Monthly Archives: April 2020

Improving Your Garden for Wildlife – Planting for Pollinators

Improving Your Garden for Wildlife – Planting for Pollinators

Improving Your Garden for Wildlife – Planting for Pollinators

Blog by: Lisa Critchley

No matter how small your garden is, or even if you do not have a garden, you can still improve your outdoor space for wildlife. If you only have a windowsill, you can still get a window box and plant it up to encourage insects and other beasties. For example, at my house in Belfast, I have cherry, rowan and oak trees in flowerpots on my windowsill (which do need planting out soon!). I salvaged wild garlic bulbs, which were exposed from construction work at a work site a couple of years ago, and planted them in the tree pots and I bought crocuses to bring some spring colour to the pots. Balanced on top of my oil tank, I have mint, oregano, rosemary, thyme, chives, hyacinths from a few years ago and a couple of plants I chose to attract pollinators into the yard. I also bought a hanging basket (that was reduced to throw out with dying plants in it but look how healthy it is!) and added lavender to it, again to encourage pollinators to visit. This goes to show, you really can add a lot of life to a seemingly lifeless area! Please note, I did all of this to my yard over the last few years, not recently.

For the duration of lockdown, I have been living at my boyfriend’s house and his garden is another perfect example of an outside space that needs improving for wildlife. The area in which I can plant is minimal, as you can see from this picture and the accompanying video, but I have still managed to plant for pollinators.

You too can improve your garden or outside space for wildlife by planting for pollinators. Watch the video to see how or read this article!

First you need to work out what kind of environment the area you are planting into is like, is it sunny, damp, shaded? This will help you to choose which plants to buy. I had a limited choice of plants to buy as, due to lockdown, I could only access them at garage shops and supermarkets, but they still had good plants available. During my essential shop, and following government guidelines on social distancing, I bought a verbena, a calibrachoa and a lavender. I used the RHS website to find out if they are good for pollinators when I was at the shop. I also planted a hyacinth that was going over: they are bulb plants so come up every year and need not be thrown out once they stop flowering. You will need to prepare the area before planting: weed out any undesirable plants and dig through the soil to aerate and loosen it. I had to improvise for tools as I did not have a trowel and so used an old spoon, which did the job perfectly. Next, dig the hole for the plant making sure it is deep enough to bring the base of the plant stem level with the soil and wide enough to allow loose soil around the roots. Gently squeeze the plant pot and take out the plant by carefully holding the base of the stem. Next, lightly tease the roots and then place the plant in the hole. Fill the hole back in with soil and press down firmly. Remember to give your plants a good watering once they are planted and keep an eye on moisture levels in the lovely weather we have been having. Do let us tag us in your planting adventures and tell us what wildlife you have encouraged into your garden. Before I planted these, I had only seen one bumblebee in the garden but within a day of planting them, a hoverfly, honeybee and several more bumblebees have visited!

I want to say a huge thank you to our funders, Heritage Lottery Fund, for making this video and all our continued work possible during the lockdown. We at Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership are very fortunate to still be able to reach out to the public to continue to educate, inform and upskill them in natural and built heritage around Lough Neagh.

Improving Your Garden for Wildlife – Planting for Pollinators

As we find ourselves stuck at home, we begin to look around us to see what we can improve. How about improving your garden or outdoor space for wildlife? Watch this short video to find out how you can transform even the smallest of outdoor spaces into wildlife friendly areas!

Posted by Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership on Tuesday, 28 April 2020

 

A Mental Map of Lough Neagh – Dr Liam Campbell

A Mental Map of Lough Neagh – Dr Liam Campbell

A Mental Map of Lough Neagh

Blog by: Dr Liam Campbell

I made some connections this week between some great scholars of the landscape in the west of Ireland and Lough Neagh. Firstly,  I must say that I have always loved maps and it is ironic that one of the greatest map makers on this island, Tim Robinson died last week following his late wife Mairead on the list of fatalities of Covid 19 after having to move back to London from his beloved Connemara.  He was to me a hero,  in his ability to capture the “ immensities in which this little place is wrapped” and the richness of even “ the tiniest fragment of reality.” I would not put him into any category as he was at once an historical geographer, ecologist, environmentalist, natural historian, botanist and translator.

I wish to connect his work to an enlightened project in 2008  by the then University of Ulster and four men John McKenna, Rory J. Quinn, Daniel J. Donnelly and  Andrew G. Cooper. This too had a major influence on my life and research and indeed I think it is no accident that I now work at Lough Neagh and live beside Rory Quinn ! In research completed by the Centre for Coastal and Marine Research, based at the University of Ulster, a mental map of the bed of Lough Neagh compiled from interviews with local fishermen was compared to maps produced by “science-based” techniques. The paper that they produced is one of very few that has attempted to compare Local Ecological Knowledge with scientifically acquired data. The scientists at the time had the wisdom to take on the likes of Danny Donnelly to interview the fishing families of the lough and to glean their wisdom of the place and the “ tiniest fragment of reality “ as Robinson did so well in Connemara.  There is a timeless wisdom that seems to transcend historical events and epochs. It is difficult to define yet many know and recognise it instinctively. It has been called variously Local Ecological Knowledge, (LEK) ; Traditional Ecological or Environmental Knowledge, (TEK) or Indigenous Ecological Knowledge (IEK) but in a sense this doesn’t matter as what matters is the story of the place. The fishermen of  Lough Neagh Know  these stories. Constant attention to details of nature, memories of the way the land and water looks and stories told by other travellers and fishermen about the region are used together with the movements of the animals and the sky maps plotting the moon and the stars.

