FIND YOUR CREATIVE
Deep Reflections, winner in the Heritage and Art Category - John Meikleham
The variety of scenery and historical attractions,
the wildlife, the plant life – Lagan Valley Park has so much to inspire artists
and photographers. Which is why a
record number of ‘visionaries” entered the 2011 Laganscape Photographic Competition
and the standard of entries is soaring.
Missed your chance this year? The winning images shown here could
motivate you to bring the camera next time you’re by the Lagan. The 2012 competition will be here
before you know it. Or if you
can’t wait that long to express your creativity, there’s still time to enter
the Art in the Park competition. But hurry!
LVRP Information Officer David Scott has all the
details on the Photographic Competition results, Art in the Park, and a new
The 2011 Photographic
Competition has been another resounding success. Laganscape would like to say a
big thank you to all who entered. The quality of the entries gets better and
better and we feel that the images represent the Park wonderfully. The themes, The Natural World and Heritage & Art allowed budding
photographers unlimited scope for capturing the beauty of the Park during its
Foxglove in the Walled Garden - Geoff Mahood
The winners were announced at a prize giving ceremony held at the
Lock Keeper’s Visitors Centre where the exhibition will be on until the New
Year. The exhibition is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and will
eventually be on show at other locations throughout the Lagan Valley.
Art in the Park
is running out to enter Laganscape’s Art Competition which closes on the 28th
of October. The competition aims to get you, the visitor, to think creatively
about the great outdoors and create a piece of art that represents ‘your’ Lagan
Valley Regional Park.
exhibition and prize giving will be held at the Lock Keeper's Visitor Centre
and the exhibition will tour libraries and civic centres. Entrants have the
chance to win prize money of up to £100.
details, pick up an entry form from the visitors centre at the LVRP offices or
download from www.laganvalley.co.uk.
Good luck and grab that easel.
The towpath is alive with
the sound of stories...
Valley Regional Park would like to introduce you to our Heritage Audio Trail –
taking you on a journey through local heritage and wildlife along the 11-mile
stretch of shared towpath between Belfast and Lisburn.
trail takes you back to when horse-drawn barges slowly travelled up and down
the Lagan with their cargoes. Hear stories of a time when the Lagan Navigation
was a busy thoroughfare and the canal folk lived and worked along its banks.
audio trail runs the full length of the Lagan towpath within LVRP and is free
to download from our website, www.laganvalley.co.uk.
Each stop has an audio clip which is in MP3 format and can be downloaded to a
compatible media player or mobile phone. Once you have logged onto our website
click on the Audio Trail tab and follow the instructions on the page.
the towpath you will find 35 numbered audio trail markers. Each displays a
barcode that, when scanned with a Smartphone, sends an audio file, bringing the
life of bygone days along the Canal direct to your phone!
a recent visit to the Lock Keeper’s cottage at Lock 3 on the Lagan Towpath, the
Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Carál Ní Chuilín learned about the
Heritage Audio Trail from Cathy Burns and David Scott from Laganscape. His
reaction: "This exciting new audio trail brings our forgotten history back
to life. The technology is particularly innovative as it opens the doors to a
wide range of audiences including those with visual impairment. Thanks to
projects like Laganscape local communities and visitors from further afield can
reconnect with our heritage”.
...and with things to do
for the kids!
With the October holidays
coming up and that age-old question of 'what to do with the kids?', we’ve got
the inspiration! Our new Lagan Valley Learning website is
packed with loads of trails (with maps), activities and ID charts so you
can identify all the things you see out and about in the Park. Everything is
free to download from www.laganvalleylearning.co.uk. Find
out Where the Wild Things Are, go Gruffalo hunting!
No plastic please! Chaffinches are much happier feeding from a pinecone feeder.
And finally...A cautionary tale about mesh wrapped
I was opening up the
Lock Keeper's cottage this morning and noticed some kind soul had hung two fat
balls on the bird table. While this generous act was undoubtedly meant for the
best, the fat balls were wrapped in that fine plastic mesh that they tend
to come in. The plastic is quite dangerous for our feathered friends as they
can get their feet tangled in the mesh causing amputation or death.
