Interview with Siobhan Thompson – Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership

Interview with Siobhan Thompson – Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership

Blog by Joanna Martin

I am interested in finding out what is being done to help the Curlew, so I approached Siobhan Thompson the Natural Heritage Officer at the Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership.  I had heard about a dramatic event she was involved in last year when Curlew eggs had to be rescued from burning peatland.

In September 2016, in a 130 hectare site, the Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership was established with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund to manage, conserve and enhance the wetlands.  Lough Neagh is the largest inland freshwater lake in the British Isles covering an area of 151 square miles; it is situated in the centre of Northern Ireland with five of the Province’s six counties touching its shores and is a haven for wildlife.

The aim of the project was the restoration of peatlands and wet grassland, but it wasn’t until March 2017, when Siobhan heard the call of several Curlews flying overhead, that she realised the area was an important breeding site for this endangered bird.  Since then the area of 3-4 nesting pairs has been monitored from a distance with birds being tagged with GPS devices.  Electric fences are erected allowing a 25m area around each nest to keep ground based predators away.  The team work closely with local farmers who are keen to be involved. 

Siobhan explained “I wait like an anxious mum for the Curlews to return each Spring and hearing their call is so uplifting…”  In March the courtship displays begin, followed by the birds building a nest on the ground called a ‘scrape’.  By the end of April to the beginning of May the first clutch of eggs will have been laid.  

Chicks hatch after 26 days, and at this point the female parent leaves and the male takes over.  Chicks leave the nest within hours of hatching, walk under the electric fence and literally run off as fast as their legs will carry them.  Siobhan remembers “I stood on a fence post watching in dismay as a tiny chick ran off across several fields disappearing into ditches and reappearing on the other side…”   

In 2020 there were a number of fires on the peatland which continued on and off for three weeks.  It became obvious that the Curlew’s breeding area was going to be affected, so Siobhan and her team applied for a licence from the NIEA (Northern Ireland Environment Agency) to lift two clutches of eggs from nests and move them to safety, the first time this had been done in Ireland.

With the help of Dr Kendrew Colhoun and Kerry Mackie of KRC Ecological, the eggs were placed in an incubator and then moved to a secure location for hatching and hand-rearing. They were kept in a pen at RSPB’s Portmore Lough Reserve, and out of seven eggs, five birds were reared to adulthood and released in September 2020.

I asked Siobhan what hope there was for the Curlew in Northern Ireland going forward, and she explained that Northern Ireland is way behind the rest of the UK and Ireland in support.  England, Scotland and Ireland all have funding for habitat restoration and emergency response packages for the Curlew in place.  The plight of this iconic species has been recognised as one of the UK’s most urgent conservation issues and the NIEA desperately needs more financial help from the government.  Curlew numbers have dropped by 80% in Northern Ireland “if the situation isn’t prioritised this beautiful bird will be lost from our landscape in 5-10 years.”

Photography: Siobhan Thompson

For the original blog and much more, check out: Curlew Cottage Design

Growing Wings

Growing Wings

Despite the disruption caused by Covid-19 in 2020, and now heading into 2021, our new batch of students have still managed to make the most of the unusual circumstances. They started their placement with us on September 1st 2020 and have been super busy throughout! They have received a huge variety of training, including herbicide use qualifications, and there will be plenty more in 2021. Every two weeks the students submit a report on a topic they have been learning about in the field. Come rain or shine, the students have put all their energy into carrying out practical conservation work to protect and enhance the environment around Lough Neagh. Heading into 2021, there will be a lot more desk-based work and they are adapting well to the ever-changing circumstances. Our students are a real asset to our team, bringing enthusiasm, inquisitiveness and craic to every activity and task they are presented with. I am their line manager and had told them at the start of their placement that you need big wings to wing it in the environment sector with the ever changing circumstances and they are definitely growing them. I am proud of the way they take everything in their stride. They make my job enjoyable and are a pleasure to work with! Thank you Lauren, Yamini, Joel and Catherine and keep up the good work.

Watch this video for an excellent summary of everything they have done so far.

A big thank you to Heritage Lottery Fund NI for funding their placement. Without it, these students would not gain the valuable skills and experience they need to break into the world of work.

Thank you also to the other organisations who we work in partnership with to bring variety and learning into the students’ placement. RSPB NI, Ulster Wildlife, Ecomantella, Belfast Hills Partnership, Mourne Lifeguard Training, Armagh Banbridge Craigavon Council, Mid Ulster Council, Feasting on Weeds and so on!

Lighthouses,  Covid  and hope.

Lighthouses,  Covid  and hope.

I feel that I cannot not mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and to try to make some sense of what happened. One cannot go too far around the shores of Lough Neagh without encountering some material evidence of the legacy of the Second World War in the airfields and other sites.

 I visited my maternal grandparents grave in Donegal lately and realised that in the present circumstances they would be denied a full funeral with all their family and friends in the church. Funeral rituals are important whatever one’s belief from the most ancient times to the present.

I also visited one of the most amazing monuments in the whole island.  Beltany is a Bronze Age stone circle just south of Raphoe town in .  It dates from circa 2100-700 BC. There is evidence that it may also have been the sacred site of Neolithic monuments possibly early passage tombs. The enigmatic Stone Circle is situated on the summit of Tops Hill, the anglicized Gaelic word meaning ‘the lighting of a ceremonial torch’.  It has me thinking about lighthouses and death. Graveyards and lighthouse both strangely give me hope and help me make sense of what happened back then and indeed what is happening now in the world with this pandemic. I find graveyards and lighthouses humbling places to visit.

 We have a very deep need to make sense of what is happening now as well as what happened back then. It is difficult to understand and describe our individual and collective experiences in these uncertain and unprecedented times (these are the most used words that I hear).

