Belvoir forest trees cut down after outbreak of disease
Thousands of trees are being cut down in a Belfast forest following the discovery of a fungus-like disease.
Many larch trees in Belvoir Forest have become affected by an outbreak of what is known as "sudden oak death".
About 6,500 trees are being cut down to reduce the risk of the disease spreading to other woodland species.
Belvoir forest remains open but visitors are being urged to follow the guidance on signs at the affected sites.
The disease is Phytophthora ramorum and is known in the USA as "sudden oak death" because different strains cause disease and mortality among North American native oak and tanoak species.
However, the strains of P. ramorum found in Britain have had little effect on British native oak species.
It is sometimes referred to in Britain as Larch tree disease and Japanese larch disease because larch trees are particularly susceptible, and large numbers have been affected.
The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) said that the landscape in Belvoir forest will be "changed significantly".
A spokesperson for the Forest Service said: "Action to fell approximately 6,500 larch trees is under way as this is the most effective way of reducing the risk of the disease spreading to other trees and gardens in the Belfast area.
"Consultation has been carried out with key stakeholders as part of the planning process in advance of the felling operation.''
The Forest Service said there was no risk to humans or animals from the disease.
A spokesperson for Northern Ireland Environment Agency said the forest contained some of the oldest trees in Ireland.
''These trees contain a wealth of biodiversity interest providing a historical and cultural link to our past.
"Some of these trees were present when Belfast was little more than a village. Many of these veteran trees are growing within the larch plantations that need to be felled.
"In many ways, this felling should ultimately benefit the veteran trees and we have worked closely with Forest Service to ensure that the felling of disease affected trees is carried out as sympathetically as possible to minimise the potential threat to the veterans."