The comparison revealed that the mental map was highly accurate even though none of the fishermen had ever dived to the lough bed. It was intuited by the fishermen who having fished the lough, for as long as they know, though they had never seen, the differing textures and substances on its floor. I now have the privilege to work at Lough Neagh and this local  ecological knowledge has and continues to inspire me “The accuracy of the Lough Neagh map is attributed to the fact that is a compendium of the knowledge of several generations rather than an individual perception” (McKenna et al., 2008). The article argues that the accuracy is prompted by economic self-interest and that high accuracy may be a characteristic of the mental maps held by artisanal exploiters of natural resources. Is this not simple self-sufficiency on the part of the indigenous population? Exploitation of natural resources seems modern capitalistic twist on an indigenous way of life that was managed in a sustainable way for self-interest?

Andrews one of Ireland’s experts on maps, claims that Ireland was too small to have developed a map-making tradition (Andrews in Foster, 1997: 199) and there are no known early native Irish made maps of Ireland. But it is the outsider who needs a map in order to occupy it, get around and own the local landscape and the image of that landscape. The local people did not need one as they had their own way to get around and know their own place. Recently Rosie Ryan of Coyle’s Cottage fame took me to the site of where an enormous ancient ash had fallen and was to tell me that it was a marker for the fishermen of old long before GPS. It reminded me of one of the first times that I was out on half decker crabbing off Fanad in Donegal and as the men set the pots and plotted them on the GPS, I asked what they would have done before the advent of this technology and the reply was to the effect that, they never would have left sight of the shore beforehand and knew the water from the markers in the land. Possibly we all got too greedy and moved to far from the land.

 As the poet Eavan Boland says, “ the science of cartography is limited “ (Boland cited in Smyth, 2003: 58). In the Gaelic such maps were either unknown or not formally used and territories and peoples were administered mainly by words and living images associated with manuscripts, memory, local lore and myth.

Most of us carry a mental map of our place in this world. We consciously and unconsciously engage in mental discourses with the places in which we live and also the places we encounter in our travels. We make subjective comparisons between “our” place on the one hand and neighbouring places and the “outside world” on the other hand. We construct real and imaginary boundaries between our place and that of our neighbours. The French philosopher of space and matter, Bachelard has written:

Each of us should make a surveyor’s map of his lost fields and meadows … in this way we cover the universe with drawings we have lived. These drawings need not be exact. But they need to be written according to the shapes of our inner landscapes (cited in McFarlane, 2007: 232).

Stories occur in places such as Lough Neagh.  For oral cultures the spoken word was everything. They mix facts and metaphors in order to tell the story and engage the listener. They imagine the land and create and recreate it in their minds. It reminds me of what Ishmael said in Moby Dick (1851, 1998) about the island of Kokovoko: “It is not down on any map; true places never are”. The earliest sort of maps would have been story maps: spoken cartographies describing landscapes and events that took place in them. Maps such as these could be learned, amended and passed on between people and down through the generations as they are around the shore of Lough Neagh.

One way to build community is through stories. Over time, small bits of knowledge about the region accumulate among local residents in the form of stories. They are remembered in the community and even what is unusual is not lost or becomes irrelevant.

Losing the names of these places and events is a step in losing respect. Knowing the names is a first step in regaining a connection. Communities sharing such knowledge and working together are likely to engage in more sustainable ways of working that builds up local renewable assets for the future. At the end of the 2008 article on mental mapping it states

“…A pessimistic scenario is that continuing failure to recruit young men will ultimately lead to the end of the fishery, and with it the mental map of the lough that has been transmitted down through the generations. This outlook may be unnecessarily gloomy. The mental map will survive as long as the occupation it serves survives. Although numbers of fishermen may decline still further, there will probably always be a market for eels, and consequently fishing will continue on Lough Neagh. It seems likely that for the foreseeable future the fishermen will continue to rely heavily on the mental map of the lough handed down to them from the past. “

We are lucky that so much work has been done about the Lough Neagh stories but the sheer immensity of the place means that the work following  the likes of Tim Robinson is never finished here.

The full title of the article and that abstract read as

Accurate Mental Maps as an Aspect of Local Ecological Knowledge (LEK): A Case Study from Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland

 A mental map of the substrate of Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland, compiled from interviews with local fishermen, is compared with maps produced by science-based techniques. The comparison reveals that the mental map is highly accurate. This finding contrasts with the spatial distortion characteristic of the classic mental map. The accuracy of the Lough Neagh map is attributed to the fact that it is a compendium of the knowledge of several generations, rather than an individual perception. Individual distortions are filtered out, and accuracy is promoted by economic self-interest. High accuracy may be characteristic of the mental maps held by artisanal exploiters of natural resources.

It can be accessed in full at:

https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/unf_research/34/

Bog blog – Dr Liam Campbell

Bog blog – Dr Liam Campbell

Bog blog

Blog by Dr Liam Campbell

When I was a child growing up in Donegal, a phrase that was commonly used to sum up someone’s stubbornness, rudeness, or more often stupidity was, “You can take the man out of the bog but you cannot take the bog out of the man.” I don’t buy this any more, and thought not a scientist of the wonders of peat and bog, I began to wonder why culturally we have denigrated our bogs and peatlands to simply a resource to be burned or drained ?

