Category Archives: Nature

Adventures of a Busy Bee – The Marsh Fritillary Butterfly

Adventures of a Busy Bee – The Marsh Fritillary Butterfly

Adventures of a Busy Bee – The Marsh Fritillary Butterfly

Guest Blog by: Nicole Feenan

Hey guys its Nicole finally. Since my last post my placement group and I attended a training day at Portmore Lough on the Marsh Fritillary butterfly. This course was given by Rose Cremin, an Invertebrate Field officer with the Butterfly Conservation Trust. The purpose of this course was to educate us on the marsh frit butterfly, its life cycle and how to carry out larval web surveys correctly. On this course we had the opportunity to participate in a larval web survey at Montiagh’s Moss. This course was very useful and has led me to look more closely at the Marsh Fritillary Butterfly. The Marsh Fritillary butterfly is a threatened species across the UK and Europe and is the object to much of conservation effort. Once widespread across the Britain and Ireland the Marsh Fritillary Butterfly has severely declined over the 20th century. This species is highly volatile and requires an extensive habitat or habitat networks to ensure its long-term survival. This species is confined to the western side of both Britain and Ireland. As seen from the image below this butterfly has brightly patterned wings that span between 42 to 48 mm. The species of this butterfly found in Scotland and Ireland are much more heavily marked. The marsh fritillary spins conspicuous webs for their larvae which can be recorded easily in late summer. There are three main habitat types that the marsh fritillary can successful reproduce: damp grasslands that are dominated mainly by tussock forming grasses, chalk grasslands (on west or south-facing slopes in England) and shorter coastal grasslands (in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland). Their main foodplant is the Devils Bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis), the marsh fritillary butterfly will spin their conspicuous webs on the lower leaves of this plant. However, in a calcareous grassland, it will occasionally use either the FieldScabious (Knautia arvensis) or the Small Scabious (Scabiosa columbaria). Below is a diagram of the lifecycle of a marsh fritillary butterfly.

Figure 2- Diagram showing the lifecycle of a Marsh Fritillary Butterfly

A marsh fritillary butterfly will lay large batches of up to 350 eggs, these larvae are then spun into a protective web that will become conspicuous by the end of August. The larvae then overwinter in a small web close to the ground, usually in a dense grass tussock. In early spring the larvae will emerge. These larvae can be seen in clusters of up to 150 small black larvae when they bask in the weak sun. The larvae will then become solitary and dispense widely across the breeding habitat. Pupae form deep within grass tussocks or amongst dead leaves. The adult will then emerge in late May/early June.

In the weeks after the course we carried out a marsh fritillary larval web survey at Brackagh Moss with one of the experts from the course Stephen Craig. We were unsuccessful in finding any webs on this visit and have concluded that Brackagh Moss was not an ideal site for Marsh Fritillary despite previous sightings of it in one of the surrounding fields.

 

Blogs and Bugs – Sarah and the Giant Hogweed

Blogs and Bugs – Sarah and the Giant Hogweed

Sarah and the Giant Hogweed

Guest Blog by Sarah Galloway

Hi guys it still isn’t Nicole, its Sarah (as the title might suggest). Today I’m going to write about Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), no not that village in Harry Potter but an invasive plant. To be fair it would be handy if we had a magic spell to get rid of it.

Like I said it is an invasive species, it can grow to over 3 metres in height, which is the equivalent to two of me. It is a close relative to Cows Parsley, but they have thick bristly stems with purple blotches. It has white flowers in umbels, this means the flowers split into individual stems which forms the cluster of flowers.  Also, the leaves are jagged, lobed leaves in a rosette.

Giant Hogweed

The reason why people are so keen to eradicate this plant is because it can be very harmful to the touch. This is caused by the sap coming into contact with the skin, which results in severe burns in the presence of sunlight (a bit like Amy).  Chemicals in the sap can cause photodermatitis or photosensitivity, which is not when you don’t look good in photos, but it is when the skin becomes very sensitive to sunlight and may suffer blistering, pigmentation and long-lasting scars. Needless to say, this is one plant you don’t want to pick when out for a stroll.

