Don’t forget about the birds during Winter

I woke this morning to a heavy frost outside, the first frost of the Winter in Northern Ireland this year.

I love the frost, it highlights the different aspects of my garden and is truly beautiful.

As I drank my first coffee of the day, I watched the flurry of birds around my feeders. A mixture of playful Finches and Tits and of course the territorial Robin. Throughout Autumn there were very few garden birds spotted around my feeders. During Autumn, berries are extremely abundant and so birds feed on them when available. But now, as the weather turns colder, the berries are gone, the leaves have shed and the earthworms are protected by the hard, frost-bit soil.

So, I urge you to put something out for the birds. They aren’t a fussy lot; they like various nuts, seeds and breadcrumbs. I always make sure to put out Niger Seeds which always attract the Goldfinches.

Trust me, it’s pretty nice to watch them flutter around whilst you have the first coffee of the day.

Ruling the Roost

I began my ascent of Slieve Muck on a beautiful sunny September morning. The mountain has always caught my eye and I have always wanted to walk along this section of the Mourne Wall. I climbed the stile and started to follow the wall and immediately understood why this name was given to the mountain. It is definitely “Mucky” as the hillside is full of water, mud, Moss and Heather. Slieve Muck helps to feed the waters of Spelga Dam which lies directly below it.

As I walked further, I was intrigued by the sound of running water as t seems to run beneath the stones of the Mourne Wall. There is a lot of outcrop formations showing the underlying geology of the mountain and this explains the surface run-off waters. If souls are narrow between the surface and the underlying rock, the souls will saturate quickly and cause excess waters to flow down the mountain. This water created waterfalls on the most minute scale. With the sun shining down on the mountain, these patches of wet rock glistened and sparkles, and was quite beautiful.

The higher I got, the more I could appreciate the view of Spelga Dam with the old road and bridge still visible. For a while I just stayed there, watching how the shadows of the clouds changed the landscape. I let the winds rush past me. The sound of traffic was starting to fade and all I could hear was the wind and the birds. Suddenly I realised just how many birds there was.

From the bottom of the mountain I had spotted a few large Ravens flying along the summit of the mountain. But I had been distracted by my surroundings and missed the gathering of Ravens that were now circling me. They were making a lot of noise now, as if calling in for more recruits.

Now, I do love birds, but have you ever seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie called The Birds? Well, it was the only thing going through my head at that minute. The gist of the film is a pack of birds that terrorise a town, attacking the people and ultimately pecking them to death. I was aware that I was being a bit dramatic, so I kept on walking as just paid more attention to the birds. I think I counted the birds every few minutes and their numbers kept growing. Some were soaring high above the mountain, some were perched on the wall and others flew behind me. I was determined not to let them deter me from my summit. Then they started to fly closer to me, so close that I could hear the flapping of their wings and that was a bit too close for comfort. Their swooping and circling felt like threats and the higher I climbed the more aggressive they got. So, I called it a day. I turned around and started my descent. Immediately the Ravens began to fly further away from me and their numbers started to dwindle. Their forces were retreating as I was. The calls continued but they were no longer threatening, they now sounded like cackling. I guess they were happy that I had been defeated.

There should be an important rule to follow whilst exploring nature, to back off when you are infringing on wildlife. I was moving closer to their roost, their habitat and their home, so the Ravens were simply defending their territory and it is my responsibility to respect that. I will venture back to this area and try to reach the summit but on this day, the Ravens were ruling the roost.

Heather in the Mournes

During the Summer months Heather grows rapidly amongst the mountains. The three species found in my area are Ling Heather, Bell Heather and Cross-leaves Heather, all of which boast beautiful purple hues when in bloom. Up high in the Mournes and the Ring of Gullion, the Heather is widespread and lies like a deep purple blanket upon the hillside. It is truly beautiful but also shows that the mountain side it a healthy heathland. Heather grows in bog ecosystems, with peat souls and lots of water. With such a dry Summer this year, it is encouraging to see the Heather continue to flourish throughout the Mournes. A lot of hard work has been carried out to maintain the condition of the upland bogs in this area and it has been a success.

Bogs are a common sight throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom and are key to the great biodiversity found there. Along with Heather, many plants like Bog Cotton, Bilberry and Mosses will be in fluxed by insect life. On a recent hike up Slieve Binnian, I was surrounded by Bumblebees, Flies, Midgets and Butterflies. Specifically, I spotted a few Tortoiseshell Butterflies fluttering around the Heather.