It can be useful to look to the past and even if it is an unreliable guide it can provide some light on present matters. Over ‘lockdown’ I have been researching my grandparent’s lives.  Recently I got a copy of my grandfather’s service record from the Commissioners of Irish Lights. What amazed me is that my grandfather lived on the remote island of Inistrahull off Malin Head ( the most northerly lighthouse in the whole island) during the First and Second World Wars. Those dates are within the first half of a century of turmoil and crisis which engulfed and  fundamentally altered our world. Imagine the whole north Atlantic fleet based in Lough Swilly during World War I and all the activity with the ominous threats of the U-Boats in World War II and the daily rationing etc that everyone endured.   He was also stationed on Arranmore Island  off the coast of Donegal, when nineteen men and boys lost their lives in a boating accident on 9th  November 1935. They were travelling from Scotland where they were potato gathering   to the island in an open sailing boat (yawl) when it capsized. There was only one survivor. My mother said that my grandfather could never really talk about it.

I was lucky to know my grandparents. We all shared a love of the water – whether it be fresh or salt.  I knew them well enough to realise they looked at the world differently from me. But they made the world a better place.

As I sometimes moan in a Covid 19 pandemic over the lack of full-on socialising, I too stop to think of the resilience of the war generations. Victor Frankl the Austrian psychiatrist spent his life trying to help people look at their lives and the world differently. He survived the Holocaust but his beloved wife did not. His experiences he describes in Man’s Search for Meaning. If we live with purpose he says, then we can overcome anything. “In our response lies our growth and freedom.” Nobody can take that away as he found out.

Can we look to the resilience of the war generation and the beam that comes from the lighthouses. Someone once said that lighthouses are totally altruistic – they exist only to help and shed a light. I know that my grandfather didn’t serve on the frontline but he did serve. He kept the light burning literally in the darkest of times ( they carried gallons of drums of paraffin up those winding stairs to keep the light lit) .


Here is my grandfather’s service record. I think it speaks for itself.


 Irish Lighthouse Service


Commissioners of Irish Lights


William Friel, Lighthouse Keeper 235


Service Record


Date of Birth 5th December 1883
Place of Birth Ballymichael
Entry into Service 7th October 1908
Appointed as Supernumerary Assistant Keeper 1st April 1909
Promoted to Assistant Keeper 13th December 1909
Promoted to Principal Keeper 1st January 1935
Pensioned 1st January 1944
Died 3rd September 1967



Served at the Following Stations


Station Period


Bull Rock 0 years 5 months SK
Mew Island 2 years 8 months AK (Joined this station on 13-12-1909 to 15-8-1912)
Inishowen 3 years 11 months AK (Joined this station on 15-8-1912 to 2-8-1916)
Inishtrahull 4 years 5 months AK (Joined this station on 1-8-1916. Listed at station on 1-6-1918)
Sligo 3 years 8 months AK (Joined this station on 8-10-1919. Listed at station on 1-6-1922)
Fanad Point 2 years 6 months AK (joined this station on 18-5-1923. Listed at station on 1-6-1925)
Rathlin Island (West) 4 years 7 months AK (Joined this station on 17-11-1925. Listed at station on 1-6-1930)
Inishtrahull 3 years 2 months AK (Joined this station on 6-8-1930. Listed at station on 1-6-1934)
Aranmore 1 year 10 months PK (Joined this station on 12-1-1935. Listed at station on 1-6-1936)
Eagle Island 2 years 10 months PK (Joined this station on 23-10-1936. Listed at station on 1-6-1939)
Inishtrahull 1 year 10 months PK (Joined this station on 18-8-1939. Listed at station on 1-6-1943)



Totem Animals

Totem Animals

Blog by Liam Campbell

I broke my ankle lately, stupidly wearing sandals clambering over rough ground. I should dress appropriately for my age! However, it’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow some good. This has forced me to  slow down, and to take notice. To Take notice of the small things. To pay closer attention.

I am very lucky to live in a remarkable place in the Sperrins and to work at an equally remarkable place by the shores of Lough Neagh.

Tied to my desk, I have begun to take notice of a little wren in the prickly, impenetrable pyracantha bush against the wall, outside my window. The Swedish naturalist Linnaeus, who gave the world the central system by which all living things are classified in Latin (many disagree with this system) has given the wren the most amazing of Latin names Troflodytes troglodytes, sounding like some gigantic creature from Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Such a big name for such a little bird. The Irish, derolin, little druid, I find more accurate and pleasing.  Although tiny they can deliver a shrill song with great gusto and dispense great wisdom if we take time to notice.

I am old enough to remember the pre-decimal coins of the Republic of Ireland that featured animals such as the hare, the Irish Wolfhound and the salmon. The smallest coin, the farthing, featured the woodcock when I thought it should have been the wren. But then it may have been too associated with paganism! More of this later.

Sometimes when, I think of scale and the climate crisis that engulfs us, I feel so small and powerless to do anything. Amid the increasing lexicon of environmental catastrophe, it is no surprise that there are new words for fear (after all environmental psychologists have given us – Nature Deficit Disorder to name our disconnection from the natural world,  as if we are not part of it!) To pay attention to what is happening in the world and to imagine what might come next instils fear in most of us. We as human beings are responsible for this devastation and we often suffer guilt and anxiety as to what to do about it. Our suffering is guilt as well as fear. Some call it ‘eco-anxiety’, others have termed it ‘solastalgia’

I feel that we have to ‘adopt’ the smaller more-than-human beings and see what they can teach us. Sometime the world is just too big and makes us feel helpless. Concentrating on the smaller as in the form of a mascot, totem or whatever we call them, can help see the bigger connections and pictures.