When controlling Giant Hogweed always wear gloves, cover your arms and legs, and ideally wear a face mask when working on or near it. Cut plant debris, contaminated clothing and tools are potentially hazardous too. Wash any skin that comes in contact with the plant immediately. Ensure that contractors working on your land are aware of the risks and competent to deal with this weed. I strongly suggest consulting your local environmental authority about how best to deal with Giant Hogweed before removing it.

To end the moral of this blog is don’t jump into Giants Hogweed even when your friends tell you it’s not worth the tan lines.

Bogs & Blogs – Summer Birds Of Oxford Island

Bogs & Blogs – Summer Birds Of Oxford Island

Bogs & Blogs

Guest Blog by Amy Gallagher

Hi guys, sorry to disappoint but it still isn’t Nicole; it’s Amy. Today I thought I’d talk about 3 cool birds that spend their summers at Oxford Island. No, not myself, Nicole and Sarah but the Swallow, Swift and House Martin.

House Martins

As summer comes to an end, these birds are starting to migrate to hotter climates. A bit like myself they are quite partial to a holiday in the sun but probably don’t need to pack quite so much after sun for the trip.

Oxford Island is an impressive spot for bird watching, it is home to a great number of birds and waterfowl including some rare species like the Northern Lapwing and the Ring-necked Duck. But for the birds I’m taking about today, you do not need to visit the bird watching hides, simply take a walk around the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre in the summer months and you will see them nesting in the roof and flying overhead catching flying insects to feed to their young.

The Swallow is found in great numbers around Oxford Island from March onwards

Swallow

before leaving for South Africa between September and October. Swallows are small birds with dark, Nesting Swallowsglossy-blue backs, red throats, pale underparts and long tail streamers. They are extremely agile in flight and spend most of their time on the wing.

Like any modern couple, both the male and female Swallow assume equal responsibility when it comes to building their home and feeding their young. They build a nest from mud and plant fibres against a beam or shelf in buildings or a ledge on cliffs. Existing nests are often refurbished. The newly-hatched young are fed by both parents, who catch insects on-the-wing and collect them in their throats before returning to the nest. Once fledged, the youngsters receive in-flight food from their parents.

Often confused with the Swallow, the Swift arrive at Oxford Island in the last week of

Swift

April or early May and stay only long enough to breed. Autumn migration to Africa begins in late July or early August. The onset of the migration is believed to be triggered by the lack of nutritious insects high in the air.  The Swift is a larger bird than the Swallow or House Martin and is plain sooty brown in colour, but in flight against the sky it appears black. It has long, scythe-like wings and a short, forked tail much smaller than that of the Swallows.

Just when I thought Swifts couldn’t get any cuter, I found out they mate for life, meeting up every spring at the same nesting site. So, if you see a pair of Swifts, you can rest easy knowing that true love does exist because they travelled thousands of miles just to see each other. They nest high up in the roof space under the eaves of old houses and churches where the birds are able to drop into the air from the nest entrance. The nest is built by both adults out of any material that can be gathered on the wing, including feathers, paper and straw. It is cemented together with saliva, and renovated and reused year after year.

Last but certainly not least is the House Martin. It can be seen in the British Isles from

House Martin

April to September however the species virtually disappears from our radar when they migrate as it is not known where in Africa House Martins winter, or how precisely they get there. House martins have glossy blue upperparts, similar to a swallow, but the white rump is distinctive. Their tail is also forked, but much shorter than a Swallows.

House martins usually build nests on outer walls of buildings under the eaves. They are colonial nesters, with an average group size of four to five nests, although large colonies with groups of tens or even hundreds of nests are sometimes reported. The nest is made of pellets of mud mixed with grass, lined with feathers and vegetable fibre.

House martins are frequently double brooded and three broods are not uncommon.

