Hillsborough Forest is set in the picturesque village of Hillsborough and is adjacent to Hillsborough Fort. Very popular with visitors and dog walkers, the forest covers an area of almost 200 acres and has Waymarked routes providing a variety of different walks to suit everyone.
The whole of the lake area is a forest wildlife sanctuary and is home to a wide variety of birds and animals. Look out for the many species of resident and over wintering waterfowl, especially swans and several varieties of duck. Two red graded forest trails allow the casual walker access around the lake and to the back of the forest past the Fox Fort rath.
Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council is embarking on a £4million project to develop Hillsborough Forest into a first-class, innovative and natural recreational area for residents and visitors.
The newly developed family attraction will be enjoyed by people of all ages and will create health opportunities for local residents and visitors by improving access to physical recreation within the forest.
The Forest Service has transferred some management responsibilities of the site to the council. The majority of the forest will remain under the management of the Forest Service, with the council taking responsibility for tourism and recreation developments only.
The project is being delivered by the council in partnership with DAERA, the Public Health Agency and the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust. It forms part of the council’s overall Hillsborough Tourism Masterplan and emerging City Deal Programme, which supports the development of Hillsborough as a key visitor destination.
Phase one developments will involve a spend by the council of approximately £1.5million, with 66% of this being funded by a grant from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA). Construction will begin before the end of April 2019 and will include sympathetic improvements to existing forest paths, an upgraded car park with 70 additional spaces (which will effectively double the size of the car park), an accessible woodland play area for children of all abilities, a new picnic area and new seating around the lake. The wider concept is still in development and we’ll make sure that the public are consulted at all relevant stages.
Construction on phase one is hoped to be completed by winter 2019 and every effort will be taken to ensure that disruption to visitors and residents is minimised.
Following comments that have been raised on social media about the development works, we would like to take this opportunity to address the concerns raised and reassure residents that the council’s aim is to enhance the natural recreational area available to both visitors and residents and not to over-develop Hillsborough Forest.
The council started consultation activity on the Hillsborough Forest development in 2016. This included:
o 2,500 leaflets delivered to BT26 residents;
o Further leaflets distributed to all retail shops in Hillsborough;
o An article published in the Ulster Star in June 2016;
o A public display of proposed plans in Hillsborough Courthouse from 4 June to 2 July 2016;
o Public engagement events in Hillsborough Forest on Thursday 23 June and Saturday 25 June 2016;
o A public display of proposed plans in Lagan Valley Island from 5 to 11 July 2016;
o Questionnaires distributed at all events and made available during public displays;
o Promotion of this consultation activity posted on all council social media platforms.
The results showed very strong support for upgrading the existing footpaths, strong support for increased car parking and very strong support for general recreation activities - including a children’s play area. These results were published in a consultation summary document and were used to develop plans for phase one as detailed above. The first design concept of phase one was publicised on the council website and social media sites in February 2017, and council agreed the Outline Business Case in summer 2017.
The council conducted a public survey in August 2018 on introducing a café to the forest. The results of this survey will be published soon on the council website. The council has not made a decision on the introduction of a café, as work continues behind the scenes to develop this concept.
We’re working with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, the Woodland Trust, DAERA Forest Service and Dfl Rivers to protect wildlife within the forest. We’ve completed an Arboricultural Survey, a Bat Roost Potential Survey and a Flood Risk Assessment and complied with all statutory regulations in order to protect the forest’s natural habitants.
The whole of the lake area is a forest wildlife sanctuary and is home to a wide variety of birds and animals. Look out for the many species of resident and over wintering waterfowl, especially swans and several varieties of duck. Two red graded forest trails, allow the casual walker access around the lake and to the back of the forest past the Fox Fort rath.
After your walk, The Vintage Tea Rooms are ideal for a coffee and a natter!