 An animal such as the wren, salmon, eel,  crow, eagle,  a tree, even  Sphagnum moss  or similar is adopted. In a sense it becomes a symbol of a collective unconsciousness and becomes a means to renewal and restoration.

Adapting to that world requires that we understand ourselves as individuals, as groups and as one species among others – that we learn to live our collective and individual lives on the Earth’s catchment terms. Engaging the lives of wren, wild salmon, or whatever can create a situation wherein the peoples of this place begin to experience themselves as functional parts of the place itself. Engaging the lives of any part of the wild in any self-defined natural area will lead to this. The wren  is a  good teacher and as some natives elders say, “ Any animal knows way more than you do “.

The “environment” as a “whole” can sometimes seem too large to relate to, whereas an “element” of it such as the wren can help us relate to the “whole”. Archetypes, according to the psychoanalyst Jung are “forms without content, representing merely the possibility of a certain type of perception and action. Although they are relatively distinct, these universal forms are embedded in a web of relationships, in which each archetype ultimately involves all the others”.

My colleagues have been involved in a wonderful curlew restoration project for some time now and last week saw the successful release of three curlews chick across the Lough Neagh landscape – an amazing contribution to the declining curlew population. These were so much part of the soundscape of my childhood and indeed adulthood and yet the decline is so dramatic. I can think of no better a totem to adopt. The local children are doing it with various ritual and art projects.

The curlew can be the saviour of this wonderful place.

 There are many forms of mimesis and ritual that can help reconnect society with the whole community of life. In many societies, mimesis serves the purpose of renewal and restoration. An act of mimesis reconnects the worlds for sacred service and community. We need spiritual practices, art and ritual, because authentic work has to come from the inner self and acknowledge the “spiritual way of knowing”. Recovering or re-connecting with this love of life in all its forms comes through creativity, art, imagination and meditation. Through ritual we can reconnect with the inner child and that child’s relationship to the earth and to their place on it. Ritual can help to heal and nurture the child within. Being a member of a community of beings is expressed by mimetic ritual – be this, the protecting of eels, bog, or the curlew or the coming together, the meitheal (lit., working party) of any group of people to work at their relationships with the more-than-human world.  This requires that we be open to the stories and art of others and indeed our own instinct and that we be willing to let these into our lives. It requires that we relearn how to read the landscape, something our ancestors did by instinct.

Back to the animal coins! I have been doing a bit of research on the history of their introduction. . Indeed, so familiar and commonplace did they become that it is hard now to believe that their release in 1928 was followed by a heated debate about their symbolism. In the Senate, poet W.B. Yeats welcomed the government’s decision to appoint a committee of artists to advise on the design of the coins, declaring that stamps and coins were ‘the silent ambassadors of national taste’. Yeats was therefore a logical choice as chairman of the committee on coinage design. By the time the designs were officially released to the public, they had already attracted controversy owing to unauthorised disclosures of the committee’s choice of symbols. The symbols were listed in December 1926 by the short-lived newspaper Irish Truth, which predicted that they ‘will not merely be unpopular, but will be met with positive derision’. The coins were condemned by their detractors for promoting paganism because they bore no religious symbols; for repudiating the national tradition by neglecting conventional national emblems; for stereotyping Ireland as an agricultural nation. The fact that there were no religious symbols on the coins was a major cause of concern for the critics of the designs, who believed that the coins should proclaim Ireland’s status as a great Christian nation. For a number of critics, the absence of religious emblems was no accident but was part of a larger conspiracy to remove religion from public life. Several saw the hands of the Freemasons at work in the coinage designs! Critics of the coins liked to describe them as ‘pagan’, paganism being a more pejorative term for secularism and materialism. As one critic explained, ‘The coins are called pagan in the sense that there is a total absence of a sign that they symbolise the sovereignty of a Christian nation’.
Those who held this view had little time for the argument, advanced by defenders of the coinage designs, that to put religious emblems on coins would be to profane holy symbols. To the defenders of the coins, there was nothing irreligious about the animal symbols. The liberal Irish Statesman mocked the coinage critics: One would imagine that while man was created by God the animal world was created by the devil, so angry are the critics . . . Who would have thought that that poor little hare on the threepenny bit was a form of the devil, or that little woodcock was a demon.
The absence of religious symbols from the coins was a virtue for their defenders, several of whom quoted the biblical verse about rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. ( History Ireland etc ).

For me this shows some of the historic roots of all this disconnect and the separation of life on this planet. One writer  contends that the “original sin of humanity” is “the tendency to abstract ourselves from the earth, from the place of which we are an integral part”.

Things are changing however in in conservative church circles  to a more inclusive and less separatist attitude to nature. This too is the call of Pope Francis in his Encyclical Letter Laudato  Si – On Care of our Common Home ( 2015 ) which is in my mind a very radical departure in Christian thinking as a  “ wide-ranging, comprehensive and positively disturbing call to our deepest selves to awaken and act in unison for the common good “.  Issues such as The Crisis and Effects of Modern Anthropocentrism, The Principle of Common Good and  The Control of Water are given full chapters in this most radical of departures. The choice of the phrase ‘our common home ‘ is itself radical in that it highlights our shared space as the entire community of life and the possibility of recovery.

There is a great story in Irish folklore of the wren becoming king. At least Linneaus gave them a kingdom and as Finton O Tooke said in a recent Irish Times article on the Covid and climate crisis – “ We are not the kings anymore!” It might be no harm for each of us to have a totem animal (that is not human). The curlew is not a bad one to choose.



Curlew chicks are enjoying a new lease of life around the shores of South Lough Neagh after their eggs were rescued from a peatland blaze.