Nest of House Martins

This means that they produce more than one set of young each year. Fledged young from first broods often help their parents feed a second brood. They are short-lived, and most birds only breed for one year. Colonies are traditional and nests are usually occupied from one year to the next but rarely by the same birds. Males often return to the colony they fledged from or close by, while females tend to settle several kilometres away.

So, if you keep your eyes to the skies you might just get to see one of these 3 cool birds beginning their long migration, on the hunt for warmer climates. Once again, I mean the Swallows, Swifts and House Martins; us students can’t afford it, we spent all our money at freshers!

Joe Mahon launches new Lough Neagh series on UTV

Joe Mahon launches new Lough Neagh series on UTV

A new series taking UTV presenter Joe Mahon on a unique tour of Lough Neagh has been launched to an invited audience with Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council ahead of its first episode, which will be screened on UTV at 8pm on Monday 17 September.

The eight part series takes Joe onto and around the largest freshwater lake in the UK and Ireland where viewers will see him fishing for eel in the dead of night, canoeing and learning hunting skills on the shores of the lough, digging with archaeologists, visiting the oldest thatched roofed pub in Ireland and learning the traditional craft of boat building.

Joe said of the new series: “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed exploring Lough Neagh for this new UTV programme. It was a hugely enjoyable learning experience and the beauty about learning something new is the idea that you can then share it with the viewers. I hope that everyone will not only enjoy the series, but also learn a little bit more about the Lough.”

Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey, Councillor Paul Michael, commented: “Lough Neagh is the heart of Northern Ireland and on behalf of all the Councils involved in Lough Neagh Partnership, we thank Joe Mahon, Westway Films and UTV for showcasing the history and heritage of our Lough. We are extremely proud of the connection with the Lough and on Tuesday of this week, we officially cut the sod for the new Lough Neagh Gateway Centre, which is due to open at the end of Summer 2019. In the meantime, we all look forward to welcoming more visitors, that Joe’s new series will attract, to our stunning Lough Neagh.”

Gerry Darby of Lough Neagh Partnership said: “This is the first locally produced television series dedicated to exposing the culture and heritage of Lough Neagh and its surrounds. It has been a pleasure for the team at Lough Neagh Partnership to be able to work hand in hand with Joe on this series to showcase the authenticity of this area. We believe he has really captured the essence of everyday life in the heart of mid Ulster to enthral UTV viewers with this unique insight into the place that we are so proud of.

Terry Brennan, UTV’s Head of News and Programmes said, “In the 20 plus years that Joe has been bringing programmes to our homes, he has enthralled and delighted the viewers with his unique style, outstanding locations, amazing characters, and delightful stories, and with Lough Neagh, that trend will continue. We are absolutely thrilled at UTV that Joe has uncovered yet more amazing stories about Northern Ireland’s rich cultural heritage.”

Lough Neagh, sponsored by Connollys of Moy, starts Monday 17 September at 8pm on UTV.

 

 

Habitat Protection

Habitat Protection

Four students have given their time to protect the wildlife habitats around Lough Neagh.  The four students are currently attending environment based degree courses at Queen’s University and University of Ulster and hope to gain valuable practical skills in environmental survey techniques and the protection of valuable wildlife habitats.

The project is managed by Lough Neagh Partnership and funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund and is part of a 5 year initiative to connect local people around Lough Neagh to the natural heritage and built heritage that makes Lough Neagh a special place to visit but especially important to the people that live here.  The four students are based with the Armagh City Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council Conservation team at Oxford Island.

The four students are now 10 weeks into their placement.   Sarah Galloway is in her second year of a Geography Degree at University of Ulster.  “Lough Neagh Partnership are providing me with a 48  week placement which is a key part of my degree,” said Sarah.  “We have had a busy three weeks learning how to identify grasses and wild flowers.  I am also working towards achieving the Ulster University Edge Award.