Many years ago, I was lucky to interview Prof Mike Baillie ( QUB )  on the shores of Lough Neagh re his work on of dendrochronology on Ireland’s long oak tree ring chronology and his identifying the significance for global environmental history of growth reductions in tree rings. He has since tied these to various global catastrophic events such as volcanic eruptions etc . All this research originating in the peat around Lough  Neagh. Later I was to meet another hero, Dr John Feehan (UCD )  co-author of The Bogs of Ireland and these scientists were to encourage and inspire me. Now lucky enough to work in  place surrounded by so  much of the ‘dark  stuff ‘  (the title of  Donald Murray’s book on peat ) it is a pervading and wonderous presence .

  The study of the nature of the bogs of Ireland is  interwoven with the story of human presence and human perception of that nature in Ireland. The bogs are a kind of palimpsest, superimposed forms and places that testify to the complex interaction of nature and human culture. This attitude goes back as long way as far as I can see. Even in the 12th century the cleric and writer Gerald of Wales wrote,

 The inhabitants of Ireland do not have affinity with castles as a means of defence ; instead they make the woods their stronghold and the bogs their stinking  trenches.

Giraldus Cambrensis ( Gerald of Wales 1185 )

Later in the sixteenth century, Edmund Spencer the poet and writer who reflected the Elizabethan world was to write,

Ireland is a wasteland in need of improvement that is flat, empty and inscribable  full of wolf and woodkerne

Edmund Spenser 1595- A View of the Present State of  Ireland

It is interesting to add the wolf and the woods to this debate on bogs as they are all demeaned and demonised literally and animals and places to be eliminated.

For Elizabethan colonists, the prospect (or actual view) of bogland from the English Pale was, as it were, the ground-level reality of Irish nature, very different from the colonial prospect (or anticipated view) of Ireland from England. Gerard Boate’s Ireland’s Natural History (1652) writes of the reason for the extent of our bogs: “now wonder if a country, famous for laziness as Ireland is, abound with them.”

 There is indeed a long history of colonial writing on the nature and culture of bogs.

In 1685 William King – later to become Archbishop of Dublin – published ‘ Of the Bogs and Loughs of Ireland ‘ in Philosophical Transactions, in which he  calls Irish bogs ‘ infamous’ and equates extensive bogland with barbarity. The bogs offered an advantage to resistant natives, who, King believed, deliberately built near them: the bogs ‘are a shelter and a refuge to tories [ dispossessed natives turned outlaws], and thieves, who can hardly live without them. They take advantage then to them to have the country unpassable, and the fewer strangers came near them, they lived the easyer. The bogs are very inconvenient to us  ‘.

It is easy to blame a colonial mentality towards the bogs but a mentality has come down through the years. Think of the phrase “ Drain the swamp “  used in American by Donald Trump !

The science and wonder of the bog is magnificent and has been well recorded of late. There have  been some iconic books on the nature of our bogs with the likes of David Bellamy’s The Wild Boglands (1986) to the monumental study by John Feehan et al. in The Bogs of Ireland (1996).I’d also recommend Michael Viney’s Ireland – A Smithsonian Natural History (2003) for its chapter on the Brown Mantle  ( a phrase I love ) and Padraic Fogarty’s Whittled Away – Ireland’s Vanishing Nature (2017 )   But little has been written ( with the exception of  Derek Gladwin’s  Contentious Terrains: Boglands, Ireland, Postcolonial Gothic ) about how the political and geographical history of boglands are represented in modern and contemporary Irish literature and culture and how this impacts on present day attitudes.

The bog has been a subtle theme in modern Irish history, extending to political and cultural issues as well as permeating social and economic ones. There is a  picture richer in detail and more complex in its development than traditional images of the bog question in Ireland would suggest. It is  timely, given the current political and environmental debates and in the  exploration of how colonization and its legacy overlap in new forms of “colonization”.  Nature and culture in Ireland finds its debate par excellence in the story of the bog.

Boglands invite a whole academy of sciences to their study, but the cultural element is often neglected. You cannot have one without the other. If we add the threatened ecology of bogs to the resources of literature, archaeology, and other elements of culture the possibilities are limitless for their survival.  The arts and sciences do not meet often enough. There are few other substances that can join the built, natural, and cultural elements of our heritage as much as our bogs. Joseph Beuys, one of the world’s most influential post-war avant-garde artists described our bogs as, “the liveliest elements in the European landscape, not just from the point of view of flora, fauna, birds and animals, but as storing pieces of life, mystery and chemical change, preservers of ancient history.”  These contentious terrains can throw a light on the past and help us look to the ( uncertain )  future.

The way we  look at how the bogs, the moor, the moss or whatever it’s called locally, affects me and others and has done through the ages but as we enter a crucial age for the planets survival we can all learn to love the bog that has too often been denigrated, feared and despised. The bogs of Ireland are our Amazon forest and a library of knowledge ( re climate change, archaeology, culture, biology etc )  and preservation in so many ways. I hope we can  uncover a picture richer in detail and more complex in its development than traditional images of the bog question in Ireland would suggest.

Few do it better that Seamus Heaney who in many ways as a poet has done as  much for the science and wonder of the bog as have the scientific community. But both need each other if we are to give the bogs the respect they deserve.

 

“ We have no prairies / To slice a big sun at evening –  / Everywhere the eye concedes to / Encroaching horizon, /  Is wooded into the cyclop’s eye /  Of the tarn. Our unfenced country /  Is bog that keeps crusting /  Between the sights of the sun. /  They’ve taken the skeleton /  Of the Great Irish Elk /  Out of the peat, set it up, /  An astounding crate full of air. /  Butter sunk under /  More than a hundred years /  Was recovered salty and white. /  The ground itself is kind, black butter / Melting and opening underfoot,  / Missing its last definition /  By millions of years. /  They’ll never dig coal here, /  Only the waterlogged trunks /  Of great firs, soft as pulp. /  Our pioneers keep striking /  Inwards and downwards, /  Every layer they strip /  Seems camped on before. /  The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage. /  The wet centre is bottomless.

