Author Archives: Lisa Critchley

Volunteering During Lockdown – Himalayan Balsam Pulling

Volunteering During Lockdown – Himalayan Balsam Pulling

Volunteering During Lockdown – Himalayan Balsam Pulling

Blog by: Lisa Critchley

Conservation volunteering normally goes on throughout the year; however, as I am sure everyone knows, this year has been quite different. Normally groups of volunteers would be out and about carrying out various, important conservation work such as habitat management, invasive plant species control, wildlife and plant surveys, litter lifts and so on. The fact that these important tasks have been unable to go ahead will have a negative impact on our local environment and disrupt essential work organisations have been doing over the years.

Volunteering in Lockdown – Himalayan Balsam Control

Conservation volunteering is a really important part of protecting our environment and improving our wellbeing. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 outbreak and the lockdown that followed, most, if not all, conservation volunteering came to a halt. This means that many important tasks have been missed. However, there are some tasks you can carry out without your fellow volunteers or team leader. Watch this video to see what you can do!If you are interested in volunteering with LNLP, contact: lisa.critchley@loughneaghpartnership.org

Posted by Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership on Wednesday, 10 June 2020

However, it is not all doom and gloom! There are some simple tasks volunteers can do without the company of their usual group or team leader. One such task is controlling the plant: Himalayan balsam.

 Himalayan Balsam Pulling 1

What is Himalayan balsam?

Himalayan balsam (impatiens glandulifera) is a non-native invasive plant species. Non-native means that it is not from this country. It was introduced in the 1830s as a garden plant, no doubt brought back from the Himalayas by explorers as a prized exotic plant. It quickly spread from gardens and into the natural environment, taking over areas along riverbanks, wetlands, woodlands and field margins. The Himalayan balsam seedpod explodes when touched, scattering its seeds several metres. The seeds can survive and even germinate in water, which is why it is so prevalent along riverbanks and lough shores. The plant does well in our climate, grows rapidly (from seedling to two metres in one season) and produces large leaves that shade out competition from other plants. It also has no natural threats in this country, such as diseases or insects that eat it, so the population is not naturally kept under control. Its effective seed distribution and ability to outcompete other plants is what makes it invasive.

Why is it bad?

As previously mentioned, Himalayan balsam outcompetes our native plant life. This is bad as it reduces the biodiversity of the area in which it grows and weakens the population of our native flora, affecting the ecosystems in which it is present. Himalayan balsam also has a very shallow root system. This can have a detrimental impact upon riverbanks and sloped areas in which it grows, as, when the balsam dies back in the winter, there is little to no root structure left behind to hold together the soil. This means that riverbanks and slopes will erode more easily.

One argument that some make is that Himalayan balsam provides a good source of food for pollinating insects such as bees. However, it is much better that the insects feed off and pollinate our native flora to ensure a rich and strong biodiversity is maintained in our natural environment.

Identifying Himalayan balsam

Identification of Himalayan balsam is fairly easy, especially as the plant grows bigger. It starts to become more visible during late spring to early summer:

  • Leaves: generally grow in whorls of three and have toothed edges
  • Stem: hollow and fleshy, when squeezed it is easily crushed, normally has a pink/red base to the stem
  • Flowers: develop in summer. They are pink, bonnet shaped and grow at the top of the plant
  • Seedpods: develop in late summer/early autumn. They are green and explode when touched

Himalayan Balsam Pulling 2

What can you do to help?

Now you know what Himalayan balsam looks like, you can start to help to control it. It is very easy, very satisfying and fondly known as ‘balsam bashing’ in the world of conservation.

The shallow root system means the balsam can be pulled up with little effort. Grasp the plant at the base (or as near to the base as possible) and pull it up out of the soil. Break the stem between the roots and the first growing node (ridge around the stem of the plant) and leave on the ground to rot away. Try not to pile the balsam up on top of other plants. It is a very easy task and an individual or small group can clear a large area in a short space of time.