Every winter I find
these along the towpath and throughout the Lagan Valley Regional Park. I cut
them down, remove the mesh and wedge the fat balls between branches or cracks
in tree trunks so they do not go to waste. I don't want to seem negative - it's
fantastic that people want to help the birds during the winter months - but
these fine nets end up in the river and littering the woodlands, potentially
causing more issues.
A far better way to
leave energy-packed treats for the birds which is also much more fun to do,
very easy, and a great project for kids: make a pinecone birdfeeder. Find everything you need to know
on our new Lagan Valley Learning website.
Visit the site and click on 'Resources' to find a video showing how to
make these eco and bird friendly feeders at home.
Last two photos provided by LVRP
Proof fungi can be things of beauty - especially in princess pink!
The mushrooms of your
dreams can be found at Lagan Valley Regional Park, where they are at their
pungent profuse peak right now!
Autumn is the
favourite time of year of fungi.
Something about all that damp and murk, rotting bark and festering leaf
mould brings fungi into full ‘bloom’ in the shadowy reaches of the forest. Around the world the arrival of mushroom picking season is a time for foraging, feasting and celebrating. But the less edible cousins get to strut their stuff too.
To see the Park's incredible
(though mostly inedible) display at its best, join the Fungal Foray at the LVRP
this Saturday morning. The Park is
full of fantastic and surprisingly colourful fungi – it’s easy to see why they
are the stuff of fairy tales, gothic legends and mysterious lore!
My colleague Stephanie
Sim at the RSPB has been doing some digging! And she took these brilliant photos also.
Fungi are a big deal at this time of the year. When the
weather turns wetter and a little cooler their weird and wonderful, slippery
and slimy shapes, creep up, sometimes in their hundreds on likely hosts,
turning a rather mundane log into a veritable alien invasion.
There is definitely something about mushrooms. I think it is
because they are neither fish nor fowl, so to speak. Are they a plant? Are they
a parasite? Are they living things in their own right? Are they beautiful or
What is the purpose
Well they break things down. If we didn’t have fungi, we
would have lots of lots of dead things all around us. We think of the beautiful
fly agaric, the red toadstool, as the archetypal shroom, but most fungi is
microscopic. They are everywhere too. In your nostrils, on your sandwich, on
your hair, in your mug as many a student bedsit will testify... just
everywhere. And given the right conditions, like being on a neglected sandwich at
the bottom of a school bag, they will sprout.
Athlete's foot this ain't. But it is a distant relative.
The top bit that we always see is the fleshy, spore-bearing
fruiting body of the fungus. Most of the fungus really is not visible. It
travels under the food source and breaks it down, and then when the conditions
are right, it produces the fruiting body, and spores are dispersed – in a
variety of ways.
I could go on about the weird and wonderful names that fungi
have. Puffball, stinkhorn (from the family of Phallaceae which just about tells you everything this fungi looks like), to toadstools,
and this is what i was thinking about as i walked about Belvoir Park, looking
at the various varieties which had sprouted up, mostly in the pine forest, when
i finally arrived at Ireland’s oldest oak tree.
On a single ancient tree, a fungal metropolis....
In the soft afternoon light, it was immense. Actually as a tree
it is not very large as it has mostly collapsed, but the bit that was still
alive was green and vigorous. It was its 700 – 800 year old presence that was
immense. What really captivated me was the colonies of fungi that had gathered
to live on it. Its bark was a coppery green and spun with spiders’ webs, the
inside had a papery thin black fungi that gave the tree the appearance of being
charred. On one side, a vermillion bracket fungus had sprouted; that was moist
and soft with dew. And then along the length of its entire ‘back’ were hundreds
of miniature butter yellow umbrellas. How could i not believe that gnomes and
sprites did not live here?
...mushrooming everywhere! Just add gnomes.
If you’re ever in Belfast visit the Belvoir Oak. It is as
close to being in the presence of Merlin or Taliesin as you’ll ever get.
The coming weekend – 15 October – a Fungal Foray will take
place at Loughmacrory Woods in Omagh. Dr Roy Anderson, foremost mushroom expert
in Northern Ireland will be taking the walk himself. I’ll be there talking
about feeding the birds. Come along to see what you might find. For more
information, email Julie.Corry@omagh.gov.uk.
Or for a Foray a bit
closer to home, go to www.laganvalley.co.uk for details. Booking ahead is advised,
as fungi have a certain mystique!