 

Amy Gallagher grew up on a family farm in west Tyrone where there was an interest in wildlife and sustainable farming practices.  “I have undertaken a module investigating wetland ecosystems and this placement with Lough Neagh Partnership will allow me to gather information and data that can be used for my final year project” said Amy

Student Profile 2018

 

Caption:  L- R Amy Gallagher, Emmet Campbell, Sarah Galloway and Nicole Feenan surveying species rich grassland near Lough Neagh

 

Emmet Campbell has just started a degree in Biological Sciences at Queens University.  “I do not need to organize my placement year until next summer but I am interested in specializing in an environment module. I am delighted to be able to spend a few months here at Oxford Island, said Emmet. “Even though I live down the road here in Lurgan all my life I did not realise that our local council looks after such extensive tracts of land to meet environmental objectives”

 

Nicole Feenan also lives in Craigavon and chose to spend her placement year on the shores of Lough Neagh.  “I have just finished two years at the University of Ulster doing a BSc in Environmental Science.  I have a strong interest in using Geographical Information Systems to aid in the reduction of carbon emissions, said Nicole.   “I did not realise the priority given to environmental management here in my local council.  I now appreciate the importance of GIS mapping to capture and display land use information and how GIS can be used for communication with the public to plan for lower carbon emissions in future”.

 

The work the students are doing is building up a picture of the valuable homes for nature around Lough Neagh.  “We hope that over the remaining 3 years of the Lough Neagh Landscape Scheme we can engage local people to take an interest in the wildlife habitats around Lough Neagh” said Chris McCarney Volunteer Officer with Lough Neagh Partnership.  “We are worried that local people will not realise the value these habitats on their doorstep until they are gone”

To learn more about each of the students experiences so far, enjoy the blogs below:

Sarah Galloway

Amy Gallagher

Nicole Feenan

Emmet Campbell

 

 

 

Guest Blog by Emmet Campbell

Guest Blog by Emmet Campbell

Guest Blog by Emmet Campbell

Hey Guys, its Emmet. The office-favourite student on this placement who’s here for a good time, but not a long time.

Just like my student-fellow Amy, I am a Queen’s student and I’m studying Biological Sciences (the foundation degree). There’s 4 of us in the office; Nicole Amy, Sarah and yours truly (that was in no particular order, but the best was saved for last). The 3 gals are here for their placement year however I’m just here for the summer. No one wants to spend their summer working but I was excited to get a bit of experience for the first time in an actual scientific environment. Unlike many of my classmates, who have been working in labs 9-5 everyday for 2 months, I get to spend my summer actually enjoying it. Outside. With the Lough Neagh Partnership at Oxford Island Discovery Centre.

For what has been probably one of the hottest summers the Emerald Isle has ever seen, I’ve been identifying plants, counting bees and holding damselflies hostage until we can determine if the wine glass on their back has a base or not. And what do I have to show for it? Well, apart from a killer farmer’s tan, I have a whole new understanding of the word ‘conservation’. Carrying out the work I’ve been doing has opened my eyes to the big beautiful world of environmental management. All my friends hate me now because I can’t help but identify the positive and negative indicators of any random patch of grass we happen across.

“Those nettles are a sign nutrient enrichment, that Farmer would need to be careful with his slurry”

“Emmet, we literally don’t care”

And that’s the just the thing, people don’t care. I didn’t. Until I had to. But its through this placement that I’ve started to see just how important the work that the Lough Neagh Partnership undertakes is. To give you an example, Devil’s Bit Scabious, a plant that I would’ve shrugged off as some weird looking thistle, is the feeding source for the endangered Marsh Fritillary butterfly’s larvae. Now, there are people writing 40+ page long management plans on how to maintain a stable population of this species over years so that this butterfly doesn’t become extinct and I used to walk past it calling it a strange purple plant.

And that’s just one of the many I could write about. If I wrote about all of them though, no one would read this (good job for getting this far).

Thanks to this placement, I now have a whole new array of skills under my belt useful for a life of conservation and even though I don’t have much time left here*, I intend to put them to use, both in and outside of work.

*I’m going back to uni, not death row

That about sums it up for my first (and final) blog. Unfortunately, there wont be another as like all good things, my presence in the office must come to an end. Best of luck to my subordinates fellow students that I’m leaving behind!