Himalayan Balsam Pulling 3

A few things to think about before doing this:

Health and safety

  • If you are near a water source, make sure you do not go close to the edge of the water and are not at risk of falling in
  • If you have a bad back, know your limits with bending down or crouching to reach the stem. It may be better to avoid doing this task
  • Be aware of brambles and nettles in the area so you don’t get scratched or stung
  • Be aware of any dangerous objects in the area and do not go near to them i.e. broken glass, barbed wire fences etc.

COVID-19

  • Adhere to government guidelines on social distancing and other restrictions
  • Do it as part of your exercise allowance

Area

  • Only carry this out in areas you are permitted to go – as tempting as it is, do not enter private land to carry out the task

Plant identification

  • Only pull up the plant if you are certain it is Himalayan balsam
  • Familiarise yourself with the descriptions above
  • If in doubt, don’t pull it out

If you do end up pulling up some Himalayan balsam whilst out and about, please let me know! Email me to tell me where you pulled it and the rough size of the area. If you have any other questions about this task, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Last but not least, if you would like to volunteer for Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership, email me and we can go from there!

Happy balsam bashing!

Himalayan Balsam Pulling 4

Volunteering in Lockdown

Volunteering in Lockdown

Volunteering in Lockdown

Blog by Lisa Critchley

 

It is Volunteer Week 2020, and what a strange start to the volunteering year it has been! We started off well with our Woodland Workout sessions in January and February but then the storms hit. Volunteer tasks had to be cancelled due to flooding and adverse weather and just as things looked to be calming down, the COVID-19 pandemic crept upon us. The pandemic meant we had to stop all volunteering, head home and baton down the hatches. I think a lot of us only thought it would be for a few weeks, but here we are, a few months later, and only just beginning to rise out of it.

In that time, plenty of conservation volunteer tasks have had to be missed: scrub clearance in the bogs to prevent the encroachment of trees and shrubs, spring surveys of flora and fauna, litter picks to keep our countryside, rivers and Lough clean, planting events in community gardens, wet woodland management and invasive plant species control!

I am Lisa, the Volunteer and Skills Development Officer for Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership (LNLP), and I am sure there are plenty of volunteers missing getting out and about, helping their local environment and plenty more itching to start. There has been little movement on the ground but things are beginning to change as we gradually come out of lockdown. I do hope to get our conservation volunteering up and running again, in some form or other, but in the meantime, there are a number of things you can do to satisfy your desire to get stuck in again!

Whether you are a seasoned volunteer, curious to see what it is all about, wanting a change of scenery, looking to expand your skills and knowledge set or alleviate potential lockdown boredom, have a read through the list below for ideas of how to do your own volunteering in lockdown:

  • When out and about on your daily exercise, you can begin look at the plants and wildlife around you and try to identify them. The OPAL website is a good resource to begin with if you are not familiar with species identification. Make a note of what you see so you continue to learn. This will be a good basis for survey work, which is one of the volunteer acivities LNLP normally offer.
  • Watch the birds and try to identify them by call and sight. This will also be a good basis for if you carry out any bird survey work which LNLP do a lot of. Have a look at a video I made a few weeks ago on how to make your own bird feeder. This will attract more birds to your garden and will help with your species identification. Before making my bird feeder, I had house sparrows and starlings in the garden. They love the bird feeder but I have also since attracted great tits, blue tits, wood pigeon, collared dove (not sure if that was for the feeder but they were there!) and a coal tit visited at the weekend.
  • If you can get hold of a litter picker (you don’t have to have this but it makes it easier and it means you can pick up more stuff), gloves (essential for health and safety reasons!) and strong bin bags, you could do litter picks in your local area. If you do this, please email me and I will give you a bit of guidance and send you a basic form for recording what you collect. I will then feed this into the Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful litter recording platform.
  • If you have a garden with grass, you can leave it longer in between cuts as this is beneficial for wildlife: insects prefer long grass and an increase in these will attract more birds to the garden too. You could try to identify what plants come up when the lawn is left alone as well as the insects and birds that visit. On the same lines, if your garden is big enough, you could leave an area of your lawn long for insects and only cut it in the late summer.
  • You could get some wildflower seeds from True Harvest Seeds or Eco Seeds and plant an area of your garden with wildflower seeds. If you don’t have a garden, you can plant these in window boxes or flower pots. The seeds from both of these organisations are native flowers to Ireland which is important for our local wildlife and plant biodiversity. It also means that no non-native species will be introduced to the wider environment. You can then identify the plants as they grow and the insects that visit.
  • Watch the video I made a few weeks ago on planting for pollinators. The plants I use are not necessarily native but they do provide a good food source for pollinators and are readily available in supermarkets, garage shops and now the garden centres are open, you will have more choice.
  • Read about the management of habitats in your area so you can familiarise yourself with the type of practical work that is done. You can also look at the websites and social media of various environmental organisations who have volunteer groups to see the type work they got up to before lockdown. Try: LNLP Facebook, RSPB, National Trust, Woodland Trust websites and Facebooks, Belfast Hills Partnership Facebook, website and their YouTube channel have videos of volunteering activities they do.
  • When volunteers are active for LNLP, we do a variety of seasonal activities. Generally during autumn and winter months we carry out:
    • Bog management by clearing scrub and small trees to prevent scrub encroachment
    • Wet woodland management including removal of non-native plant species such as laurel and snowberry
    • Willow and hazel management through coppicing
  • During spring and summer months we carry out:
    • Litter lifts around the Lough shore, riverbanks leading into and out of the Lough and other sites such as woodlands
    • Surveys – both plant and wildlife
    • Invasive plant species control such as Himalayan balsam