Yikes! Remember this?
They’re forecasting yet
another brutal winter this year, so we’re all starting to get ready. Shoe grips for the ice, check! Car anti-freeze, check! Boiler service,
check! Woolly tights and big
jumper, check and double check.
And don’t forget bird food and feeders.
If you spent any time along
the Lagan during the height of the snow and ice last winter, you’ll know how
desperate the conditions were for birds, particularly small seedeaters like the
tit family and sparrows. Every
source of food and water was either frozen over or picked clean. Realising birds faced a life and death
crisis, the Lagan Valley volunteers and team placed feeders all along the
towpath. Robins, blackbirds and
finches abandoned their usual wariness around humans to flock to these life saving
Now we’re bracing ourselves
for a repeat. Which is why, for
all of us, feeding favourite garden birds (including seasonal visitors from the
Arctic) is so critical. This is
the urgent message the RSPB is getting out for their annual Feed The Birds Day
Cold feet and empty tummies - Christmas Day 2010 was pretty grim for birds.
Come dine in my garden
Last winter, and the one
before, garden feeders saved numerous bird lives. Without a lot of effort involved. It’s actually amazingly inexpensive and easy to keep birds
happy. Hosting a bird garden party
needn’t mean fancy nuts ‘n seed combos – common household leftovers make great
bird fare. Like those leftover porridge oats at the bottom of the bag, those
chopped nuts that never got used, apples going a bit brown.
Birds will repay your
kindness by bringing much enjoyment and pleasure – so welcome during the
darkest days of winter. Put out
food and wee bluetits, coaltits and sparrows will definitely come flocking. And
in the case of blackbirds and the mistle thrush – singing!
Nope, no grub anywhere as far as I can see.
Kids in particular, love
feeding birds, so it’s a great project for families and schools. Feed The Birds Day is about much more
though; it’s a timely reminder to appreciate and care for the wildlife on our doorsteps.
There are a few simples dos and don'ts, so before you set up your bird cafe, make life easy and find out more. Visit the RSPB website rspb.org.uk/feedthebirds for oodles of great tips. Call into the RSPB headquarters next time you are take a weekday meander through Belvoir Park. You'll find a good selection of food, feeders and information leaflets. Or best of all, find out in person and have a fun day out while you're at it!
Feed The Birds Events The RSPB has cooked up two
full weekends dedicated to Feed The Birds Day at the Ulster Museum, October
15-16 and 22-23. If you’ve ever seen birds in distress in your ice-bound garden and
wondered what you can do for them, the RSPB has the answer. Expert
beak geeks will be
dishing up advice and menu ideas to help attract feathered friends to your
garden and bring them winter cheer.
They’ll be running workshops all day, giving talks and doing cookery
lessons. It’s free and everyone is
Not peckish anymore! RSPB's Colin Graham and friends at IKEA last weekend dining with some human beings! (Lynn Campbell from IKEA and her daughter Maya)
To learn about other events
around Northern Ireland, visit the RSBP site – details above.
This year, as you go through
your pre-winter checklist – don’t forget the birds! Mark your calendar.
Feed The Birds Day is Saturday October 29. Maybe it should be everyday.
Photos taken last year along the Lagan by Tony Dignan and last week at IKEA by the RSPB
along the Lagan is getting a major boost, with the arrival of a new Lagan
Valley Bird Conservation Officer, the RSPB’s Michael McLaughlin.
Michael McLaughlin TABLES GIANT BIRD conservation plans
The conservation programme is an important strand of
Laganscape, which is making the most of the natural and historic diversity
along the Belfast to Lisburn stretch of the Lagan – and winning awards.
RSPB’s Lagan programme began life as a survey conducted by
the RSPB’s Kevin Mawhinney a few years ago. Kevin identified the most vulnerable bird species within the
Park and recommended measures to help their recovery. (Get the full story on the home page of this On the Lagan blog
site including information about each of the targeted birds.)
Now in its third year, the conservation programme is making
great progress towards its targets, even exceeding some!