Seamus Heaney – Bogland

 

Planet Earth 2- Episode 2 (Mountains) – Aine Mallon

Planet Earth 2- Episode 2 (Mountains) – Aine Mallon

Planet Earth 2- Episode 2 (Mountains)

Guest Blog by: Aine Mallon

Introduction

The mountains provide a range of habitats for a diversity of different species due to their remoteness and tranquillity, in fact, the Himalayas have been described as one of the most hostile places on earth. In this report I will discuss the impact of life for the species spoken about and how many of their actions for survival relate to the similar reality people all over the world experience too. Also, I will discuss how the way these animals (and plants) have adapted to the changes of their environment and work together to be able to survive. There will be a discussion on how these changes to their environments are as a result of climate change and many human activities adding to this issue.

The sun-baked mountains of Arabian Peninsula

This mountain is home to a range to species but, our focus is on the Nubian ibex thriving here (they are known as mountain climbers and adults are well adapted for climbing mountains). They live in groups on the cliffs with other mothers and their young to prevent social deprivation between each other. They choose to raise their young on the steepest cliffs to provide safety for them, but it comes at a price. There is no water source available at these heights on the cliffs, meaning that they must descend into the valley which is 300m below them and risk their young’s life travelling down such a steep cliff for water. We see this in our world today, where mothers in Kenya and African children must help their mothers to gather water from their only source of water. Many people in developing countries must walk an average 3.5 miles to collect this water.

Ibex

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04fgpzv/p04fgpc8

 

However, we as a nation have come together to help people suffering, many charities such as trocaire and events such as World Vision’s Global sponsoring walk or running marathons. This is done annually to continue raising money and awareness to bring a more equipped and cleaner water source for drinking for those who need it. Throughout our lives, we have witnessed different communities come together to help fight this crisis others face. From this, we know that the communities today are working together to battle the coronavirus. To show our support, to help the NHS, we do all we can by staying at home to prevent the spread of the disease. We also know the farming community has been working effortlessly to supply the supermarkets with adequate food supply for society. We are showing that coronavirus can be slowed down by following the guidelines and support our key workers.

The Alps

During the winter months there appears to be a food shortage in this region and species such as the golden eagle will scan the slopes for food. This is not an easy task as there is much competition for food, and although the eagle is a bigger bird when it finds food, crows will be persistent to steal her meal and other bigger eagles may try to steal it. We do not face food shortages in society, but what we do see recently because of COVID-19 is a lot of panic buying. We have witnessed shoppers buying many more of the same item needed particularly toilet roll and baby formula for their food. This is resulting in the more vulnerable, elderly people of society shopping after the mad rush of panic buyers and being left with none of the necessities they need.

 

However, as stated in the previous paragraph, many people have volunteered to go out shopping for those who cannot go out during this time. We have also seen stores such as Iceland open a few hours earlier only to allow in the elderly that need to shop without the chaos of others.

Mountains of North America

Here grizzly bears will hibernate until springtime when they emerge however it was shown that, although it is rare, in these mountains’ avalanches can occur whilst they are hibernating. However, bears prepare their dens for such events, for example they ensure there’s two separate exits, keeping numerous breathing holes open into their den, and making methodical checks up to the surface occasionally. Like bears, people in society prepare their homes for all safety measures, for example in areas where it is prone to flooding. These defences include planting vegetation to retain water and constructing channels (floodway’s) and more modern flood defences can include dams.

bears

As we have seen from the grizzly bear, we act the same by preparing our homes from protection of natural events. As COVID-19 is a new situation which many of us haven’t faced before, we are learning as a society of how to take more precautions. These have included staying 2 metres (6 feet) away from others when out in public, continuously washing our hands and avoiding handling money, so paying by contactless card when it is possible.

The Rockies

Here seasonal change is swift and dramatic with temperatures dropping to -65°C. The bobcat is a distinctive creature which remains active during wintertime. As it is difficult for the bobcat to find prey in the deep snow, it is forced to use the river for a food source. Due to the volcanic hot springs of the area, this is what heats the river and allows the animals that come out during winter, such as the coyote too, to find prey. Here we can see the environment working together to sustain the life of living things during the harsher winter months. How we can link this to our own lives, is if we look at the environmental impact from COVID-19. This change is slowing things down for people, but mother earth is healing whilst the rest of the world slows down. Unique changes in our world from reducing traffic, airplanes and tourism are allowing for a cleaner and healthier planet that we live on.

Impact from climate change on the mountains

Of all the mountain areas I have discussed, climate change from human activities is destroying their habitats. In the Andes, human encroachment is changing the highest summits. Whilst in the Rockies, rising temperatures is shortening winter hibernation and stifling the growth of food plants, negatively affecting the food chain. Also, in the Andes, rising temperatures are resulting in the glaciers shortening. As the snow retreats further and further up these peaks, it is limiting space for wildlife and a species that is declining greatly because of this is the snow leopard. Primarily they are an endangered species because of poaching and habitat loss, with a limited food supply for them in their environment.