If you end up doing any or all of these activities, I would love to know! Email me or leave us a Facebook message telling us about your adventures. Additionally, if you would like to volunteer for LNLP when it starts back up again, please don’t hesitate to contact me and ask for an interest form. I will add you to the volunteer mailing list so you will be notified the minute we can start up again!

Improving Your Garden for Wildlife – Making Bird Feeders

Improving Your Garden for Wildlife – Making Bird Feeders

Improving Your Garden for Wildlife – Making Bird Feeders

Blog by: Lisa Critchley

There are plenty of birds in the garden at this time of year: courting, nesting and raising their young. I have watched starlings from courtship to nesting, and over the last week or so, have seen house sparrows bringing their fledglings into the garden to forage for food. Most people tend only to feed the birds during the winter months when food is in low supply but it is still helpful to feed the birds during this time of year, even when food seems plentiful. The RSPB website has a lot of information on summer bird feeding, including what mixes to use and keeping the feeding area hygienic.

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. Even if you only have a window that looks onto a street, you can still get inventive with bird feeders – you can attach them to guttering or use suction pads to stick them to your windows. If you have a tree outside your house, you can hang a feeder off that (check with your council first), you can even scatter birdseed on your windowsills. You really do not need a garden to make your outdoor space more bird friendly.

If you want to improve your garden or outdoor space for wildlife by making a bird feeder, watch the video to see how or read this article!

Bird Feeder 1

The bird feeder I will teach you how to make is a dry feeder, so it has no fat binding it together like in winter. This is because the fat may melt in the warmer weather, make a mess and go rank. You will probably find most of what you need to make these bird feeders around your house:

  • Clean, dry, plastic bottle with cap – a clear bottle is best so you can keep an eye on the feed levels.
  • Drawing pin to make holes in the bottle
  • Scissors to make the holes larger
  • Sticks/old pencils/doweling rods to make the perches for the birds to stand on
  • String to hang the feeder up
  • Bird feed – garage shops and supermarkets have bird feed at this time of year. Please note, if you or a member of your household is allergic to peanuts, check the ingredients list as a lot of bird feed contain peanuts