Des res for nesting
birds Phase 1 focused on nest boxes for barn owls, house sparrows, swifts
and spotted flycatchers, as well as tunnels along the riverbanks for nesting kingfishers. Michael’s predecessor Nicole Robinson
made real strides on this front, working closely with key landowners along the
Lagan, such as the National Trust and the Agricultural and Food Biosciences
Institute, (AFBI) and forming important relationships along the way. With help from LVRP volunteers and
local landowners, much of the groundwork of creating more nest sites has now
Michael says the AFBI on New Forge Lane have been particularly
active, putting up many swift boxes, nest boxes for sparrows and a giant bird
table. And the National Trust has done great work, not just installing barn owl
boxes, but also monitoring them.
Even the Scouts pitched in, putting up boxes on their Ardnavally site.
Easy once you know how. Park volunteers learning to build nest boxes
So the stage is set for Phase 2 – monitoring progress and
repairing or moving unused or damaged boxes. Michael hopes local landowners and park volunteers will play
a part here.
Al Fresco dining With the nest box programme well advanced, Michael is putting his emphasis
on improving habitat and food sources for seed eating birds. He plans to introduce more Giant Bird
Tables, providing valuable nutrition.
A Giant Bird Table is an area of flowering and seed bearing plants,
including some cereals, left to grow and reseed naturally. They look stunning in summer –“much
nicer than mown grass”.
Michael has a wish list of ideal Giant Bird Table sites and
is hoping to work closely with Lisburn, Belfast and Castlereagh Councils to
make them happen. He has joined
forces with the LVRP – their Laganscape grasslands project dovetails neatly
with his objectives.
Looks good enough to eat. Volunteers conducting wildflower surveys.
“If we could provide the seed and guidance, the Councils could
provide the site and the labour. A
Giant Bird Table involves less maintenance than lawns; once it is planted, just
leave it to grow and set seed. It
does not need cutting back until the end of the year, and maybe occasional resowing, but that is about it. So a simple,
jointly funded project like this is a good way of helping councils meet their
biodiversity targets,” says Michael.
farmers He also plans to forge contacts with other landowners along the
Lagan, in particular farmers. No
better person, as Michael has extensive experience working with farmers. Originally from Donegal, Michael switched
from studying art to studying nature.
He now holds a BA in Environmental Science from UU Coleraine and a
Masters in Ecology from Queen’s.
His RSPB connection began as a volunteer on the yellowhammer
recovery project, doing farmland survey work. This led to a post with the RSPB agri-environment scheme,
where Michael focused on small farmland birds, in particular yellowhammers and
“Farmer liaison is important to me. Since the initial survey, the programme
has not had much communication with local farmers, so some may not realise they
are within the Park. They
may also not be aware that they could receive funding from the Countryside
Management Scheme, so some friendly encouragement could benefit them.”
Local farmers will be getting to know this face around their place
Under the scheme, arable farmers are paid to keep their
winter stubble – a vital cold weather food resource. “The area has a lot of arable farms, so this is a very
important habitat for seed eating birds.
I am hoping to start up contact by offering farmers a tailor-made nest
box package based on the survey results.
I can let farmers know what birds rely on their land and provide the
boxes plus advice on putting them up. If farmers know it costs nothing and
involves no extra work, they will be more interested and engaged."
Go on...be a
volunteer! Michael is also looking forward to working with the LVRP on ongoing
nest box and survey work. So if
you have been toying with the idea of volunteering, this is your time! There
are volunteer days coming up in October, including a nest box building day.
To learn more about LVRP volunteering opportunities,
or talk to Volunteer Co-ordinator Jo at 028 90491922.
While you still can!
– relish the wonderful sight and smell from the sweetpea hedge at the Lock
Mind your head - Falling conker alert!
Photos provided by the LVRP and RSPB (Michael)
Many people regard August as an autumn month. But the idea that summer is already over
can be hard to accept, when it feels as if summer has hardly gotten started yet
– still waiting for that heatwave!
But it’s true. Now that the swifts have gone, it’s sadly silent around
the Crescent Arts Centre. But the house martins under our eaves (now on their
second brood) are still swooping and flitting outside my window...for now.
LVRP Information Officer David Scott has been
spotting the signs of autumn all round the Lagan.
Blink and you miss it!
As the summer (what we had of it) draws to a
close and the nights draw in it’s that time of year when our wildlife goes on
the move, falls asleep or just plain snuffs it. I know it’s maybe a bit early
for some of you to be thinking of the long winter months ahead, but at this
time of year blink and you miss it!