Emmet

 

 

Bogs & Blogs

Bogs & Blogs

Guest Blog by Amy Gallagher

Hi, my name is Amy. I’m 20 years old, studying Environmental Management at Queens University Belfast and I’m currently doing a placement with the Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership. I’m going to start a blog to keep track of everything I have done and learned during my time here.

I decided to take on this placement as I am extremely passionate about the environment and its conservation. Growing up with a farming background, I was introduced at an early age the importance of preserving our land and the natural beauty that comes along with it. I guess that this is where I first became interested and invested in the environment. Through this placement I am able to gain hands-on experience in the management of designated areas that are at risk of succession or specified as areas of special scientific interest.

Through the Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership, I have the opportunity to be involved in some really interesting projects. One of the many being the setting up of the first bee transect at Oxford Island. We also received training in a wide range of skills that are important for conservation; training by Robert Thompson on Dragonflies and Damselflies identification, Botanical skills training with Bob Davidson and performing a tree risk assessment at Gosford Park using GPS mapping technology.

Bogs & Blogs

I loved getting to meet so many experts from so many different fields, gaining such an extensive knowledge of plants and animals that I never even knew existed.

Experiencing the wildlife at the different locations around Lough Neagh has made me so much more comfortable around animals, even ones not found at Lough Neagh. I visited South Africa earlier in the summer to build houses as well as working at a crocodile sanctuary and rehabilitation and release program for cheetahs. Thanks to the experience I have gained here, I was opened up to an entire new world of life in a foreign country; I now had the mindset to look past what you see at first and take a closer look at the environment around me.

This placement has really opened my eyes and has helped developed the skills I need for a career in ecology. I can’t wait for the next blog when I’ll tell you all about the new and exciting things that I have done on placement!

Blogs and Bugs

Blogs and Bugs

Guest Blog by Sarah Galloway

Title: Blogs and bugs by Sarah

Hi, my name is Sarah Galloway, I am a student studying geography at Ulster University Coleraine, I am currently on placement at The Lough Neagh Partnership at Oxford Island where I will be completing a year placement before going back to university to finish my degree. I chose this placement as I have never visited Lough Neagh before which was an opportunity for me to learn about a new area. It was also by the water which was an interest for me as I enjoy coastal rowing and kayaking.

In the first two months of placement we have attended a lot of training including Dragonfly and Damselflies with CEDAR, bee training which was then used to set up Lough Neagh first bee transect, and vegetation training. With this training we then carried out Irish Damselfly surveys with the RSPB at the Munchies (Montiaghs).

Hairy Hawker Dragonfly This image shows a Hairy Hawker Dragonfly we found at the Munchies (Montiaghs).

We have carried out vegetation surveys and quadrants at several sites including Brackagh Bog, Multiple meadows around Lough Neagh, and at Brookend nature reserve. We have also completed the bee walk twice and found garden bees, common carder bees and white-tailed bumblebees. It is important to monitor bee activity as they are an endangered species through doing a transect it will give us an insight into the bee population we have at Lough Neagh and the vegetation and areas which they like so they can be preserved. If you are interested in learning more about bees and how to identify them you can visit www.bumblebeeconservation.org for more information.

 

Adventures of a Busy Bee

Adventures of a Busy Bee

Guest Blog by: Nicole Feenan

Hi, my name is Nicole Feenan, I am an Environmental Science Student at Ulster University Coleraine. I am currently a placement student with the Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership at Oxford Island Nature Reserve. I chose to complete my placement year here to widen my knowledge of my local areas environment as I have lived less than six miles from Oxford Island and have visited many times. During my second year at university I attended a field trip to the Ballyronan site to investigate the quality of the water in Lough Neagh’s basin. From starting this placement, I have gained a wealth of knowledge thus far. The main aim of the year-long placement is to produce management plans for sites around Lough Neagh. In order to achieve this a breadth of training from various professionals has been provided in the fields such as: bee training to set up the first bee transect for Oxford Island, a dragonfly and damselfly course with Robert Thompson at Brackagh Bog and the Montiagh’s Moss. Bob Davidson has also been providing training in botany of various sites around the Lough including: Brackagh Bog, Rea’s Wood, Lough Beg and Peatlands Park. This has aided me in seeing what the effect of different environments has on wildflowers and the differing species at each site.

