition.
The biggest issues when it comes to adverse conditions are alien and problematic species like rhododendron, which was identified at 23% of all sites, and invasive species like bracken or scrub, found at 13% of all sites.
Nitrogen is also said to be a significant and widespread issue, with 96% of all woodlands in Northern Ireland exceeding critical levels.
In Northern Ireland, we need to reach a rate of planting 2000 hectares 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.
Ian McCurley, Director of Woodland Trust Northern Ireland, says his organisation has a key role to play, but “so does everyone”.
He added: “To be able to create new native woodlands and protect and restore our precious ancient woodland means more for nature, more for people, and more for climate change.
“We have to rapidly increase tree cover to help reach net zero carbon emissions and tackle the declines in wildlife. ”
Mr McCurley continued: “To increase tree cover in Northern Ireland, we need to pursue a mix of approaches, at a variety of scales appropriate to the landscape.
“These must include expanding native woodland, sustainable commercial plantations, agroforestry, urban trees, hedges and individual countryside trees.
“Trees will need to be planted on an unprecedented scale, but the right trees in the right places are needed.”
A number of steps are being taken, including a commitment to expanding woodland and tree cover, enhancing existing woods and trees with more work to remote invasive species and promote recover of ecosystems, gathering more data on the condition of woods and trees, and investing in local nurseries and the future.