The team at Lough Neagh Partnership has been delivering the National Lottery Heritage Fund supported “Saving Nature” project in the area under the Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership since 2016, but this year things on the Moss took a dramatic twist when a fire ignited on a large block of peatland habitat and, as the local Northern aIreland Fire and Rescue Service worked around the clock to put the fires out, the temperate weather conditions, lack of rain and fanning winds reignited the fire on other areas of the site.

Forced to undertake frontline conservation work after the fires which smouldered for weeks burned over 50% of their site and removed vital nesting habitat for the adult curlews and destroyed essential food supplies for the still to hatch vulnerable ground nesting chicks, the Lough Neagh Partnership team alongside partner organisations RSPB NI and NIEA, took emergency lifesaving steps to save the eggs. For the first time in Ireland the partners acquired a licence to remove the fragile eggs from their natural habitat and maximise their chances of survival, as these birds are one of Northern Ireland’s most endangered species, having declined by 85% since 1985.

The eggs were placed in an incubator and transported to a secure location for hatching and hand rearing. The chicks were then transferred to the RSPB’s Portmore Lough reserve where they were kept in a pen on soft rush pastures providing ideal feeding habitat for curlews.

Dr William Burke of Lough Neagh Partnership said: “These birds are so vulnerable and incubation was crucial for the survival of these chicks. This project became a real labour of love for our project officer Siobhan Thompson who, alongside Dr Kendrew Colhoun, and Kerry Mackie of KRC Ecological, completed the works on behalf of Lough Neagh Partnership. Kerry’s experience in incubating eggs and hatching chicks championed an innovative solution in record time to ensure the successful moving of the eggs and he then monitored the hatching of these eggs during some of the most difficult times we have ever experienced. The growth of the chicks has been miraculous and we are overjoyed to be able to release them at Portmore Lough RSPB reserve.”

Dr Neil McCulloch, Ornithologist at Northern Ireland Environment Agency, said: “Curlew have declined catastrophically over the past 30 years and the plight of this iconic species is now recognised as one of the UK’s most urgent conservation issues. The decline has been particularly severe in Northern Ireland, with over 80% of our Curlew having been lost. One of the main problems has been the poor survival of young birds and every chick is now precious. The Lough Neagh Partnership are therefore to be congratulated for their prompt action in ensuring the survival of these broods and NIEA is delighted to have been able to assist this project. We now hope to see these young birds returning to the Lough Neagh area in future years and becoming part of an increasing Curlew breeding population. The fact that this project was necessary also highlights the danger to wildlife posed by fires in the countryside, most of which are avoidable.”

Seamus Burns, RSPB NI Area Manager, said: “When asked by this community-led project to make Portmore Lough Nature Reserve available as a safe and secure place in this emergency response to save these curlew chicks, RSPB NI was happy to support.”

Kendrew Colhoun said: “This was a big step for us to take. As conservation scientists, our key job is to work with the local community to gather information on these special birds to help inform their protection. It is clear that our love for them is shared by the community and we simply could not be bystanders to the acute threat of burning this season. In the wild we have thankfully seen some young birds successfully fledging elsewhere in this area this year and further boosting the Lough Neagh population, albeit by unconventional means.”

The curlew chicks have now been released as they are able to fly and survive independently and it is hoped they will continue to thrive and breed in the Lough Neagh landscape.

Curlew Chick Flight
The Much Maligned Lough Neagh Midge…

The Much Maligned Lough Neagh Midge…

Over the weekend, I read three articles in different newspapers about the Lough Neagh Midge…

In one local paper, people were being “terrorised” by “plagues” of midge… In another regional paper, an indignant journalist compared them to coronavirus saying “a first tranche arrives taking lives and scaring us witless”…

I first encountered the harmless Lough Neagh midge in May 2016 – I arrived at work at 8am and noticed a few hovering around… Pockets of them sitting on the fences…  when I left the office at 11am to go visit one of my sites I came out the door to clouds of them… gliding in slow motion through the air, they didn’t make any noise, and though I feared I was about to be bit to death and drained dry of blood in the short dash to the car, I quickly realised this wasn’t the case… They flew all around me, bumping off my eyes, catching in my hair, making it into my mouth, but none of them bit me.

So started three weeks of large clouds of Lough Neagh midge – All my sites along and near the shoreline of the Lough had thick clouds of them, it was impossible to open the car window, without filling the inside of the car.. I would drive along the road and spot thick plumes of them swirling like smoke above hedges and treetops… In some ways when I watched them they reminded me of a starling murmuration, gracefully swooping and dancing around one another, I wondered what they were and what purpose they served.

I learnt that the Lough Neagh midge is a Chironomid midge, and that they are among the most important of the wild residents of Lough Neagh we will encounter. Lough Neagh is the largest fresh water lough in Ireland and the UK, it is a beautiful expanse of water that supports and provides homes for a vast array of invertebrate, fish, bird, and other wildlife.

The chironomid midge is right at the heart of that ecosystem, it provides a valuable resource for the wildlife in that food chain, blooming just in time for many of the species that live in and around the lough.  I love watching out my window as the Swallows, house martins and swifts swoop and race through the clouds of flies, catching them in their beaks and taking them back to the nests where hungry chicks squawked to be fed. The birds at Oxford Island have almost always been able to support 2-3 batches of young a year, and that’s down to the midge.

They have four stages to their life cycle – Egg, Larva, Pupa, and Imago (adult midge) and at each of these stages they are providing a valuable food resource. In the Lough, they are eaten by eels, fish, frogs and once they emerge from the Lough they help feed beautiful dragonflies, spiders, birds and other invertebrates… They live on the bed of the Lough for a year or more, eating dead plants and algae, acting as super recyclers of Lough waste products. If the midge wasn’t there, waste would accumulate and poison the waters, local wildlife would decline, fish and eels would not thrive and the fishing industry that supports many people and families around the Lough wouldn’t do as well.