Even now as the Summer is ending and the Heather begins to die off, it still bears its beauty, as it now shows off a new orange shade. This orange symbolises the end of Summer and the beginning of Autumnas the leaves of other plants and trees will start to change colour and eventually shed and fall.

Blackberry Jammin’

I recently went for a walk along the Mourne Coastal Path close to Bloody Bridge in County Down, Northern Ireland. I had left thick mountain mist surrounding Spelga Dam to find beautiful clear skies along the coast. As I walked along the path I took in everything and it was a pleasure for my senses. I could hear both the crashing of the waves at the shoreline and the rush of water from the Bloody Bridge River. There were many tourists out visiting the beautiful spot, taking in the beautiful views and capturing some photos. I, of course, had my camera at the ready and was snapping away at everything and anything. I spotted a beautiful Peacock Butterfly and was lucky enough to get a great close up photo before it flew off. Then I spotted something that instantly brought back some amazing memories.

Blackberries.

A simple berry, so common to my home but continues to put a smile on my face. I snapped away at the berries, marvelling at the different colours displayed. I recalled how my friend and I used to love picking blackberries, always trying to find the biggest and juiciest ones on offer. Instead of eating the berries, we mashed them up and created our own jam. We didn’t use a kitchen or utensils, we just used the garden. A rock made a great replacement for a scone and who would have known that a leaf could really be a slice of toast. We would have played café nearly everyday of the summer, picking the blackberries throughout my garden until they were gone. My mum, dad and anyone nearby would be offered the appetising treat of a rock covered in mashed berries and luckily enough they had a great sense of humour and always pretended to love my baked goods.

What always makes me laugh is thinking of my mum’s face when I would walk in the door after a long hard day of smashing blackberries. She would look me up and down and just let out a long sigh as yet again I had completely destroyed another outfit.

Want some Jelly with your Ice-cream?

There is nothing more typical of my Northern Irish culture than to head to the beach on my day off work to enjoy an ice-cream, most likely a 99.

So yesterday I ventured out to two local beaches for a short stroll. Firstly, I visited Greencastle Beach and then I went on to Cranfield Beach, both of which lie on the shores of Carlingford Lough. Both beaches are popular for leisure and Greencastle has a working ferry and lots of smaller boats anchored along the shore.

I am pretty sure that the first time I had every seen a Jellyfish was on Greencastle Beach and yesterdays experience did not disappoint. To my surprise the beach was flocked with small Moon Jellyfish (Aurelia aurita also called Common Jellyfish. True to its name, this species is a very common sight around British and Irish shores and it is this species that I have seen before. They can be identified by their four purple rings that can be seen very clearly within their whitish translucent bodies. Their sting is very weak and should not be too much of a problem for people in the water or on the shore.

Moon Jellyfish/ Common Jellyfish (Aurelia Aurita)

As I walked further along the waterline I found larger jellyfish that I had never seen before and they are the Lion’s Mane Jellyfish (Cyanea capillata). These are very impressive with their bright orange/red colour and are the largest jelly species in the world. Although the Lion’s Mane prefer cooler waters it is becoming more common to find them stranded along British and Irish coastlines. This species comes with a powerful sting in and out of the water so great care must be taken when visiting the beach during the Summer months.

Lion’s Mane Jellyfish (Cyanea capillata)

As I arrived at Cranfield Beach there was a noticeable difference between the beaches in relation to stranded Jellyfish. Cranfield and Greencastle are only minutes from each other but there are vast differences, Cranfield is a Blue-Flag Beach and Greencastle has a more rocky shore and pebbled beach. Although I did spot some Jellyfish on Cranfield, they were much smaller and it was mainly the Moon Jellyfish present here. I spotted one Blue Jellyfish (Cyanea lamarckii) on the beach and I didn’t see any of the Lion’s Mane Jellyfish. The Blue Jellyfish is small and translucent like the Moon Jelly but has a more vivid Blue colour on it. This species has a mild sting which has been compared to that of a Nettle sting.

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Blue Jellyfish (Cyanea lamarckii)

I found it astonishing to see so many Jellyfish but very sad that they had to be stranded for me to see them. Unfortunately, most of the individuals that I seen yesterday will have dehydrated and died before the tide came back for them. Only the larger individuals will have had a fighting chance. As they float along in currents, they are quite defenceless to stranding between tides.