Bird Feeder 2

  1. First, make two holes opposite each other near the base of the bottle for the first perch. Use the drawing pin to make the initial hole and scissors to make it bigger; do not make it so big that the perch easily slides out. Be careful using scissors and if you are a child, ask an adult to help you. Turn the bottle 90 degrees and make two more holes above the first for the second perch. Push your perches through the holes.
  2. Turn the bottle upside down and put some drainage holes in the base, do not make these too big or the bird feed will fall out. The holes are to allow water built up from condensation to drain out.
  3. Make two holes near the neck of the bottle; these are for the string to go through so you can hang the bottle up. Take your string and thread it through the holes, it may be easier to take the bottle cap off for this.
  4. Cut a hole above each perch, about four centimetres up. This hole has to be big enough for the birds to get to the feed but small enough that the feed does not all fall out.
  5. Now fill your feeder up and screw the lid back on.
  6. Find a suitable place to for the feeder to be and hang it up. Make sure that the place where you hang your feeder is safe from cats. Hang it high enough off the ground and do not place it too close to a roof or top of a wall where a cat may be able to get to the birds from.
  7. The last thing to remember is bird hygiene. You will need to clean your feeder and ground underneath it every so often to prevent the spread of diseases amongst birds.

It will take the birds in your area a bit of time to find and get used to your new feeder so be patient. Once they find it and trust that it is safe to use, they will come flying in (‘scuse the pun…) to feed, especially as their young will be demanding more and more food as they grow.

Bird Feeder 3

The day after I hung my bird feeder up, starlings visited it. They are beautiful birds with their freckles and iridescent feathers and they certainly make a racket! Did you know that they also imitate other sounds around them? I remember thinking it odd to hear a curlew call whilst sitting in my brother’s garden in Northumberland, but then I saw the starling sitting in the tree! As the starlings use my feeder, they end up dropping seeds on the ground and house sparrows have flocked in with their fledglings to eat the fallen seeds. A shy wood pigeon has also visited. These birds were always in and around the garden, I hear them throughout the day in the tree and hedge, but it is nice to see them clearly when they come to eat the bird feed.

Remember to tag us in your bird feeder making adventures and let us know what birds visit your garden! If you need help identifying the birds, the RSPB website is a very useful resource for this.

Bird Feeder 4

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 – Making Bird Feeders

Anyone can improve their outdoor space for wildlife, no matter how small it is. Watch this video to find out how to improve your area for birds by making a summer bird feeder.

Posted by Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership on Wednesday, 20 May 2020

 

 

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.

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.

The effect of Covid 19 on the day to day life of a placement student – Sophie Gregson

The effect of Covid 19 on the day to day life of a placement student – Sophie Gregson

The effect of Covid 19 on the day to day life of a placement student

Guest Blog by Sophie Gregson

During this time of uncertainty there has been many constraints introduced as the safety precautions across the world increase. Up until Monday the 30th of March I was still able to achieve access to my site Shankill Cemetery, however following government guidelines it shut that night for the foreseeable future. I am lucky enough to have completed surveys of the site every Monday for the past two months meaning I still have a small amount of data I am able to compare and write about, however I do not have enough data to make a clear comparison across the months like I originally planned.

With the new government guidelines in place restricting travel and visits to pubic areas the site was forced to shut, the government have not made any indications as of yet as to when this quarantine will be over. With this in mind it has left my project with many uncertainties such as, will the site be open again before my placement is completed in May? Will the work being organised for the site still be carried out considering no one has access or is allowed out into the public domain without good reason?

I was able to compete two months worth of data before the quarantine was brought into place this  will allow me to still complete a biodiversity report on the Shankill cemetery site. The data is currently stored on our hard drive in work which we are currently working towards achieving access to. Having this data really is a life saver as it means my report isn’t at risk, it may not be exactly what I wanted to achieve but at least it won’t be for nothing. With the data I have I will still be able to give solid recommendations on how to improve the biodiversity of the site. In the next coming months I was going to add to my survey the type of flowers and insects such as butterflies found at the site, however I didn’t get to collect solid data on this due to it being to early in the year. I was also going to set out camera traps to see what sort of mammals lived on and around the site however this also will not be achieved. The data I’ve collect so far is all bird based so the report I will be completing will be based around this.