Hairy Hawker Dragonfly

I also attended Chris Packham’s Bioblitz at Murlough Beach, a Bioblitz is an event that focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time, with the help of students, experts, families and community members who all share an interest. At this event we were provided with a range of guided walks and talks with professionals from various fields within conservation, I had the chance to take part in both the marine mammals talk with Andy Carden and birds of Murlough walk with Dot Blakely. This event helped me to further widen my knowledge within these areas and to see the breadth of knowledge that both Dot and Andy had in their respective fields. Another main skill I have gained through this placement is the ability to confidently use the GPS device known as the Trimble, this device can give GPS readings as close to centimeters from its location. I have had many chances to use this skill at both Brackagh Bog and Gosford Park where I was part of the tree risk assessment for the new trails.Irish Lady's Tresses

 

South Lough Neagh Native Apple Tree Project

South Lough Neagh Native Apple Tree Project

Forest Culture: ‘A word of mouth tradition, encompassing laws, mythology, skills, experiences and insights of people, applied to maintain or improve their livelihood over generations in a woodland environment’.

Introduction

As part of The Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership’s project “South Lough Neagh Heritage Apple and Native Tree Project”, (funded by Heritage Lottery Fund) I was invited to help put together and deliver a tree Heritage Project.  The basis of this project is to raise awareness of the heritage of unique trees and fruit that grow in the South Lough Neagh Landscape, by working with five local schools. It would be a grassroots citizen-led initiative will inspire the creation of new community native woodlands in the area whilst exploring the art, science, and technology of managing trees and forest resources in the Lough Neagh landscape ecosystems for the physiological, sociological, economic, and aesthetic benefits trees provide society. They remind us of the changing seasons and the natural world’ their fantastic legacy has been deeply forgotten.

There are three themes at the heart of the project

  • Forest in a Box
  • Churchyard Yew Tee Project
  • Traditional Heritage Apple Orchards in Schools

Native Apple Tree Project 1

Background to the project

Historically, the Lough shore was a vastly wooded area – this can be picked up by looking at the townland names remaining heavily wooded up until the mid-1600s.  Killultagh, the great forest of Ulster, formed a triangle lying between the shores of Lough Neagh, Portmore Lough and the Maze. On the South side of the River Lagan, the area between Strangford Lough and Lough Neagh was designated by district names of Clacan, Clanawle, Clanbrasel and O’Neilland. Between the Blackwater and the Bann rivers, near the Lough shore lay Clancan; to the south Clanawle stretched from the Blackwater to Armagh; and O’Neilland from Armagh to Portadown; and eastwards from Portadown to the Armagh-Down border was Clanbrassel. On the north-west shoulder of Lough Neagh were the Derry and Tyrone oak woods Mountreivelin, Killetra, and Glenconkeyne – the latter merging with the woods of the lower Bann Valley, The Dufferin.

This vast forest stretched from coast to coast, east to west and north to south.  There are reminders of this everywhere: of the 62,000 townland names in Ireland, north and south, 13,000 have reference to trees whiles 1,600 have a derivation of “dair” (Irish for oak).  The shores of Lough Neagh are no exception. Oak woodland was extensive around the shores of the Lough during the early 17th century. By the beginning of the 18th century these oak woodlands had all been cleared apart from a few remnants to the north shore, which were cleared at the end of that century, marking the passing of the old landscape forever. The land that once supported these vast temperate rainforests is now almost entirely converted to agricultural use. Many of the townland names on the southern shore of the lake contain the word ‘Derry’ which strongly indicates earlier extensive occurrence of oak woods.