So appreciate the beauty of these Jellyfish but from a distance as even when stranded they can still sting.

What to do if you have been stung by a Jellyfish;

  • If in water, get out immediately
  • If there are any stingers left in your skin, remove them if possible as they will continue to sting you
  • Apply heat to relieve pain
  • Take paracetamol to relieve pain
  • If pain persists, seek medical attention
  • DO NOT URINATE ON THE STING (This is a MYTH and will not help in any way)

For more information follow the link below providing information from the NHS;

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/jellyfish-and-other-sea-creature-stings/

Bees’ Needs Week 9-15 July

This week we are celebrating the third annual Bees’ Needs Week hosted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), so for the rest of this week try to keep a thought for the bees and their needs. These insects are essential for pollination which keeps are agricultural industry thriving and there is no alternative after them. So, we MUST keep them healthy and turn around their populations to ensure our own future on planet Earth.

“Bees and other pollinators are vital contributors to the beauty of our landscapes, our economy and our £100 billion food industry”

(Environment Secretary Michael Gove)

 

I am very glad to see that the UK government is highlighting and campaigning for such a delicate matter. All the numerous bee species in our ecosystem are under threat and it is down to us to take actions against their population decline.

I am lucky enough to live in the beautiful Northern Irish countryside and my back yard is buzzing with bees, especially during this great weather we’ve experienced lately. I have watched many Bumble Bees and Carder Bees had at work amongst the wildflowers in my garden like Foxgloves and Wild Roses. They are literally everywhere I look, and I am constantly trying to capture a photo of them. Even as I am writing this post, I can see lots of bees poking around the Wild Rose bush outside my window and it genuinely makes me happy to see this. Whilst I am surrounded by bees here, it is a completely different story around urban areas where populations are dwindling. This is where the real action needs to be taken.

Many activists have a lot to say about the matter and David Attenborough is included. He recently spoke out on simple actions that could be made by the public to help the bees. His idea was simple and effective, to leave a spoonful of sugar mixed in water outside for the bees to drink. This sugary substance is like nectar that they acquire from flowers. I ask you to listen to this wise man as everyone has a spare spoon and leave it out in our garden or on a windowsill and I am sure at least one little bee will be happy to see it. David Attenborough stated that bees become exhausted and dehydrated as they travel around so this sugary solution will help to revive them and let them get back on their way.

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They have simple needs;

·         Water

·         Nectar (sugar)

·         A place to rest

Defra have a great video about Bees and their needs;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uVeyH7XQXg

 

The 5 simple actions you are encouraged to do;

1.       Plant more flowers, trees and shrubs

2.       Let your garden grow on the wild side

3.       Cut your grass less often

4.       Don’t disturb insects or their nests

5.       Be more careful with pesticide use

And of course, you don’t even have to have a garden to help the bees out, why don’t you get a flowerbox for your windowsill as even the smallest of places can provide the bees with their needs.

 

For more info on bees and Bees’ Needs Week just follow the links below;

https://www.rhs.org.uk/science/pdf/Bees-Needs-Making-your-garden-bee-friendly-factshe.pdf

https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/bees-needs/

https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/bees-needs/media/ 

World Environment Day 2018: Beat Plastic Pollution

As ever World Environment Day works to raise awareness for protection of the environment with this year focusing on plastic pollution. Single-use plastic products has been raised as a serious concern within society with campaigners spreading their message across social media and news platforms in recent months. These single-plastics are usually straws, cutlery, bottles and cups.

 I live in a small village in County Down, Northern Ireland and plastic pollution has a minimal effect on me. I notice the odd bit of rubbish along the hedgerows that people have discarded from their cars, but this does not happen very often, and me and my neighbours tend to clear rubbish from our area rather quickly. My closest town is Warrenpoint and I frequently walk along the promenade, looking down to the shore. It is a beautiful shingle beach looking onto Carlingford Lough. Never have I once thought that this was a littered beach, so I was shocked that when Warrenpoint Port held a beach clean last week that they gathered numerous bags of rubbish. There is even a Board with information, bin bags and rubbish pickers for the public to use along the beach, all provided as part of the 2-minute beach clean project which has been implemented across Ireland and the United Kingdom.

