The Scale of Belonging – Dr Liam Campbell

The Scale of Belonging – Dr Liam Campbell

These last few weeks I have not been too far from my home – I’d say a radius of 6 miles at the most and it has been a big lesson in the art of belonging and the local and has got me thinking. There is something about the scale of belonging and getting to know a place a lot better.

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 landscape celebrates the 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 the tears of the earth’s joy and despair. The earth is full of soul (O’ Donohue, 1997: 115).

When you read Lough Neagh Places – Their Names and Origins ( 2007 ) by Drs Patrick Mc Kay and Kay Muhr, you realise that there is something deeper about a sense of place and attachment than some  theories can “get at”. Heaney (1984: 131) writes that there are two ways in which we can know a place, “One is lived, illiterate and unconscious, the other learned and conscious.” The danger of relaying on the use of generic terms such as “Nature” and “environment” is that these objectify what we love and obscure the particularity of thousands of places, townlands and parishes across the land, another way of inhabiting a place of belonging. In doing so we can unwittingly undermine any attempt to know and love our “place” as a place and not as a concept.” “ Philosophy is a place-based existence. It comes from the body and the heart and is checked against shared experience” (Snyder, 1990: 69). A sense of place partakes of a culture and a shared body of “local knowledge”, with which people and whole communities render their places meaningful and endow them with social and spiritual importance. It is often evoked in the names of the place in their native language.

Cranfield Ancient Site

Viewing the land as a set of resources has tended to encourage its quantitative evaluation ( and we often have to do this for work – if you don’t put an economic value on something,  then it may not be considered of  any worth and get the notice of the government bodies   and yet is this to put it into a realm  where it simply goes up and down in value ?)  , or perhaps its quantitative assessment automatically frames the land as a set of resources. There is no doubt that pastoralists evaluate the land in quantitative terms as is evidenced in the way townlands were divided and established. There are c.63,000 of these townland units in Ireland (McErlean, 1983). These medieval landscape assessment systems which emerged as an expression of landholding may seem like a quantitative evaluation, and in a sense they are, but they have an underlying environmental logic that is rare in contemporary resource assessment. In this system the more extensive territories occurred on poorer lands i.e. the larger townlands were usually in the poorer uplands. Generally  the folk knew their land and what it could “hold” in an ecologically friendly way. This was measurement not for commercial exploitation, but for future survival, and a deep affinity with the natural world of which humanity is one part. The differences are not perhaps so great. The land may have been measured but the interaction with the land is not directed by wholly material concern and also reflects the spiritual, intellectual and emotional concerns which we will explore later. As O’Connor (2001:4) has said, “[t]o know the townlands of Ireland is to know the country by heart”.

We all need to belong somewhere but the kind of belonging may be different from what it was formally. A re-localization may be taking place in this time of not being able to travel too far from home. Local heritage studies and local heritage tourism have seen a rise in interest in recent years. In many of the parishes around the loughshore  you will find the names of town-lands prominently displayed on carved stones or on signs  by the roadside. We have, I think, probably seen a reaction against the placelessness of the global and a search for the re-connectedness to the local and to home – where we know and are known.

Lough Neagh Eel Visitor Centre

Brain Turner, (2004), tells of how there is an increasing disjuncture between local communities in many places and the landscapes they inhabit. He reflects on a little experiment with three generations of men of similar background in the same parish in rural Ulster. The oldest man, aged 73, could name and place 156 townlands in his locality and his mental map of the place was one where people, townlands and farms are closely meshed together. A middle aged man in his forties could name thirteen townlands and his sixteen year old son could only name the townland in which he lived. The intimate topography of farms, townlands, coastlines and river pools, unimportant to the military or political designs of map makers, is vanishing with the language. Each generation seems to know fewer and fewer place-names and their meanings. There is a contraction of knowledge about local topographies that results in the whole fabric of ordinary, neighbourhood history fading from our mental maps. Field names and river names were often a sensitive indicator of when Irish was a living language in the rural community.

There is something about the notion of a scale of place and belonging that is worth exploring. People may need a human scale of place and belonging to complement the global, a means of inserting their own experience, feelings and opinions into an often alienating world. Many well-intentioned philosophies want us to declare ourselves as global citizens to “think, globally and act locally”. However, Wendell  Berry questions this:

Properly speaking, global thinking is not possible. Global thinking can only do to the globe what a space satellite does to it: reduce it, make a bauble of it. Look at one of those photographs of the earth from outer space, and see if you recognize your neighbourhood. If you want to see where you are you will have to get out of your spaceship, out of your car, off your horse, and walk over the ground (Berry, 1993: 19-20).

These last few weeks have helped me get out of my “ spaceship” and “ walk over the ground “

John Feehan (2010) whom I turn to a lot for advice, contends that the appropriate scale of belonging is actually biologically determined, a dimension of biophilia (the affinity that our species feels with others). “Therefore, we can only be “at home” when we are close to the natural world in, “a place with which we are commensurate” (2010: 69; orig. emph.), of such a size that we can get to know it, relate to, and feel we have taken root. The sense of identity that is commensurate with the human need to belong and lead a purposeful and fulfilling life is for him most easily and naturally achieved on the scale of parish, in the broader economic and ecological sense.