Conclusion

High mountains are a bleak habitat for animal life. Food is scarce and the climate is very cold. Mammals living here have adapted to survive the bitter cold and most have thick woolly fur. It has been made evident that animals thriving in the mountains have adjusted their lifestyle to survive here and that it is possible to do so. Like the animal kingdom, we can work together as a community to help one another during this difficult time of COVID-19. Unaware of when the guidelines for lock down will be lifted, as discussed throughout the report, it is important that we care for those more vulnerable and hit by the disease and support our NHS team during this uncertain time.

 

Planet Earth 2 – Episode 2 (Mountains) – Aoibhe McCarron

Planet Earth 2 – Episode 2 (Mountains) – Aoibhe McCarron

Planet Earth 2 – Episode 2 (Mountains)

Guest Blog by: Aoibhe McCarron

This episode of Planet Earth II was all about mountains and the animals that make their lives there. We start off in the Arabian Peninsula where we follow the ibex family. The ibex choose to live the majority of their lives and raise their young on the steepest cliffs where predators have no access. The ibex are specially adapted to be able to find their footing on the steepest mountain sides, however this comes with consequences. It’s hard to access food and they must go down the mountain to do so, where they are faced with predators and the risk of falling. Because of this the ibex only descend when essential. Once the ibex descend, they are immediately met with a predator; a fox. The ibex split up and run different directions making it hard for the fox to pick a target, and they run back up the mountain where it’s simply too steep for the fox to follow.  This reflects humans in isolation, we take the risk of venturing out for food very rarely and stay in isolation (like the steep cliff tops) where the virus,( like the predator in a way), can’t find us.

In the Alps, the golden eagle scans the mountains with its specialised vision for food, food is scarce in the snowy mountains so the eagles are adapted to spot it from very far away and dive for prey at up to 150 miles an hour. This speed, second only to the osprey, helps them out-fly any other predators that might have spotted their meal. Once the eagle has found her prey, it isn’t long until other eagles start to gather. She must fight them off for her share, and eventually leaves the rest of the carcass for the other eagles. This is not dissimilar to people fighting over resources during the lockdown, perhaps like the eagle, we need to realise when we’ve had our share so that there are enough resources for others as well.

In North America, we meet the bobcat. His mountain habitat is covered in a thick layer of snow, so most of his prey is not where it normally is. The environment has changed overnight, so the bobcat must come up with new strategies to find prey and survive. First he uses his highly adapted sense of hearing to detect the sound of movement bouncing off boulders under the snow, this is a special adaptation to the snowy landscape. The bobcat catches a mouse this way, but it isn’t enough.  He then tries out hunting in the water, which isn’t the bobcat’s forte, in this he is unsuccessful, but he comes up with something ingenious. He travels down the river to where the steam rises and heats the trees attracting all kinds of animals, and successfully catches a squirrel. As he’s adapted to the pine forest, he can quickly shoot up the tree and catch his prey. I think what we humans can take from this, is that we need to think outside the box and adapt quickly to new ways of living to combat the ongoing situation.

 

Planet Earth 2 – Episode 2 (Mountains) – Michael McCoy

Planet Earth 2 – Episode 2 (Mountains) – Michael McCoy

Planet Earth 2 – Episode 2 (Mountains)

Guest Blog by: Michael McCoy

In the second episode of Planet Earth II, the main focus was on the adaptations of animals to mountain ranges. With high altitudes the air is very thin and therefore would be difficult to breathe. However, nature always finds a way with many species adapting both physically and behaviourally to some of the most hostile environments in the world.

In the Arabian peninsula, you can find some of the steepest mountain ranges around. One particular species has used this environment to their advantage. The Nubian Ibex, a type of mountain goat, have adapted to the harsh conditions by having small nimble feet, allowing them to be excellent climbers while also providing them with the ability to walk on very thin cliffsides. As there are many predators on ground level, the Ibex raise their young near the top of the mountains. Unfortunately, there is never any standing water available due to the high gradient. Therefore, the mountain goat must make their way down to level ground to drink and this can make them vulnerable to predators. The Ibex moves in herds and if a predator is identified the species scatter back up the mountain to both evade and confuse the impending threat. Humans have been able to adapt to steep mountainous terrain by the use of climbing gear. We use ropes to be able to pull ourselves upwards. Instead of continuously moving up and down a mountain for water like the Ibex, humans have created containers to hold large amounts of water to be stored and so descend further down less frequently if living in mountainsides.

In Europe, the biggest mountain range is the Alps. This mountainside is covered in snow due to a lack of heat at higher altitudes. One species that has greatly adapted to these extreme weather conditions is the Golden Eagle. These majestic birds soar high in the sky with little effort due to their large wingspan. The Golden Eagle has eyes that can see up to 2 miles away which is helpful for foraging for food. Due to limited resources, the eagles mostly rely on carcasses and will fight each other for food. Only the most competitive individuals will survive. Humans can not see as far as the golden eagles and so have invented telescopes and binoculars to observe from a distance. Humans forage for food together instead of competing against each other to help as many survive as possible in the harsh conditions of the mountain.

Grizzly bears reside in the avalanche prone mountains of the Rockies in North America. They have thick winter coats to keep warm and hibernate in caves when food is in low supply. In springtime, the bears emerge along with newly born cubs. They travel further down the mountain into the valleys as the snow would melt quickly. The bears scratch up against trees to get rid of their winter coats while also leaving their scent to warn other bears of their presence. Thus reducing the likelihood of competition for food. Although humans do not possess thick fur, they have created layers of clothing from the fur of animals to keep themselves warm. When the temperature increases in spring they just simply have to remove the layer.