I recently attended a beach clean at Kilkeel which is another local harbour town and is home to the largest fishing fleet within Northern Ireland. Sadly, this beach was very littered. Before I reached the sand, my bin bag had quite a lot of rubbish in it and one of the first things I found was car parts that had been dumped illegally. The issue of illegal dumping seemed to be a very big concern here as we found burnt out car parts and even burnt out mattresses. This was all in the back-beach area, away from the high-water mark. So as we moved closer to the water, it was evident that the rubbish here was litter from beach users including bottles both plastic and glass and food packaging and wrappers. What was shocking was the amount of rubbish that had been washed in by the high tide and this rubbish was specifically from the boats that are around the harbour. We found lots of rope, netting, buoys, buckets, empty petrol containers and a magnitude of rubber gloves. By the end of the beach clean we had over 30 bags ready for the local amenity centre (most of which could be recycled) a fridge, a child’s bike (in perfect condition) and three rubber tyres, one of which was too large for the amenity centre to accept. When talking to other volunteers about what we found, a woman who had been on a previous beach clean in this location told me that there was far more fishing boat equipment found the last time. This is very shocking that the fishermen think it is acceptable to dump this rubbish from their boats even when it will affect the ecosystem and organisms that their business relies upon.

However, with campaigning and increased awareness little steps have been taken to tackle the worlds plastic problems. And so It is encouraging when entering a coffee shop there are biodegradable cups offered and they will even give you money off your purchase if you bring in your own renewable cups. Some bars and nightclubs will no longer give out straws with drinks unless asked for. When in shops you can see that increasing numbers of products are attempting to use less plastic packaging, however plastic is still used and in great demand so there is still a long way to go to reduce plastic pollution.

I am glad that the United Nations chose plastic pollution as the theme for this years World Environment Day as this issue needs to remain a talking point until real action can be achieved internationally.

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Bigwood: A Hidden Gem

 

 

A few days ago, I had a sudden urge to visit a place that I hadn’t been to since I was very young. A place that I drive past almost every day, but it is so well hidden that most people are oblivious to its existence. Just a few steps off a busy dual carriage-way directing cars between the towns of Newry and Warrenpoint is a stone quarry. Although it is extremely saddening to have a quarry in action for so long in my local area, the forest around it has been relatively well protected over the years. Bigwood is a wild escape from the busy traffic that runs parallel to it, filled with trees and shrubbery and of course its famous Bluebells. I went in search of the bluebells which naturally thrive in this area and I was very lucky to find some still in good condition, as they came into bloom in early Spring.

 

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Although the paths look like they have been well used by the local hikers, dog-walkers and of course the odd mountain biker, they still emit a sense of ruggedness and privacy. The tall and numerous trees help to block out the surrounding noise pollution, creating the illusion that you are somewhere very different to what is true.

Looking around the landscape, the vegetation is extremely diverse, from Pine trees to Holly bushes to Buttercups and Dandelions. I also spotted the infamous Rhododendron ponticum, a beautiful purple flowering plant which is a typical invasive species to be spotted across Northern Ireland. I swear I saw a patch of vegetation that was almost Bamboo-like which I would like to investigate some more.

As always when exploring I take my camera, so luckily I snapped some different shots of the pathway so check out my Instagram, I hope you enjoy them!!!

 

 

 

 

 

The First World Bee Day

In recent years, it has become common knowledge that international bee populations are in decline and this is only the tip of the iceberg for the future of biodiversity.

Bees are pollinators, a primary species found in most ecosystems across the world which aid in the life cycle of flowering plants. It is these flowering plants and crops that produce the fruit and vegetables that are found in our supermarkets. Even living in Northern Ireland, where a lot of my fruit and vegetables have been imported, it is still the various species of bees that have played their part in the pollination process. So, every time that I eat an apple or drink a fruit smoothie I must thank a bee for letting me do so. Like the rest of the UK and Ireland, Northern Ireland has a large farming industry which also depends on the benefits that bees bring to the local ecosystem. Essential farm livestock including cows and sheep feed on various grasses, clover and alfalfa which is all present due to the presence of bees. Although many people might not realise their importance, they are all around us quietly working away to benefit our environment.

These precious insects are under threat due to human activities including the use of insecticides or pesticides and land-use changes for urbanisation, development and agriculture. This behaviour of exploitation of our natural world is not going to stop over night or anywhere close to that, it is a process, and this is where it begins. It is essential to raise awareness to protect our bees, for people to act, for legislation to be put in place and habitats to be conserved.

So, I say Happy World Bee Day to you and I hope that by this time next year some progress will be made for international bee populations.

 

 

For more information on World Bee Day follow the link; http://www.un.org/en/events/beeday/