I’ve noticed the starlings have started to
gather into small flocks which will soon begin to merge into ‘super flocks’
which can be seen over the skies of Belfast at sunset. Though not in Lagan
Valley Regional Park, the super flocks in action are well worth a look.
The Albert Bridge is a good place to see this aerial spectacle.
Predator particularly partial to starlings - the peregrine
The reason starlings flock together is due to
safety in numbers. Sparrow hawks will pick off any outside the main flock, so
the starlings fly in close formation in synchronised patterns to confuse these
agile predators. Peregrines are also fond of the occasional starling before
bed. I’ve seen them twice flying over Belfast then plummeting to earth in an
almost impossible dive. Unfortunately there have been no sightings in LVRP for
a while, so if you spot any please let me know at the usual address email@example.com.
Crows are starting to gather as well. I spotted several family groups feeding in the fields and gathering in the trees,
although not quite the huge and noisy flocks known as a ‘murder of crows’. (see earlier blog)
The jackdaw knows - sleek and black is always a good look
The swifts are almost all away and it won’t
be long before the swallows and martins follow. Unlike the swifts that seem to
disappear overnight, the swallows will gather along telegraph and electrical
wires until a large flock has formed. Then they take off together; the safety
in numbers thing again.
We have had a few concerned folk popping into
the office wondering where all the mallards have gone. At this time of year
they are moulting and tend to keep out of the way when this is happening. As
soon as they are back to normal (the vain drakes do not like to be seen without
their finery) they will reappear and be hanging around the river listening out
for the rustle of a bread bag.
One family of birds that has made a late,
very late, appearance after a long absence is the swans! A pair has
successfully reared cygnets (I couldn’t count how many as they were in the
weeds), which are still quite young looking for this time of year. I assume
they either started late or possibly were disturbed first time around, then
tried again. The swans are in the Lambeg area, but please if you go for a look,
keep your distance to avoid stressing the parents, and for your own safety too,
as they are very protective!
Swans are back and breeding - let's hope they stay
I also saw this week the distinctive ‘V’
shape of birds flying overhead. In this case it was swans heading in the
direction of the Broadwater, which was once a reservoir on the Lagan Navigation
between Moira and Aghalee. There is a guided walk along the Broadwater on the
25th of August. Check the events calendar on the LVRP website for
more details. This area is brilliant for watching waterfowl during the winter
months as many spend their time here feeding and waiting for spring to come
The honk of geese isn’t far away and I’ve had
reports from Scotland that a few have started to arrive already, (which is early)
though with the temperatures in Greenland and the Arctic around freezing I’m
sure I’d be heading south if I could.
Looking from Terrace Hill it doesn't seem like autumn
With that cold weather around the corner and
spreading down from the north, it marks the end of the butterflies for another
year. Those that don’t fly back to the continent like the Painted Lady (which I
confess I’ve not seen this year) will go into hibernation or simply snuff it
and hope that the last batch of caterpillars form chrysalises and survive the
The badgers will be munching like mad to put
on a bit of extra weight before their staple diet of worms head deeper
underground to avoid the frost. Badgers tend not to hibernate in this country,
as the winters aren’t that severe in Northern Ireland. But they definitely slow down a bit and
prefer to stay underground, so time is running out if you want to go for a night-time
walk and try to spot a family group munching in the moonlight.
We might be in denial that the nights are
drawing in and that the long winter after the short summer is almost upon us,
but unless you keep your eyes open at this time of the year things will pass
Go Wild on August 20th
If you would like to get up close and
personal with some native and exotic birds of prey, we will have the Northern
Ireland School of Falconry down at the Lock Keeper’s Cottage on the 20th
of August as part of our Wilderness Day. The day runs from 11.00am to 4.00pm
and will feature exhibits from the Ulster Wildlife Trust, RSPB, and Butterfly
Conservation Northern Ireland. Meet
LVRP staff and volunteers too. The
Lock Keeper’s Cottage will be open for visitors. There will also be woodturning demonstrations and arts and
crafts for the kids. This event is completely free and LVRP would like
everyone to come along to our family fun day. For more information check out
our website www.laganvalley.co.uk
or call us on 028 9049 1922.
ALL PHOTOS PROVIDED BY THE LVRP