Saving Nature Project – Department of Education Lands

Saving Nature Project – Department of Education Lands

My name is Siobhan Thompson and I am Natural heritage project officer for Lough Neagh Partnership Ltd.

Siobhan Thompson

We have secured funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to deliver the Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership Programme which aims to address the heritage needs of the Lough and its shoreline on a holistic integrated landscape basis. The Programme will deliver 27 projects that relate directly to the conservation of the Lough’s natural, cultural, and built heritage.

The primary objective of the overarching Saving Nature project is to restore the peatland habitat and wet grassland for birds, waders and other wildlife that live alongside the people and community, in and around the Lough Neagh shore. Alongside this we would like to explore the relationship that the community and its people have with the landscape – from their memories of family life in the area through to their aspirations for the land and how it is used in the future. The programme aims to reinforce the connection the local community has with the surrounding lands and natural heritage

The saving nature programme not only aims to contribute to the protection of both cultural and natural heritage landscapes but encourages partners and local communities to recognize that the future of their regions depends on finding synergies between preserving the cultural and natural values and the sustainable management of both. Communities and social groups experience place through real and imagined facets, to make sense of the world and the stories told therein. The visualisation methodology we hope to apply to the landscape, and in particular the peatlands, of southwest Lough Neagh will be used to join up the dots of the factual and imaginary that form affective networks of identities, which in turn shape local memory, sense of self, community and sense of the past. The project will bring people together to examine how our 21st century sense of place, livelihood and community has been moulded by our links to the environmental, especially processes of water and peatland. It is through these environmental connectivity’s that local actions will be linked to the natural heritage protection and conservation. This work will be delivered in conjunction with Quarto a team of four sisters from Northern Ireland.

We will also be monitoring the Curlew population in the area. Curlew are one of the fastest declining birds in the UK and Breeding populations are becoming increasingly rare – with numbers decreasing in the island of Ireland by 80% in the last ten years – We have employed a team/Curlew Monitoring Officer (CMO)  to monitor the breeding population on The Department of Education lands –  Starting Tuesday 26th March 2019, the focus of the CMO will be to monitor the area for Breeding Curlew and engage with the local landowners/businesses to raise the profile of the Curlew within the local community. Positive outreach is an integral part of the role and this will be carried out alongside the LNLP team.

Department of Education Lands

We have also engaged an artist Rosalind Lowry to work in the area with different groups and we envisage strong community interest and engagement from different parties and landowners in the area – we will be keen to work with all and will hold some information nights at a number of locations in the area for locals – including Derrytresk Community Centre to let you know what is happening and when – we will advertise these on our facebook page and locally in the communities of South West Lough Neagh.

We are keen to work with all in the community and there will be plenty of opportunity for engagement over the next year – if you have any questions or would like to know more about the project please get in touch –

Blogs and Bugs – Brackagh Bog

Blogs and Bugs – Brackagh Bog

Blogs and Bugs – Brackagh Bog

Guest blog by – Sarah Galloway

This month we have started the practical conservation work on Brackagh, yes, we are back at Brackagh. The practical conservation work we are undertaking is scrub and tree removal of the fen and pools areas within Brackagh. This involves cutting the trees with bow saws, using loppers on smaller trees, scrubs and brambles.


Tree stumps are then painted with Glyphosate which is a herbicide, this then kills the tree right down to the root to prevent it from regrowing. Through this work it will help maintain the fen and prevent it from succeeding to a dense wet woodland. This is necessary as a result of the trees growing here it is drying out the soil. This then negatively impacts the wetland species which originally grew here and the insects and dragonflies which live in the vegetation. Through doing this it will prevent the fen from succeeding to a wet woodland but it will require consistent management to help prevent it from succeeding to woodland again.