While the Grizzly Bears are hibernating during winter, Bobcats are still active in the snow hunting for nourishment. They have very sensitive hearing and detect prey through the sound of snow being crushed by animal feet. The Bobcat’s limbs have evolved to jump several feet in order to catch its prey from a distance. In order to conserve energy, this species needs to choses its prey carefully and sometimes be creative in order to succeed. Humans have thought of many elaborate techniques to catch prey. Humans created weapons to kill prey and made traps to lure and catch prey when they are not in the area or asleep. As humans have evolved through increased brain size which is able to store more information and rapid learning, we by far one of the most intelligent species on Earth, able to outsmart any prey.

However, Human activity has even made an adverse impact even on the highest of mountainous peaks. For example in the Rocky mountains there is a rise in temperature due to global warming as greenhouse gas emissions have rose sharply in the past few decades. This has resulted in a shortening in the hibernation period and stunted growth of vital food plants. Glaciers in the Andes have shrunk by 30% along with the overall snow line retreating uphill. This is causing unique habitats to become lost along with the associated plants and animals.

One of the rarest mammals on the planet is the Snow Leopard. They live a life in solitude and rarely interact with each other. However, these large cats have developed a unique form of communication by rubbing their face against the rocks, leaving a distinct smell to inform each other of their location. Even in times of isolation, Snow Leopards are still able to adapt and survive, which is very reminiscent of life today with people staying at home during this pandemic. It is important that we, like the snow leopard can reduce social contact and to maintain survival.

The common factor shared by all these species is that they have adjusted to their individual ecological niches, making the best out of the resources available. Humans too can adapt to the current COVID – 19 crisis by following the correct protocol in order to survive.

Planet Earth Two: Episode Two (Mountains) – Sophie Gregson

Planet Earth Two: Episode Two (Mountains) – Sophie Gregson

Planet Earth Two: Episode Two (Mountains)

Guest Blog by: Sophie Gregson

There are only fourteen mountains on earth that are over eight thousand metres tall and they are all located in the Himalayas. Lethally cold and scarred by blizzard they are among the most hostile places on Earth, only a few specially evolved animals are able to survive here. Snow leopards are one of the free animals able to survive here, in order to do that they have had to adapt both their behaviour and their bodies. Life at extreme altitudes has shaped some of the toughest animals on the planet.

Snow Leopard

https://www.lifegate.com/people/news/himalaya-rising-temperatures-snow-leopard-at-risk

The mountains of the Arabian Pensinsula are only a fraction of the height of the Himalayas however this doesn’t mean they aren’t as equally hostile: they are mind boggling steep making it nearly impossible to get a foothold in some places. The Nubia ibex have decided to make the hostile environment their home, they use the steepest cliffs to raise their young. The steep cliffs mean the young are far out of reach of any predators, however these steep slopes can cause issues for the young. The slopes are so steep there is no standing water available, in order to source water the ibex family must travel down three hundred metres into the valley. The mother’s goes first selecting what route is safest for her young, the mothers may be accomplished mountaineers but the young are still trying to get the hang of the extremely steep slopes. Just like humans the Nubia Ibex feel the need to protect and provide for their young. Mothers just like the Nubia Ibex will seek out the best possible place to raise their young somewhere that can give their children security and access to resources even if they have to travel a certain distance mothers will do this to protect their off spring. They both share a sense of responsibility and the need to protect.

Ibex

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04fgpzv/p04fgpc8

The highest peaks in Europe are the alps, during winter food is scarce here. The golden eagle will spend every daylight hour searching the mountains for food. She can search over one hundred kilometres in just one day, she can spot prey from over three kilometres away making her a deadly predator. Her biggest worry when finding found is other golden eagles, a find such as a dead fox can attract eagles for miles if she wishes to eat she must fight for it. Only the strongest eagle will win the fight to eat. This shows that when times get tough the animal world and human world are alike, some people will see it as a free for all. During our time with covid 19 has been a clear example of how people can be selfish and end up hoarding food they do not need. Leaving the vulnerable to suffer, it’s every time you go into a supermarket trying to get one packet of pasta or a bar of soap and it’s impossible to find any. Just like the animals we have been fighting each other for food and basic necessities to survive, with some people literally fighting each other.

Golden Eagle

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2200804-neanderthals-may-have-prized-golden-eagle-claws-for-symbolic-value/

Grizzly bears descend into the valleys where spring comes earliest, the rockies seasonal change is swift and dramatic turning from white to green in just a few days. The good times do not last in these mountains so the bears are forced to feed as fast as they can. During this time the mother bear teaches her young valuable skills such as how to remove their thick winter coat. Humans don’t have this need however just like the bears parents must also teach their children valuable life skills such as self hygiene, which is just as important and similar to a bear shedding its unclean thick winter coat.

Bear

Marion Vollborn/SWNS.com

It might seem difficult to comprehend how the animal world and human world are similar considering there is a vast amount of differences. But one thing that tends to co exist in both the animal world and human world is the love and sense of responsibility we all have for our families. Clearly demonstrated within the ibex family and the grizzly bear family, they have this maternal instinct to want to teach and protect their young just like human mothers.

Another similarity is that no matter how much us humans evolve when the going gets tough and our family is threatened we still have our survival instincts. The need to hoard food and literally fight for the best quality stuff available leaving the vulnerable and weak to suffer shows that deep down inside we are still animals.

The Burning Issue

The Burning Issue

The Burning Issue

On the 2nd April, Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots called on farmers and land managers to halt all prescribed burning in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic in a bid to reduce additional pressures on Northern Ireland’s emergency services.

