Category Archives: Volunteers

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!

Lough Neagh Litter Campaign

Lough Neagh Litter Campaign

Lough Neagh Partnership and the Rivers Trust are delighted to support the local community groups around the shores of Lough Neagh who want to change attitudes to litter.  Around Lough Neagh we can see the damage done to valuable wildlife habitats through our careless attitude to litter.  Plastic bottles, straws and single use coffee cups are blown from roads and lanes into streams and into Lough Neagh where we are contributing to killing of sea birds and sea animals.   Lough Neagh Partnership and the Rivers Trust are throwing our efforts behind the Live Here Love Here Campaign to do our bit.

Because we  Live Here beside the Lough

                           We Love Here and do not want our place looking like a skip!

Please join and like our Lough Neagh Litter Campaign on facebook

Next events coming up: –

Saturday 27 July        Derrytresk Community Centre      12noon

Saturday 3 Aug          Newmills at the MACE shop at 10:30am

A New Year Willow Workout

A New Year Willow Workout

Volunteers enjoyed a bright crisp morning at Oxford Island last Saturday.  “Such a beautiful morning to be out” said Gerard Mellon from Aghagallon.  I have been at the Willow Workout now for over 5years.  Every year I meet new people and make new friends”

“It is better value and healthier than spending money on gym membership” laughed Gary Dean

“Every year we cut the willow trees back to the stump to give us a harvest of willow rods that I can use for classes in basket-making” explained Paul Carville from Aghacommon.      Coppice

“The ancient practice of coppicing strengthens and prolongs the life of short lived trees such as willow and hazel” explained Chris McCarney, Volunteer Officer with the Lough Neagh Landscape Scheme.  Hazel and willow are an important part of the landscape around Lough Neagh and provide a home for many native birds and animals.

Willow

Come along and join us at Lough Neagh Discovery Centre, Oxford Island every Saturday at 10:30am  during January and February.

Lough Neagh Natural Heritage

Lough Neagh Natural Heritage

Lough Neagh sits in the center of Northern Ireland with many small communities nestled around its shorelines. It has inspired poetry, supports local and international wildlife, provides a large water catchment area that helps supply drinking water for people across Northern Ireland, and is home to the largest commercial eel industry in Europe. The Lough has many faces – from wild and windswept to calmly serene – each as quietly beautiful as the other.

Visitors and locals come to the lough shore from across the province. For many it is an opportunity to be close to nature and there is no doubt that the Lough holds a special place in the hearts of many.

Lough Neagh Partnership (LNP) are working with local landowners, farmers, industry, and communities through its landscape partnership scheme (funded by heritage lottery fund) to deliver a number of important cultural, built and natural heritage projects around the lough.

One of the main Natural Heritage projects is “Saving Nature” where LNP are working alongside partners RSPB NI, Local Landowners, Farmers, NIEA etc. to look at the key habitats around the Lough and the important wildlife species they support. Through a system of monitoring, research, engagement and practical restoration we hope to help improve the biodiversity at key sites and locations around the Lough. Through this research we can improve our understanding of the impact we as people are having on the Lough, and gain knowledge which will allow us to continue to interact with this landscape in a sustainable and well informed manner.

Lough Neagh Partnership (LNP) have been working with local landowners and the wider community looking at the potential impact of pressures such as climate change, over and under grazing, scrub control, etc. on the ecologically sensitive habitats and biodiversity found within and around the Lough Neagh & Lough Beg Special Protected Area.  Work is currently being carried out at Brookend Nature Reserve, where vegetation surveys are being carried out assessing the change in habitats and any changes in biodiversity. Surveys are also been undertaken to look at the invertebrate population found on the site and how this has altered with changing management on the site. Once the surveys have been carried out LNP will aim to work alongside Northern Ireland Environment Agency and other local landowners within the area to help improve the biodiversity value of the lands and offer support to the local communities and peoples who are looking after this valuable wildlife resource. It is also hoped that with correct management breeding waders such as curlew, redshank, and lapwing will start to use the lands again.

There are many pressures both man made and environmental that are acting on these special habitats, and whilst funding has been secured for the immediate future as an organisation we are constantly seeking ways to draw in more to continue this important work. Working alongside local communities and farmers is a vitally important part of our work, and educating recreational users and others on the potential impacts of their use and how they can help us to look after the Lough and its surrounding landscape is for us a big part of what we do. We are not alone in our love for this landscape and we would ask people to engage with us and help manage this landscape.