View Sarah’s previous blogs here:

Blogs and Bugs – October

Blogs and Bugs – September

Adventures of a Busy Bee – Camera Traps

Adventures of a Busy Bee – Camera Traps

Adventures of a busy bee – Camera Traps

Guest blog by Nicole Feenan

Over the past few weeks we have the chance to work with camera traps across the reserve. Camera traps are used widely in conservation across the world. A camera trap is a remotely activated camera that is equipped with a motion sensor, an infrared sensor or it will use a light beam as a trigger. They are also known as trail cameras and their main use is to capture images and/or videos of wildlife with little to no human interference as possible. The images and videos produced by camera traps have been featured in many documentaries and are shared widely on social media to raise awareness of certain species at risk of becoming endangered. The famous David Attenborough has used camera traps to record footage for both Blue Plant and his most recent documentary Dynasties. We are only new to using this equipment but through a little persistence and practice we very fortunate to get footage of a fox, birds, a rabbit and a mouse. We have found that the forest is a good place to put the cameras as they are camouflaged by the trees and fallen leaves. Here are some images of what we found:

Camera Trap - Fox

Figure 1 – Rabbit Found at Oxford Island

Camera Trap - Fox

Figure 2 – Fox found at Oxford Island

Bogs and Blogs – Palm Oil

Bogs and Blogs – Palm Oil

Bogs and Blogs

Guest blog by Amy Gallagher

Today I’m going to talk about Palm Oil, something I knew very little about until recently. Palm oil has always been seen as a controversial issue, however lately it has been drawn into the spotlight after the banned Iceland ad which promoted the fact that their products are free from the oil.

Demand for palm oil is growing exponentially due to the fact that it is high yielding, versatile and cheap. It uses less land to produce the same volume of vegetable oil than that of many alternatives. So many ask the question why do conservationists hate palm oil so much?

Conservationists are not against the oil itself, but deforestation. The exponential growth in the market, is contributing directly to the continued destruction of tropical rainforests in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. This is having a devastating affect on the local and global ecosystem.

Palm Oil Orangutan

From the Iceland ad the plight of the orangutan is highlighted with 25 orangutans being killed by palm oil deforestation every day. However, the Orangutan is not the only animal endanger of becoming extinct in these tropical rainforests. Two other species that are seeing rapid declines due to palm deforestation are the Borneo Elephant and Sumatran Tiger.

It is not just the animals that are suffering due to the high demand for palm oil. Tropical deforestation accounts for about 10% of total global emissions (UCS 2013). The Green House Gas emissions from palm-driven land use change is so large they are contributing significantly to global warming.

It is possible to produce palm oil sustainably however currently businesses are not supporting sustainable production because consumers are not demanding it. By buying products with the RSPO logo as seen on the right, we can encourage companies to switch to sustainable palm oil.

The oil is a valuable commodity that is used in many supermarket items including bread, cereal, chocolate and margarine. It is also used in many personal products like shampoo, make up, cleaning products and bio fuel. Although it is very useful product, we must be ethical consumers and question where products come from and what effect it is having on the environment.

The oil can be produced in a sustainable way that can benefit the environment and the impoverished farmers in these LEDCs that rely on Palm plantations as a livelihood. But for organisations like the RSPO to make a real difference, consumers must step up like they did for fair trade, and support the production of sustainable Palm oil.

I have attached a link to the Iceland ad and a link to a website on how to avoid products with Palm Oil. I hope you enjoyed this post and will try and support companies and brands that support sustainable palm oil production!

Useful Links:


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


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


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




Lough Neagh Community Heritage Training

Lough Neagh Community Heritage Training

Are you interested in your place and it’s past?

Would you like to know how to research, record and archive your local history? Lough Neagh Landscape partnership is offering you heritage training and advice.

Venue 1: Lock Keepers Cottage in Toome – Mon 1st Oct, 8th Oct, 15th Oct & 29th Oct

Venue 2: Community Hall Aghagallon – Tuesday 6th Nov, 13th Nov, 20th Nov & 4th Dec

Time 7.30pm – 9.30pm

Training is FREE but places are limited, so book early! Please contact Chris McCarney volunteer officer on 077 8824 9517.

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