One-eighth of ancient and long-established woodland has been cleared in the last 40 years, and around a third of ancient woods have been replanted with conifers, or a mixture of conifers and broadleaves. Unfortunately, this is a statistic unique not only to Ireland but most of the developed world as we’ve witnessed near total deforestation of indigenous woodland within living memory.

As a society, shocking lack of ambition or sense of urgency and a genuine fear of wilderness and wild places are extinction catalysts of what is left, let alone our ability to reach targets of expansion laid out for 2050.

Native Apple Tree Project 2

Why wait until 2050?

There is a Government plan to achieve 12% of land cover by 2050. Sadly, planting has slipped so far behind we’re bordering on deforestation – which seems to have become acceptable.

Ironically, if we want to learn more about how to do it and do it well, as well as understand what the benefits are, we should look north to once treeless Iceland. It has plans to ensure 12% tree coverage by the end of this century – an ambition that has widespread support both amongst politicians and the wider public. The Iceland Forestry Society is now the biggest environmental charity in the country.

Northern Ireland has fewer trees than any other part of the European Union. The idea is to, with the help of schools, make a practical contribution to redress this situation by recognising and utilising the profusion of the natural world itself. Our trees annually provide seeds, if we can recognise and utilise this natural resource they have within their grasp the only way to conserve our dwindling tree heritage. The seeds that our existing trees produce each year!

From listening to the personal accounts of elder generations, who have taken the time to discuss the project with me, it became evident that some of their deepest regrets are only to discover a mysterious world of trees late in life – a world we humans have, as intrinsic parts of nature, always been connected to but know very little about.

To me, this highlighted the importance of stimulating an interest in the science of trees in primary schools and incorporating this into all aspects of the Tree Heritage Project proposal.

Plans in motion – LNLP

The Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership have impressive plans in place and in action, above and beyond lip service, pursuing the idea of tree planting by involving communities. Imaginative approaches are being be taken to reinforce the connection between local trees and people – regionally developing the Lough shore’s community’s reputation for sustainability, intelligent land management and active regeneration of its woodland resources.

It is not lost on the partnership that an attractive, Green rural landscape underpinned by tree and woodland cover, attracts a higher degree of inward investment, employment and tourism, reflecting the type of environment in which people want to live, work and play.

It is an initiative launched to re-assert the value of the pristine living wilderness we have on our doorstep, to our economy, our culture, our ecology and our health and well-being round the Lough shore.

Many of our remaining trees and woodlands have deep rooted historical and cultural significance and associations, significant to the local identity and sense of place. It acts as a powerful example of Sustainable Development – by acting locally and thinking globally, communities can take direct action to regenerate life on this planet.

Forest in a Box – Project and Proposal

The aim of this phase of the Tee Heritage Project is to help children better understand the miracle of growing a tree from a seed, its parts, purposes, dynamic changes and cycles, as well as the way its life is interwoven into the very definition of what it means to be human.

By observing growth patterns so intimately in bespoke school tree nurseries, they are discovering the cycles in a trees life – what it likes and dislikes, what helps it grow, and finally what might kill it.  We can never conserve what we do not understand!

The box mimics the natural woodland floor of leaf litter to start provide optimum conditions to get the trees off to the best possible start, the sides creating shade to encourage the trees to reach for the light; the fuel of all life, increasing their chances of survival by 90% or more.  This works to foster the idea of sanctuary, planting it firmly in their conscious world view. Each one metre by one metre seed box is capable of providing approximately 200 healthy native oaks between 45 and 60cm for planting out every two years. To preserve the local genetic character of trees in the Lough Neagh basin, the seeds are collected by the school children within a ten mile radius as it is a fact that these native trees are the most adapted to the conditions of the area and therefore the most valuable in providing Ecosystem services such as: wildlife habitat, water filtering, soil protection, flood prevention and more.