For further information and details of volunteering opportunities within Natural heritage projects, please contact either the Natural Heritage officer Siobhan Thompson at siobhan.thompson@loughneaghlp.com or Chris McCarney the Volunteer officer at chris.mccarney@loughneaghlp.com

Secret History of Aghagallon

Secret History of Aghagallon

The fieldwork for the archaeology dig at Aghagallon was completed last year.  Lough Neagh Partnership Ltd commissioned the Centre for Archaeology at Queens to explore the ancient enclosure at Derrynaseer as part of the HLF Landscape Scheme funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The enclosure at Derrynaseer, Aghagallon has long intrigued archaeologists. The enclosure is large, about 160m in diameter, and more or less circular, defined by an earthen bank which has become incorporated into the pattern of local fields.  At the initial community information night in Aghagallon, Dr Colm Murray, Director of the Centre for Archaeology Fieldwork explained that the size and location of the site meant it was important for the whole region but that the team were starting the excavation with three possible hypothesis including: –

  1. a ritual enclosure called a Henge established approx. 3,000BC during the Neolithic period or new stone age
  2. a medieval monastic site
  3. a medieval marketplace where craftspeople under the protection of the clan chief would demonstrate their skills and sell their wares to the local people.

 

“The local townland names also give us important clues” explained Dr Liam Campbell, Built Heritage Officer with the Lough Neagh Partnership, “The enclosure is in the townland of Derrynaseer, from the Irish means – oakwood of the craftsmen while Aghagallon is based on the Irish for – field of the standing stones.

 

Dr Colm Donnelly emphasised “The work of uncovering the past is like peeling an onion and rarely will we get a simple definitive answer but rather we will get bits of evidence that will raise a whole range of additional questions.”

Aghagallon Information

Over 40 local people of Aghagallon came to the community information meeting

The archaeology team moved into the church carpark on Monday 5 June and set up camp.  Over the four week period of the dig,   49 volunteers and 120 school children joined the Queen’s team to get down into the trenches and help uncover the secret past of this ancient site.  In total seven trenches were excavated at different locations across the site to uncover and explore “anomalies” found during and initial geophysical survey of the site.

 

Dr Liam Campbell said “In the excavated trenches, we found preserved seeds, fragments of wood and slag from metalworking, probably copper working.  In another trench, the presence of pits or post-holes along with charred hazel nut shells, and burnt bone.  A fragment of waste from glass working from the medieval period was found just above these features”.

 

In the trench near the hedge, the archaeologists were delighted to find an internal ditch filled with a charcoal rich soil, which contains some charred barley grains within it, some struck flint, and one possible fragment of Neolithic pottery.  Archaeologists have observed that a common feature of all henge monuments is the absence of an external ditch. They all have a bank, but unlike more or less every other type of field monument with a ditch and bank in Ireland or Britain, there is never an external ditch. Instead there is typically an internal ditch, sometimes deep, sometimes wide and shallow. The suggestion has been made by some archaeologists that this indicates that the intention of a henge is to keep forces of a spiritual nature contained within the henge, rather than keep forces of a material nature on the outside, such as, for instance, would be the case with a fort.

Trench 3 Aghagallon

Local volunteers busy in trench 3 at Aghagallon

At the final tour of the site, Cormac McSparron, Site Director explained that his team will have a lot of work to do to follow up on the fieldwork.   “We will send the samples we have gathered for radiocarbon dating.  This will give a specific time window when Neolithic ritual activities took place on the site and a similar time window for the craft working at the site.  We can say for certain that the site was used as a ritual site around 3,000BC the Neolithic period and the site was used around 1200AD as a medieval fair for crafts people: metal working, probably copper working, and some indications of glass working also.”  It is initially difficult to comprehend that the two activities took place thousands of years apart and the local people would have had very different perceptions of the site during these different periods in history.”

 

“This is an important and fascinating result” said Dr Liam Campbell and confirms the importance of linking oral and cultural history found in local stories, field names and townland names to archaeological investigation.  “We can now say with a level of confidence that the place name ‘Derrynaseer’ referred to the craft activities of copper and glass work on the site in the medieval period while the place name ‘Aghagallon’ referred to the standing stones refers to more ancient times.”  Dr Liam Campbell enthused “This finding gives us some proof of just how old at least some of our townland names are!”

 

In particular, the Centre for Archaeology Fieldwork were so generous with their time and expertise “We would like to thank the local community of Aghagallon for being such welcome hosts and all the volunteers for their help”. said Dr Liam Campbell, “We would particularly like to express our sincere thanks to the staff of St Patrick’s Parish, Aghagallon for allowing us to dig up their land and accommodate us for the duration of the dig.