I learned that as adult flies they don’t have any mouth pieces so cant bite or sting us, their sole purpose is to find a mate, and the clouds you see above the trees and hedges gracefully winding around in thick plumes are performing their courtship dances, the female then goes and lays her eggs in the water and then with no drama die and are absorbed back into the Lough…

When you know the bigger picture you can see just how important this little midge is for nature and people. What a valuable creature it is at all stages of its life cycle…

I started to feel a certain sympathy for the midge – alive for only a few days trying to find a mate – I would try to gently catch and release any that had inevitably made their way into my car as I dashed into it.. It didn’t seem fair to take them miles away from other midge especially as they had made it this far.. I quickly came to realise that wasn’t possible either…

So whilst I know they can be viewed as pests, and it’s a little uncomfortable having to walk through them, I know that after a few weeks they will be gone, and that really its worthwhile co existing beside them for that short time period. I think the much maligned Lough Neagh Midge isn’t so bad after all…

Volunteering During Lockdown – Litter Lifts

Volunteering During Lockdown – Litter Lifts

Volunteering During Lockdown – Litter Lifts
Blog by Lisa Critchley

As environmental organisations are beginning to dust off their equipment, sanitise their gloves and get new procedures in place to take their valuable volunteers back out, volunteers need not necessarily wait to get back to action. There are some simple volunteer tasks you can do whilst we are sorting ourselves out! One important task is litter lifts. These are straightforward and can be done anytime you head outside.

The Problem

I have noticed a significant increase in litter since the lockdown restrictions lifted. There are more people about, enjoying the great outdoors, maybe taking a bottle of water with them or an energy drink. Fast food chains have re-opened, flooding with eager customers, desperate to get their teeth into their favourite food after months of no access. Many other food and drink services have opened their doors as well, offering takeaways in order to adhere to restrictions still in place. It is good news that we can now head out and support our local restaurants and cafes or eat our desired fast food again. However, it is terrible that this supposedly positive story of restrictions lifting, places re-opening and things getting back to normal, comes hand in hand with utter disregard for the natural environment and irresponsible behaviour. The majority of litter I see when out and about is takeaway cartons, fast food chain packaging, single use coffee cups, bottles of water, energy drinks cans, drinks cans and cigarette butts. It is very disappointing that some people are so careless and disrespectful of their local area and scenic spots. They come to these locations, consume their purchase and simply discard it on the ground, in the bushes, on the verge, into the rivers, on the Lough shore. No doubt they chose the location to enjoy their food, drink or exercise for its beauty, so why not keep it that way and take the empty cartons, bottles and cups home? They are lighter anyway!

Litter Lift

Litter is a big problem for a number of reasons. It is unsightly and can be smelly, spoiling our enjoyment of walks, scenic areas and parks. It contaminates and pollutes soil and water causing issues for wildlife and plants. It is dangerous to wildlife who can mistake it for food and eat it or become caught in it, both of which can lead to fatalities. It blocks our drainage systems, which can cause flooding. It can be washed into rivers and streams meaning it eventually ends up in our loughs and the oceans, which is again, detrimental to our wildlife and plants.

Lots of litter takes a very long time to break down, for example, even a seemingly harmless orange peel can take 2 years to decompose or a cigarette butt can take up to 12 years. This means that all our irresponsibly discarded rubbish stays in the environment for a very long time, affecting many different wildlife, plants and habitats.

Litter Lift

How Can You Help?

If you, like me, are frustrated by the litter you see when enjoying your local walks or visiting a scenic spot, you can do something about it. I know it is not your litter, but it is your world so you can definitely help by picking it up.

All you need is a pair of gloves (these are essential for health and safety) and something to collect the litter in like a bin bag or shopping bag. If you have a litter picker, you can also use one of these. They are not essential but do increase your reach and help if you have a bad back and cannot bend down.

Health and Safety

Before you start picking up litter there are a few things you must take note of:
– Don’t pick up broken glass or other sharp objects. You will put yourself at risk of being injured.
– Don’t pick up dog poo bags with dog poo in them. This is a health risk and disgusting. I have never understood why someone would go to the trouble of picking up a dog poo and then leave the bag. If they are not taking it away again, it is better to leave the poo as it will rot away, unlike the plastic bag!
– If you are working close to a river, as tempting as it is, please don’t reach for litter close to the water if it puts you at risk of falling in.
– Take extreme care if you come across single use gloves or face masks. These hold the risk of being contaminated with Covid-19. Never touch these directly, use a litter picker if you have one and remember to sanitise it after.

Litter Lift

After the Litter Lift

Once you have finished picking up litter, tie the bag up securely and put it in the nearest bin, if it doesn’t fit, you can leave it beside the bin and the council will collect it.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise me how much litter can be collected in a small area, having led litter lifts for years, however, it may come as a surprise to you how much you find when you start to look. It certainly surprised my boyfriend how much I collected when making the video – in about a 20-metre stretch I lifted enough to pretty much fill a bin bag.

Litter Lift

Thank YOU!

If you do decide to pick up some litter next time you are out, thank you so much for helping to keep our beautiful countryside, and urban areas, clean! I would love to hear about it if you have picked up litter, so please let me know by emailing me.

We are hoping to get small groups of volunteers up and running again very soon. If you would like to volunteer for Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership, please email me and I can add you to our mailing list.