The project creates an opportunity for dynamic Eco-schools committees, providing schoolchildren ways in which they can become involved and make a difference. With a view to working as a local action group, each Eco-schools committee will engage with local landowners to co-ordinate the planting site they’ve been allocated as a new community woodland along the shore. With the guidance of LNLP, the trees will be transplanted from the nursery box to project sites into the surrounding Lough Neagh shore landscape, with a view to increasing the number of local provenance oaks in each of the Derry townlands. These are skills are essential career skills in an ever-evolving society, nurturing a sense of ownership and identity with their own landscape.

Not only does the forest in a box offer the children practical projects and visions for re-greening our future, but  it also provides the perfect platform to develop essential skills to consider our environment on a global scale whilst actively engaging landowners and members of their local communities – inspiring them to plant and care for the trees nurtured in the school’s tree nursery.

All seven schools approached have been more than supportive of the project, actively encouraging participation of the pupils, from the collection of acorns in the autumn to the installation of the seed box at each school in September.

Native Apple Tree Project 3

Woodland Field Trips – October, November

The children visited ancient woodland in late October and November to coincide with the huge acorn mast falls we’ve witnessed in 2017.

On the day the children learned about The Brehon Laws which laid down specific protection for trees and gave them a hierarchy of importance. It imposed penalties on those who committed offences against “the lords of the wood”, the seven species deemed most important: oak, hazel, holly, yew, ash, Scots Pine and wild apples. The ancient Irish people were regulating tree preservation more than 1,000 years before any other society.

The children were given insights into how trees communicate with each other and filter air, improving air quality by filtering particulate pollutants and locking up atmospheric carbon into their trunks, branches and roots. They can help limit or prevent flooding. The health and wellbeing benefits of giving curious minds access to wooded areas means that, no matter how much adults believe they know about the world around us, there will always be room to wonder.

They witnessed how Oak woodland is nature’s highest achievement in their local landscape.  The 1/5th of 1% of fragmented ancient woodlands offered them glimpses of the ‘wildwood’ of prehistory. These still play host refuge for our natural flora and fauna; the birds, mammals, invertebrates, mosses and lichens, fungi, and plants share complete interdependence with them.

I told them how a group of trees forms a forest and a forest offers food and protection to sustain life’s great diversity. One individual tree can live hundreds of years, closely collaborating with other species of trees plants, micro-organisms and animals and it is this which gives a tree its miraculous power to flourish, even under the most extreme conditions. Trees are bread baskets to many but also resilient fighters, steadfastly protecting their own ground. Yes, trees are the foundations of forests, but forests are much more than what you see above. Below ground there is another world, a world of infinite biological pathways. These connect trees and allow them to communicate and allow the forest to behave as though it’s a single organism.

It was observed how light is the fuel of all life, how it powers the biochemical processes needed for photosynthesis, where trees and other plants combine water (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2) to produce sugars and oxygen.

Encountering the hidden lives of trees always nurtures a sense of wonderment and intrigue in wild being, wilderness and the processes of life death and regeneration. The recognition of the role of trees and woodlands in modern living is encouraging a new reappraisal in the way they look at trees as a living social network as well as the symbiotic relationships and friendships formed between trees over hundreds of years. This offers them profound templates for how to live, how to communicate and build resilience together.

Planting a Forest in a Box

The tree seed incubator box was then activated with the children’s participation, spreading the leaf litter mix, then following up by casting the native tree seeds of sessile oak which they had collected in the nearby Peatlands Park ancient oak wood. These children are investing time and energy in their own future in a unique way that combines the past, present and future – it is amazing that some of the acorns are from trees that have watched over their families and sustained the art craft and survival of a lough shore way of life for generations.

Native Apple Tree Project 4

Conclusion

For me, personally, it is fulfilling seeing the children engaged totally in their day outside the confines of the classroom.

They are open to appreciate the magic of existence around them and especially in trees, all the while fostering an awareness for the natural world but more importantly a respect for the role they play in it. This is refreshing to see, because with it comes the realisation that Lough Neagh’s woodland culture may be deeply forgotten but it is certainly not lost.

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