Randalstown Forest extends to 172 hectares. It was taken over by the Forest Service from Shanes Castle Estate in 1934. Its earlier use was as the estate deer park, enclosing a herd of fallow deer roaming through open parkland and large broadleaved trees.
It is usually difficult for large groups of tourists to see wild deer. A small, 10 hectare, deer enclosure has been built. Within the enclosure, 20 to 25 fallow deer are kept, giving an excellent opportunity to quietly observe them from a raised wooden platform overlooking the enclosure.
A characteristic of fallow deer is their wide colour variations ranging from black, through chestnut or fawn with prominent white spots, to completely white. The enclosed herd display these colour variations.
National Nature Reserve
The southern end of the forest extends to the edge of Lough Neagh. Over the past 150 years the water level has been adjusted to improve drainage and provide more agricultural land.
The very steep bank at the edge of the forest marks the old shoreline of the Lough. Below the bank the exposed land has been naturally colonised by vegetation which is now gradually changing from an alder wood to ash as the land further dries out. Nearer the water's edge, younger woodland dominated by willow and alder illustrates the colonisation of land exposed only 30 ago. The National Nature Reserve was designated to protect this semi-naturally changing woodland. Stay on the path leading through the reserve to the shore.
Wildfowl Refuge Area
Lough Neagh is an internationally important location for breeding and wintering wildfowl. A major refuge area has been set up in the north east corner of the lough to protect these birds. Farrs Bay and the lagoons bordered by the forest form a vital part of this refuge.
A large hide has been built which overlooks this area. From this secluded location tremendous numbers of diving duck, including tufted, golden eye and scaup, can be seen in winter. In the shallows, mallard, teal and gadwall dabble for food. In summer the lagoons hold a variety of breeding wildfowl.
Perhaps the most spectacular are the great crested grebe and the large brightly plumaged shelduck. A series of wall charts are displayed in the hide to aid in identification of the birds.
Great emphasis has been placed on developing the forest for educational purposes including:
- comparative vegetation studies within the forest and on the lough shore
- soil sampling
- deer and wildfowl
Single or initial visits by schools or other organised groups can be conducted by a Forest Guide. A complete tour on foot will take about two hours covering two and a half miles. If needed, a tour guide must be booked beforehand.
About this forest
Between 1935 and 1940 a new commercial forest was created. The main conifer trees planted were Norway spruce, sitka spruce and European larch, interspersed with small groups of oak, elm and ash. This first rotation of trees has now been clear-felled and replaced, mostly with conifers, but with more extensive areas of broadleaves on suitable soils.
How to get there
The forest entrance is off Staffordstown Road, one mile west of Randalstown.
The car park is one mile from Lough Neagh shore.