Volunteering in Lockdown – Litter Lift

Over lockdown, the practical side of our Litterless Lough project had to come to a stop, meaning many sites that we would normally target for litter lifts have been left unchecked. I have noticed a disheartening increase in litter with the opening of takeaway services and knew I could still do something about it by making this video. We are almost ready to take volunteers back out again but in the meantime or if you cannot join volunteering sessions, you can still make a difference! Watch this video to find out how.If you do head out and lift some litter, thank you so much and please let me know!

Posted by Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership on Saturday, 4 July 2020

Engineering Water and Land Around Lough Neagh

Engineering Water and Land Around Lough Neagh

Blog by Dr Liam Campbell

There is a lot of civil engineering around the Bann and Lough  Neagh. I will return to this soon.

Our second youngest daughter wants to be a civil engineer. She loves reading about natural features, such as water and engineering and  we have  a profusion of old mills near where we live to interest her.  There are many moves to help and encourage women into this ancient profession but it historically hasn’t been easy for women to break into this job. But I have been doing some research. Women according to archaeological evidence throughout Europe and further afield, were primarily responsible for the collection of water from the wells  for domestic purposes – the archetypal ‘water carriers’. This iconic image connects with their reproductive role as literal and metaphorical ‘bearers of life’ .Women generally were responsible for the management of water resources. The worship of many female deities at that time suggests that they also enjoyed considerable  political and  religious equality and with more collective forms of resource ownership, greater economic parity as well. Much of the early water management was transferred to male monasteries and women become disenfranchised from the control of water. Although the invention of the water pump saved time – it was the beginning of the transfer of water management into the hands of male engineers : a process that led to the piping and culverting of water into more individuated domestic spaces whereas wells had been social spaces owned by everyone. People become consumers of water and the environmental relationships change. Nature is more associated with the female and the culture of controlling it becomes more male.

In 1795, Oliver Goldsmith wrote:

God has endowed is with abilities to turn this great extend of water to our own advantage. He has made these things, perhaps for other uses; but he has given is the faculties to conveet them to our own….Let us then boldly affirm, that the earth, amd all its wonders, are ours; since we are furnished with the powers to force then into our service.

We have made the earth simply a subject of our control and are reaping the consequences of this. History shows that the great empires such as China and Egypt were built upon central control of the waters of the great rivers and even in modern democracies the control of this vital resource is a powerful political position.


Coming from a household of females, I may be accused of bias but I will now return to the engineered landscape of Lough Neagh.  It is the largest fresh water lake in Britain and Ireland and draws water from five counties in Northern Ireland and one in the Republic of Ireland. Lough Neagh contains over 800 billion gallons of water. It is 15 kilometres wide, 25 kilometres long with a shore line of 125 kilometres. The catchment area for which the lough acts as a central reservoir is over 1,500 sq miles and it receives the flow of many major rivers, including the Blackwater, Ballinderry, Moyola, Upper Bann, Six Mile Water and Main.  The only outlet is by the Lower Bann river entering the sea below Coleraine. It has always been a holder of these waters but despite its size it is relatively shallow and therefore its capacity is not as great as might be expected.

The Lower Bann valley especially  is given to flooding. Prior to the mid19th century ‘lowerings’ some 25,000 acres was subject to regular intuition.  Shoals or submerged banks along the riverbed, especially at Toome, slow down the river’s flow.  In prehistoric times flooding was good as it enriched the land for the hunters and gatherers.  However, as people settled and started farming it has been seen as a threat. From the 1700s several schemes were proposed to deal with flooding and navigation, but with little success.

The Bishop of Down and Connor, Francis Hutchinson said

…..the waters which flow from so many sources can not possibly be discharged by the single outlet of the Bann but must, unless steps are taken to discharge the waters by clearing the obstruction of the river, be annually accumulated to the great detriment of the lands around.

( 1884 –  cited in the Report on the  Drainage of Lough Neagh by Robert Manning – Chief Engineer of the Board of Works, Dublin. )

In 1812 Thomas Townsend, an engineer with the Bog Commissioners in Ireland, suggested that river navigation could be improved by building canals and removing the shoals along the river.  The Drainage Act of 1842 was passed by the government to ease flooding and improve navigation of the Bann.

 McMahon’s Scheme

In 1844 canal engineer John McMahon was commissioned to create a navigation scheme for the Lower Bann.  His challenge was to help drainage, improve navigation and support fishing.  He proposed to build locks and weirs to lower winter flood levels and also store water to help with navigation. Nevertheless, in the degree of flood control and water storage existing in the Lough Neagh Basin, even in its natural state, McMahon recognised the great benefits bestowed by a large expanse of inland sea which was

…… placed by nature at a point of convergence of several powerful and turbulent rivers and streams, it receives and calms the impetuosity of these waters, rendering them fit for man’s use, and is almost without a parallel as to value amongst his industrial resources.


The most glowing anticipations of the benefits to be derived from the scheme in 1846  were conjured up as W. A. Mc Cutcheon the author of The Industrial Archaeology of Northern Ireland says. Doctors reported that there would be probable benefits in abating epidemics of fever; professors of geology discoursed on the economic value of the deposits of clay which would be exposed neat Toomebridge, and further south between Ardboe Point and Portadown – diatomite, peat, lignite and coal, sulphate of lime and sulphate  of iron; the Drainage Commissioner, Robert Harding, envisaged a vast improvement of the land that was liable to flooding. In short he felt everyone would benefit.

The five locks were created at Toome, Portna, Movanagher, Portna, Carnroe and the Cutts. They all had standard sized chambers, 130ft long by 20ft 6in wide (39.6m x 6.2m).   McMahon estimated the cost at £163,486.  He planned to make money with increased trade, more reclaimed land for farming and water power. Stone used for the various weirs, locks and banks came from excavated material and nearby quarries at Tamlaght, Movanagher and Toome.  Brick from Coalisland was used for the lock and lock-keeper’s house at Toome. Over 1500 men worked on the scheme at any one time. The Board of Works approved the scheme, known as the Lower Bann Navigation, which was implemented over 13 years (1847-1859).   The total cost came to £264.000 – over £100.000 more than the original estimate.