What does this mean? In Northern Ireland prescribed burning is a method of land management that usually takes place, from Oct through to Mid-April – the intention of the burns is to “improve” habitat and the quality of grazing in areas of bogland.  There has been much debate in recent years about burning bogland and whether this is a successful tool, or if it further damages the habitat and species found on these unique landscapes.

What is a prescribed burn?

Prescribed burning is a planned management tool. It is applied to a given area of land under a controlled and regulated set of conditions. It requires careful planning & consultation with landowners around the area & others working on/in the area.  It looks at:

  • History of burns on the site
  • What areas of land need to be burned
  • What the rotation of burning will be over a 5-10 yr. period
  • Fuel load, fuel type, and moisture levels on site
  • Weather forecasts – is rain predicted, will there be a wind that could accelerate the fire
  • Time of year and wildlife that live on the site,
  • Impact on wildlife breeding habitats and food supplies.
  • Resource to manage the fire, fire beaters, staff on ground, etc.

 

Prescribed burning is a complex matter and no matter how carefully thought out a plan is, there is always the potential for a burn to get out of control. This is why Local governments across the UK called for a nationwide stopping of burning as emergency services put their resource to helping fight a pandemic.

What isn’t a prescribed burn?  – A fire that is lit with:

  • No plan as to the area that is going to be burnt.
  • No contact with emergency services to make them aware of burn, and the plan to manage it.
  • No consideration of the wildlife that use the landscape.
  • No consideration of fuel load on the site.
  • No management of how fire could gather momentum, spreading across the site.
  • No thought to neighbouring properties & livestock.
  • A fire that is lit on land that does not belong to you – and if it is deemed that you have carried out an offence under the Criminal Damage order by destroying or damaging property deliberately by fire, you can be charged with arson.

 

Should we burn our boglands?

Our boglands used to be thought of as areas that needed to be improved, that should be drained, and that could provide fuel.  They were viewed as a practical working landscape. We know that historically in Ireland, boglands were areas that the poorer members of the community lived, there are many examples in local stories and nationally of the historical association between the Irish and their boglands.

Burning Issue 2

They are a wealth of connect, culture and history for us. Telling us of the battles that played out in these spaces…When we dig up their peaty soils they reveal lost treasures and bog bodies preserved in time by the acidic nature of these boglands… They provide a thread of connect to our ancestors, people who lived and worked on these boglands, as we do today.

This common thread knows what it’s like to see dragonflies hover over large sphagnum pools, to watch the brown hares box and play in spring. To hear the call of the cuckoo or the bubbling crescendo of the Curlew.  We know that this seemingly empty landscape is a wealth of nature and tranquillity…

Communities that live in and around them are intimately connected to their fate.

What we know about our boglands today…

Through research, we know that they provide key ecosystem services for us now. We know that burning on peatland can result in severe damage, and death to wildlife and species living on the Moss, we know that it damages the integrity of the bog and it stops the bog performing key ecosystem services.

Our current understanding of peatlands and the role they play has increased significantly. It’s based on years of scientific research and analysis.

They act as carbon sinks when they are healthy, taking Carbon Dioxide out of our atmosphere and storing it in their wet peaty soils. Globally 30% of our Carbon is stored in these habitats – which when you consider that only 3% of the earth’s surface is covered in Bog is an impressive figure. Globally peatlands store at least twice as much Carbon as is held in the world’s forests. When we lower a bogs water table we start to release carbon into the atmosphere. The thousands of years of preserved carbon held in the decaying plant matter – Drained Irish bogs are estimated to release as much carbon dioxide into our atmosphere as the Irish transportation sector. Further exacerbating and accelerating the climate crisis.

Bogs help to filter dirt and improve the quality of our water – Lough Neagh is the largest freshwater lake in the UK and Ireland and these wetland habitats such as low lying bogs, Fen habitat and wet grasslands help provide the people of Northern Ireland with clean water, food, recreation, & jobs.

Peatland vegetation slows the flow of rainfall – Sphagnum moss found on peatlands is the key building block of our bogs, they are an amazing group of mosses – they can hold up to 20 times their own weight in water, and they hold water on and in the bog – hence the slowdown in the rate of water flow – helping to prevent flooding in local areas and communities.

They are a wealth of biodiversity – The moss supports the most endangered bird in the U.K and Ireland currently – Curlew, and there are other protected species such as cuckoo, large heath butterfly, snipe, brown hares, damselflies, dragonflies, throngs of insects… we have Sundew – one of the UKs only fascinating carnivorous plants.

Good bogs make for happier humans, more connected communities, stronger economies that benefit everyone, and not just one or two individuals making personal gain out of a resource that could be shared by us all.

Alive and thriving full of life and wonder is surely preferable to smouldering and dead? Creating a poorer, more difficult future for us all.

If you would like to keep up to date with our work, or to tell us why it is why the Moss is important to you or to volunteer with LNLP please contact me Siobhan Thompson on – siobhan.thompson@loughneaghlp.com

Burning Issue 3

The Sanctuary and Termon of Cranfield

The Sanctuary and Termon of Cranfield

The Sanctuary and Termon of Cranfield

A few years ago, I had never heard of Cranfield ( Creamhchoill – Irish,  Wild Garlic Wood )  and yet I had passed only a few miles from it on the road to Belfast so often. Like a lot of loughshore places they were often near but yet so far from the outsiders knowledge. I have come to love the place with its medieval church ruins whose east window frames a magnificent view of Lough Neagh, to the curative  well of St Olcan surrounded by the rag trees that tell the story of many hopes and prayers to the quay at Cranfield Point that tells the story of so many fishing families and the search for eels and pollan in the past. It may not have the prestige of Ardboe but it has become for me a place of sanctuary and this, as I have realised is no accident.

