With its spirals of small white flowers resembling the braided hair of a beautiful maiden, the Irish Lady’s Tresses orchid is one of Northern Ireland’s most eye-catching and rarest plants.
The species was first scientifically described by a botanist on an expedition to islands off Alaska in the early 1800s and there are a number of theories as to how the plant may have made its way to our shores.
The seeds are tiny and lightweight so might have been blown across the Atlantic or they could have been transported on the feet or feathers of birds blown off course on migration.
Until this summer, the wet grassland along the western shore of Lough Beg near Toomebridge was one of just a handful of sites in Northern Ireland where the orchid grows.
However, when out surveying at our Portmore Lough reserve near Aghalee in late July, trainee ecologist Anne Guichard was delighted to spot a single orchid in the area known as the ‘hare field’.
Since then, Irish Lady’s Tresses have been blooming in large numbers at both Lough Beg and Portmore, with more than 400 ‘spikes’ recorded to date across both sites.
Irish Lady’s Tresses flourish on wet, grazed meadows which regularly flood, making Portmore Lough and Lough Beg the perfect places to take root.
Portmore Lough warden Amy Burns says: “We were thrilled find this beautiful plant on our site and it just reaffirms that all the management we undertake here benefits a variety of wildlife and plant life. “Irish Lady’s Tresses are a UK priority species and Northern Ireland has about one-third of the total UK population so it’s vital that the places where the orchid is found are protected.”
Irish Lady’s Tresses are in flower until the end of August so you’d better be quick if you want to spot this stunning species!
Whenever I see a white-coloured butterfly fly past, I ask myself a very simple question to help ID the fluttery fellow - ‘Is he wearing his stripy pyjamas?’
Don’t worry, I haven’t gone stir crazy in the heat! I picked up this very helpful tip (designed for kids but very useful for all Lepidoptera novices) from Catherine Bertrand at Butterfly Conservation when she was at our Portmore Lough reserve last weekend.
As well as getting outside and enjoying the lovely weather we’ve been having in past few days, I’ve also been feeling rather smug at now being able to tell the green veined whites (which have stripy wings) from the stripe-less small and large whites!
Photo credit Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
There are almost 60 different types of butterfly in the UK and around half of that number can be spotted in our gardens.
They range from the rather unassuming, like the brown ringlet, to the gloriously coloured like the common blue.
Photo credit Ron Surgenor
Of course, as well as being a delight to look at, butterflies play an important role in our ecosystems, including providing pollination and natural pest control.
They are also an important element of the food chain and are prey for birds, bats and other insectivorous animals.
Sadly, butterflies are under threat today from unprecedented environmental change. Their fragility makes them quick to react to change so their struggle to survive is a serious warning about our environment.
The good news is that there are small things we can all do to help give butterflies a home.
Try to plant plenty of different nectar plants that flower throughout spring, summer and autumn, in a sheltered, sunny spot.
You can also leave a 'wild area' of your lawn or plant some attractive wild plants, such as scabious and valerian. Don’t forget to include caterpillar food plants if you want butterflies to breed in your garden.
Some adult butterflies hibernate, so provide places for them to hide – like a hedge or ivy on a fence – and you may see early spring butterflies in your garden like this gorgeous peacock :)
Photo credit Grahame Madge (rspb-images.com)
Don't forget you can take part in Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count until 10 August – visit www.bigbutterflycount.org to download an ID sheet and get recording!
Last year, we welcomed more than 250 people to the grounds of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum for one night. We went searching for bats, learned about moths and butterflies, enjoyed some marshmallows round the campfire and looked to the stars from inside an inflatable indoor planetarium (yes, you read that right!).
This year, the Big Wild Campout is back, and bigger than ever. We're taking over the Ulster Folk Museum for two nights, Friday 8 and Saturday 9 August, and we'll be pitching up at the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh on Saturday 23 August. We'll have our friends at Cotswold Outdoor there, ready to help you put up your tent, as well as lead us in some bushcraft activities. Butterfly Conservation Northern Ireland will be there too, as will the Northern Ireland Bat Group. We also have some stargazing, story telling and torch-lit bug hunts to look forward to - how will we ever fit it all into one night?
Tickets for the Big Wild Campout are on sale now, and are selling fast, so get yours quick (click the image below for tickets)!
But if you're still in two minds, read the blog below from Sasha Barrett-Ferris, who came along last year with her parents as volunteers and campers.
Big Wild Campout
Back in August 2013 on a hot summer’s afternoon my family and I set up camp in a very unusual place – in the grounds of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. Help was readily available if you needed any from the team from Cotswold along with members of the RSPB (including me).
We quickly settled in and made our way around the site to look at all the activities that were on offer. There were exciting crafts in the schoolroom, a bat walk after dark, the indoor planetarium, moth collecting and cinema to name but a few. I particularly enjoyed the indoor planetarium experience.
Cooking was done outdoors in a lovely cobbled courtyard where later in the evening hot chocolate and folk music were available. We even had a large camp fire where we toasted marshmallows (perfect for that little pick me up).
It was an incredible experience in a unique setting which we all thoroughly enjoyed so much we are coming back for a second year.
We can't wait to see you all there!