The scheme lowered the level of Lough Neagh by approx. 6ft (1.8m).  It reclaimed up to 30,000 acres of land round the shoreline for agriculture. It opened up river traffic between Lough Neagh and Coleraine. However, railways had started to overtake river traffic.  Belfast and Newry were also better placed for the shipment of goods along the canals to cross channel ships. In 1862 the Lower Bann Steamship Company started a service along the Lower Bann.  The Harland & Wolff built steamer Kitty of Coleraine offered a twice-weekly passenger and goods service between Coleraine and Toome.  But the service never took off and stopped in 1869.


Shepherd’s scheme

In 1929 the Ministry of Finance took over responsibility for the Lower Bann. They employed Major Percy Shepherd to address the issue of flooding along the Bann. Work on Shepherd’s scheme began in March 1930. Almost 4 million cu. m of non-rock material was dredged.  Sluice gates were installed at Toome, Portna and Cutts to regulate the flow of the river and control the water level of Lough Neagh. There were five gates at Toome with a fish pass in the centre.  A footbridge was also built to access them from the Co Antrim side.  The level of the river was monitored at water gauge stations at Toome and Camus. Three sets of flood gates and five sets of locks on the Lower Bann control the water level of Lough Neagh. Today, Lough Neagh is 3.6 metres lower than it was in 1847.

Back to the role of the female or not in all of these schemes to ‘control nature’. One wonders would or could these engineering changes  happen today?  There are many debates about flooding and flood defences. Is it good to try and culvert, control and embank water ? It is not easy if you live by a coast, a river or a lough that is prone to flooding but what are the long term answers ? Is hard engineering and ‘controlling nature ‘ (still mostly by men !) the answer?  In the Netherlands, Room for the River,  Ruimte voor de Rivier, is a government design plan intended to address flood protection, master landscaping and the improvement of environmental conditions in the areas surrounding the Netherlands’ rivers. We might have to make way again too!


Planet Earth 2 – Grasslands – Michael McCoy

Planet Earth 2 – Grasslands – Michael McCoy

Planet Earth 2 – Grasslands

Guest Blog by Michael McCoy

One of the most extraordinary types of plant in the world is grass. Grass covers about one-quarter of life on Earth and is virtually indestructible. Some species of grass can grow 2 metres in a day while others endure fire, ice and floods. Grass goes through a cycle of growing in abundance, then destruction, followed by recreation. As a result of the endurance grass has, it is able to support and host a wide variety of animal species all over the world.

Grass is very important to Saiga deer as they not only feed on grass, but also utilise the plant for hiding their new-born calves. This give the calves a chance to quickly learn how to stand up by themselves and be able to move with the rest of the herd. Saiga always give birth to twins so they can multiply at a faster rate when the grass is plentiful. Saiga will travel many miles to find new patches of grassland and can detect any new growths with their specialised nose. Most Human civilisations rely on grasslands for use of food. In todays age, we cultivate grasslands to grow crops which are sold to general public for consumption. The Prairies in the United States of America is exposed to some of the most intense agriculture in the world.

The Okavango is a grassland in Botswana that is home to many great species. Storms release large amounts of rain which floods the surrounding land. Most plant species would drown when submerged in the flood water, however, grass thrives and grows at a rapid rate above water level. Many herbivores take advantage of the rapidly growing grass although flooding can also hinder some predators. Lions find it difficult to hunt as the water prevents them from getting any traction for running while also making noise which alerts nearby prey. One advantage that the flooding does have for Lions is bringing in large gatherings of prey including Buffalo. These herbivores are very deadly with their heavy bodyweight, thick hide and sharp horns. In order for Lions to defeat such a beast, they must act cautiously and work together. Many years ago, Humans like Lions would have travelled and lived on floodplains for the same reason; flooded grasslands attracted large numbers of herbivore. This allowed humans to hunt the herbivores for protein and fat.

Some grass species can transform from first shoot into their flowering period in a matter of days. The flowers on top of these grass species provide food for a number of species including the Harvest Mouse. Harvest Mice will utilise the tall grass to help build a nest. The nest will be spherical, made out of tightly woven grass and built high above the ground in the grass to prevent attacks from predators on the ground. Harvest Mice will climb across long grass in search of food using a prehensile tail which allows for agile climbing. The most nutrient-rich food is at the top of the canopy, unfortunately, this exposes Mice to top predators such as Barn Owls. To evade predation, Harvest Mice often fall to the ground level and must make their way back to the nest. The Mice can read patterns of stems like a map and will be able to find home safely. Both Mica and Humans have what is called a Hippocampus, which is a brain structure that helps greatly improve memory and can create a mental map of areas. Humans have a more developed Hippocampus and so have produced many maps of sites with some even showing the entire planet. The use of maps have great importance in finding new habitats and in todays age, helps with positioning of cities for trade and transport.

In the African Savannah, grassland can be very rich in nutrients, however, this does not last as drought will cause the grass to die out. In some conditions the grass begins to burn due to the extreme heat. As the drought intensifies, the conditions become harsher for everyone. Animals with permanent territories such as Lions can tough it out and so stay put while other species travel across the Savannah chasing the rain and with it good grasslands. Jackson’s Widowing birds seek fresh grassland as it is not only vital for food but also for attracting a mate. The males use the grass and create a stage by evening out the surface by picking out grass shoots while leaving a centre piece of tall grass. In order to get the females attention, the males jump up and down in the tall grass. The winner is the male who can not only jump the highest but also the longest period of time. Females will then judge the males on how tidy the stage is build. In Humans, relationships can be made or broken depending on how tidy the partner is at home. There normally needs to be some compatibility with the lifestyle each has chosen. Most people prefer clean, tidy living spaces in which everything is organised.