The large townland of Cranfield was formerly made up of four subtownlands  and that amalgamation is now the present townland of some 858 acres. These are termonlands where boundaries and borders meet. Termon in Irish Tearmann originally referred to the lands of a church or monastery within which the right of sanctuary prevailed. It laterally came to refer to ‘church lands’ but if we dig deeper the origins of this go back into the earliest of times. Like many cultural practices, Christianity absorbed earlier beliefs such as termon.

The idea of borders and boundaries as “in-between” and special places are very obvious in places  connected especially with water, from wells to tributaries. They are where the gods were meant to dance at the confluence of waters. The mingling of the tributary and the main river was deemed to be a sacred place. The Celtic god Condatis, takes his name from the Gallic epithet “watersmeet”. He is literally the god of the two streams, the confluence, and was worshipped as such. All of this imagery of territories, other worldly kingdoms, liminal spaces describes a kind of mysticism which architecturally enunciates the “deep structures” of our lives, the line of the boundary between us and the “other world”. The  lough, rivers and wells are  the most picturesque analogy for that boundary but of course water being fluid makes the boundary a leaky one.

These boundary places are the areas where peace was made in ancient times before that advent of Christianity. Take the great site of Christian pilgrimage, Lough Derg, it was a place of sanctuary long before Christianity and is still today a place where boundaries meet. Its is the watershed between the Foyle and Erne river systems and where political, civil and religious administrations meet such as the counties of Derry, Tyrone and Donegal, the dioceses of Clogher, Raphoe and Derry. Historically the termonlands around Lough Derg have been a no-man’s- land between the powerful contending medieval factions of O’Neill, Maguire and O’Donnell and probably with their predecessors too. It was desirable that a buffer area should arise between prickly neighbours so that small border incidents need not develop into war. Monastic sites soon became to take on these buffer zones and the termon lands given to them would provide food and revenue for the foundation and also act as a place of sanctuary.

Sanctuariam – arium is soon adapted by the church as a “container in this case for the sancta / sancti – holy “ a sacred place or an altar. Human sanctuary becomes  Legal Sanctuary – Right of asylum / political asylum  and we even have a  sanctuary Movement in cities for refugees.

Back to Cranfield, it is also no accident that it has two termon crosses to mark these places, one in wood and the other in granite.  Termon is a wonderful thought and concept whatever ones beliefs.

It is also no accident that the great poet of this entire water scape of rivers, loughs and well has used this so much in his work. The great lines from Terminus capture the spirit of termon and of the place. “… I was the March drain and the march drain’s banks / Suffering the limit of each claim. / Two buckets were easier carried than one. I grew up in between…”

In his essay, Something to Write Home About , he explains that he grew up “in between” – raised near the River Moyola which served as a boundary between the Protestant/loyalist village of Castledawson and the Catholic/nationalist district of Bellaghy/Ballyscullion. In describing his childhood by the river, Heaney says “,I always loved venturing out from one stepping-stone to the next, right into the middle of the stream…Suddenly you were on your own .You were giddy and rooted to the spot at one and the same time… Nowadays when I think of that child rooted to the spot in mid stream,I see a little version of the god the Romans called Terminus, the god of boundaries. (Finders Keepers 51 ). He also makes the point that “the inheritance of a divided world is a disabling one, that it traps its inhabitants and corners them in determined positions, saps their will to act freely and creatively.”

Heaney reckons that , the Romans kept an image of Terminus in the Temple of Jupiter, the roof above the image was left open to the sky, as if, Heaney states, “a god of the boundaries and borders of the earth needed to have access to the boundless, the whole unlimited height and width and depth of the heavens themselves. As if to say that all boundaries are necessary evils and that the truly desirable condition is he feeling of being unbounded, of being king of infinite space.” (Finders Keepers 51 )

The space and place of Cranfield is somewhere that this tradition can be celebrated and kept alive and is more needed now than ever. It is ancient but it is new too.

Working under COVID-19 Lockdown – Michael McCoy

Working under COVID-19 Lockdown – Michael McCoy

Working under COVID-19 Lockdown

Guest blog by Michael McCoy

Due to the increased spread of COVID – 19 virus, the government has taken strict action by enforcing a lockdown across the entire UK.  This means that people have been instructed to stay at home unless they need to leave to purchase essentials or to travel to workplaces that are deemed to be vital such as the heath service and certain civil servants who are providing help to the public.  There are also circumstances where people are allowed to leave the house once for exercise or to get fresh air as long as social distancing measures are practiced. These policies are introduced to minimise the chances of a huge surge of COVID – 19 cases occurring at the same time and therefore hopefully allowing the NHS to cope with the pre-existing cases.

 My fellow students and I have been required to stay at home at present due to the COVID 19 crisis. While we may not be at the offices that does not mean we cannot continue our conservation efforts. My chosen project as part of my placement in Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership involves surveying Brackagh Bog for Dragonflies and Damselflies. Although the Dragonflies do not emerge until late April, I will be continuing to work at home to prepare for the survey work. This includes creating a survey route and constructing a table for my results. When the time comes, I will carry out my surveys two or three times a week as part of my daily exercise with a member of my household for safety purposes.

 It is important as an environmentalist to be able to adapt to the changing circumstances and be able to continue to work. I want to thank the NHS for all the work they have done and hope everyone is staying safe.