Impact of COVID-19 on placement – Aine Mallon

Impact of COVID-19 on placement – Aine Mallon

Impact of COVID-19 on placement

Guest Blog By Aine Mallon

Introduction

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. It has been made aware that people cannot leave their homes unless it is essential, such as for food or medicine and if you are a key worker (NHS staff member). This has meant that for my placement with Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership, we are not allowed to be working together in the office and not out on site for the safety of protecting ourselves, own elderly family members and those who may care for a sick relative. This is a very new situation for myself which I’ve never experienced before although I am learning new ways to adapt to this and carry out my placement work daily.

Methodology for project work

My main goal is for bats project and carrying out as many surveys as I can during this current situation. I am very lucky to have completed my maps for my project work during our office hours before COVID-19 was introduced. What I want to do is continue editing my maps to highlight the main features that my chosen sites have to attract bats species to thrive here. I can continue this editing feature from home as the ARC GIS was used to produce the maps with a transect route I will follow when carrying out my surveys. My overall review of results and my conclusion can also be worked upon from my own home after I complete my survey work.

Survey work

Bats

For my project to be successful, my surveys are essential to gather as much data as I can about the different bat species I record. I would have been using the bat box griffin device, which was borrowed from the Belfast Hill’s Partnership team, to accurately listen and record the species I would hear on my surveys. I would have then used the computer software at Belfast Hill’s Partnership which would have gave me a visual display of the different range of frequencies from echolocation of the bats to read properly and record the species for my project and CEDaR.

However, the coronavirus has prevented me from gaining access to Belfast Hill’s office as social distancing is an important measure to be followed through seriously and many workplaces now remain closed. I have decided to not abandon my surveys because of this, I have taken the magenta bat detectors home and will carry out surveys with a family member who I am currently living this. Although this device wont record the bat species, it will test my ability to assess the sounds of each bat at different frequencies because bats use echolocation for communication and to find their way around in the dark, the sounds which they emit are ‘ultrasonic.’ The magenta detector will pick up these frequencies and I will continuously move the detector around from 55, 45, 25 to see when I gather a clearer sound from the bat to detect the species.

Magenta Bat 4

This is the magenta bat detector device I will be using for my survey work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birds

Although this is not related to my project work, I want to continue challenging what knowledge I have from bird calls and their distinctive features. Whilst the different bird species are still fresh in my memory from surveys done during placement, I can continue to practice this by going for walks during the day at Crumlin Glen and then during the late evenings for bat species. I can also carry out bird surveys from my own back garden and record what species I find for my own benefit and knowledge.

Garden Biodiversity

During this lock down period I have also asked that my mum and granda try to leave some of their garden longer and uncut to attract more wildlife diversity. I have also encouraged my grandparents to plant more colourful plants in their garden and then during springtime I can go witness any bumble bees and butterflies coming to their garden.

Research work

As I am now a member of the Northern Ireland Bat Group, I am getting continuous updates about detailed events that will happen during summertime (if they can go forward with them) but with each event they include a website. These websites include a range of background information regarding the protection of bats and videos explaining how they are misunderstood and need to be protected. Given that this COVID-19 has said to have came from a bat species, I want to continue researching valuable reports and help to get the public message across of how the transmission of a virus (or other vector of disease) from wild animals to humans is normally the result of human alterations to the environment.

I hope to continuously teach my close friends and family of why I am concerned for their protection and how bats shouldn’t be looked upon as just ‘carriers of diseases.’ I want to research new methods of what we can do in our day to day lives to help protect the bat species and limit the destruction of their natural habitats. As the news is focusing on the safety of NHS and COVID-19 number of patients, I am still currently researching how this is impacting the environment worldwide. I will be submitting a report at the end of April highlighting the positive environmental impacts which will require much research. I am also finding a lot of articles on Facebook and Instagram about these changes to how it is impacting air pollution levels and how the range of different animal species are responding to it.

Venice Canals

An example of the environmental impact; Venice Canals are thriving with fish now that tourists are gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

It will be a challenge for myself to continue carrying out my project work without the necessary resources I can use but I will continue to try my best at producing a report which will reflect my ability for this research project of mine. Through technology I can remain in contact with my fellow peers from placement and I can contact my boss or set up a meeting through skype if I need any assistance or guidance areas of my report.