Millions of grazers are supported by grasslands all over the world, with one species having by far the greatest impact. Grass-Cutter Ants made an ingenious discovery millions of years ago which is cutting down grass which is indigestible and feeding it to Fungus in their ant hills. This in turn allows Fungus to grow which the Ants then feed upon. As Ants have large numbers within their colonies they require the transport of huge quantities of grass. This practice is essentially pasture farming, which involves feeding and sustaining a living food source with another type of food. Humans have followed in this practice with the likes of feeding Cows grass in order to acquire good healthy beef.

Some grassland experience extreme cold conditions with much of the vegetation covered in at least three metres of snow. In the Prairie lands, Bison search for vegetation which would be buried under the snowy blanket. They use their brute strength and massive neck muscles to push through snow. This method is not always the most effective as it requires a lot of energy with little payoff. Foxes on the other hand use a bit more precision to pinpoint food as they seek mammals which move beneath the snow. Foxes have sensitive hearing to listen for movement and must be patient in order to be successful. This proves that it is often more beneficial to use intelligent behavioural tactics than rely on brute strength.

In conclusion, Grasslands have become a key plant group with a wide variety of species that have created many different ecological niches around the world. Grass along with its inhabitants has been able to survive by being resilient and able to overcome whatever the environment throws at it. Perhaps we could follow their example and make the best of our current situation.





Local Distinctiveness

Local Distinctiveness

Blog by: Liam Campbell

Rivers and loughs etch time into place and challenge our ideas of constancy and transience. Our ancestor had both the intimate need and the time to gain insights into their loughs and rivers. One purpose of our Lough Neagh  Landscape Partnership is to connect ( reconnect ) people to the water. Is there a better time than now? We can take tine and look anew at the long linear edge of the lough and its rivers which juxtapose two different worlds that each enrich each other.  According to experts at least 600 species of plants ( one third of the indigenous plants here ) are found in or by rivers and lakes – the interface between land and water offering the richest range of habits of all.

Places are not just physical surroundings, they are a web of rich understandings between people and nature ( though I sometimes don’t want to separate these – are we not part of nature too ? )  people and their histories, people and their neighbours. Each of us should make a surveyor’s map of his lost fields and meadows … in this way we cover the universe with drawings  we have lived. These drawings need not be exact. But they need to be written according to the shapes of our inner landscapes (Bachelard, cited in Macfarlane, 2007: 232).

From an early age I was aware that my father was in demand as a water- diviner, the seeker of wells aided by a forked hazel rod. This ancient functional relationship with the earth and water  held a mystique for me. I want to take water the role of water places in my life more seriously and to reinvent the water of here as a place to go to and love. Its is not just about maintaining diversity and local distinctiveness but it must have meaning for the people who inhabit and use it or it is unlikely to be cared for. Little things ( details ) and clues to previous lives and the landscape may be the very little things which breathe significance into the roads, field and shoreline. If others try to define these for you, or the scale is too big ( the lough is a big place ) , the point is lost. Local distinctiveness is about anywhere, not just beautiful or special places. We have to begin somewhere and water offers a rich angle on the things we thought we knew. How  can we renew our acquaintance with it ?

Some ideas

Once  we start talking about streams, rivers and loughs, perhaps we will start ‘owning ‘ them again.

Investigation and celebration

  1. Make a parish area Water Map – chart all the local watery features from the smallest stream to springs and wells and find out the names of the pools, quays, bridges etc and discover what they mean – but write it down somewhere !
  2. Collect oral histories ( especially from our elders when we still can ) about working beside, flooding ete etc – the list is endless
  3. Celebrate springs and well with seasonal festivities – religious and secular
  4. Take photographs of all watery features
  5. Collect and use information from local people, local papers etc – Look at what Ardboe for example does
  6. Start a parish / area archive with water as a theme
  7. Research watery industrial archaeology such as mills, weirs, fishing quays, canals, stepping stones, fords and ferrys etc
  8. Consider a diary of daily observations beside the water
  9. Poetry, prose, drama and music
  10. Check out a whole water and names heritage
  11. Organise loughshore and riverside walks and picnics when it is safe to do so
  12. Think about the water source when you turn on the tap
  13. Think about the amazing concept of catchment
  14. Think about customs and stories, boundaries and borders, ancient patterns and recent histories, pilgrimages

Group actions

  1. A water audit of use and practice
  2. Install water butts
  3. Food production and water pollution – research
  4. Water power – investigate
  5. Report water pollution
  6. Think of what you put in the drain
  7. Think about culverting water before you do it
  8. Are hard areas always the best – permeable surfaces – less run off
  9. Use recycled water
  10. Leaks !

The silence of landscape conceals vast presence. Place is not simply location. A place is a profound individuality. Its surface texture of grass and stone is blessed by rain, wind and light. With complete attention landscapes celebrates a liturgy of the seasons, giving itself unreservedly to the passion of the goddess. The shape of the landscape is an ancient and silent form of consciousness. Mountains are huge contemplatives. Rivers and streams offer voice; they are tears of the earth’s joy and despair. The earth is full of soul (O’ Donohue, 1997: 115).

Two final things – In our daily lives we need water all the time. We humans are composed of over 90 per cent water. Without it, nothing can grow and secondly if we had to carry water from the well, we might appreciate it more. After all that how Lough Neagh began!