Parishes were mapped out at the Synod of Rathbreasail in the year 1111. Here we see the transition from a medieval system of church based on monasteries to one based on a diocesan structure in which rivers and loughs  were to play a major part.  The boundaries of the early Irish Church were defined largely by what we could term river basin districts and all diocese had an “exit” to the sea, even if they were inland (Duffy, 2007). The parishes were originally co-extensive with the tuath, the territory controlled and farmed by a clan or extended family, just as diocese corresponded to larger political units (Duffy, 2007; McErlean, 1983). The parish is made up a number of different townlands of various sizes depending on the “quality” of the land. These would have been farming units most often bounded by some form of water. Over time the parish boundaries changed as the size of the population changed and political and social arrangements were to change. For Feehan the parish is the area for which we are made. There we spend our lives, biologically, psychologically and spiritually.

This is characterised by intimacy; a closeness to the earth cut to our human measure. Feehan is not arguing for the parish in the literal sense of an area that stops at a line on the map “but at the horizon where the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening – yet a flexible horizon that expands and contracts with time and place” (Feehan, 2010: 166). In an earlier work he appears to suggest that our ability to travel “beyond the horizon” merely expands our understanding of the place it defines (Feehan, 2006). Ó Muirthile (2001: 55) argues that central to his local writing was naisiun na mbailte fearainn [the nation of townlands] and its sister concept duthaigh anama / locus animae [soul territory]. Soul is real in relation to place in this land.

An American academic that I came  across come years ago called Kirkpatrick  Sale in a great book called Human Scale, points out the social and ecological consequences of alienation from a place of human scale and intimacy with that place:

There can be no communal-interest among 200 million people, or 20 million, even 2 million, because there is no way the human heart with all its limitations can perceive the interconnectedness of all those lives and their relevance to its single life; we cheat on our income tax and drive at 65 mph, and ignore beggars on the street because we perceive no community at the scale at which we live. Nor can there be communal interest over distances of 3,000 square miles, or 300 miles, or even 30 miles, because there is no way for the human mind in all its frailty to conceive of the complexity of an ecosystem so large and its single place within it … Only when the shepherd knows his world and the people in it and feels their importance to his own well-being, only when he realises that his self-interest is indeed the communal interest, will he voluntarily limit his flock. Only then will the looming tragedy of the commons be avoided (Sale, 1980: 334).

I think that over these last few weeks, we may have rediscovered this sense of human scale – long may it continue.

 In the introduction to Lough Neagh Places it states “… a wider aim of this book is its contribution to the fostering of local pride and tourism in the area by drawing on visual as well as descriptive attention to the lough and its hinterland. At its broadest, this fascinating new compendium of local information is envisaged as supporting environmental, economic and social projects intended to assist with the sustainable development and management of this world-renowned wetland area…”

This is what we try to do.

Getting to know our place a bit better involves the walking, looking, smelling, hearing and a bit of research on the linguistic and historical heritage of this great place, Lough Neagh.

Planet Earth 2 – Jungles – Sophie Gregson

Planet Earth 2 – Jungles – Sophie Gregson

Planet Earth 2 – Jungles

Guest Blog by: Sophie Gregson

Jungles cover less than six percentage of the earth’s surface, but they are home to half of all the plants and animals on land. They receive just the right amount of light, water and nutrients and have every day for millennia. Life here in these edens should be easy…

Jungles 1

Indri are primates that call the forests of Madagascar its home, to survive here it faces one major challenge: over population. Every species here is competing with one another for food and space which is very limited, this jungle is the most competitive place on earth. If they wish to survive they must adapt in order to compete with their surroundings, this is extremely similar with mankind. Mankind also has a major problem with overcrowding with more and more houses having to be built in order to support the fast growing population, land is becoming less and less available with this in mind many people have decided to adapt to this. The tiny home movement is one that I definitely support, these homes don’t exceed five hundred square feet but contain all the necessary equipment for day to day life. They are also eco friendly and built to live off the grid not to mention they are absolutely beautifully crafted. Demand is simply so high for certain products that small farmers could no longer keep up, they either had to sell their land to bigger companies or completely change their way of farming to mass production. Just like the animals, humans have had to adapt the way they live the way they produce food in order to survive.

Jungles 2

Spider monkeys live together in groups, they spend their whole lives in the tops of the trees. Once the young are born they must learn to climb to the highest points in order to search for food. They must learn to use their tail as a safety net which can be difficult as well as deadly, one bad move and it could be certain death. The family will show the young how to climb, the brother and sisters will teach the younger ones how to use their tail using play while dad keeps a close eye. As the young practices and travels throughout the forest the dad is always close by and watching to ensure they are safe, if they ever do run into trouble dad is always on hand to help. Just like humans the spider monkeys demonstrate a parental bond with their young, a sense of responsibiliy to ensure their safety while they learn and grow. Just like the spider monkeys, human families will teach their young skills through play, using games to teach shapes and numbers isn’t much different from the spider monkeys using chase and tug with their tails to demonstrate how it must be used. These skills are a necessity in life and key to their survival.

Jungles 3

Many problems we face in the human world animals also struggle with. In both the animal kingdom and the human world over crowding is a massive problem, the fight for space and resources is something that we on earth, both animal and human, will always have to face. With more and more being born everyday the world just seems to be getting smaller and smaller, almost like we’ve out grown our planet but we’ve no where to go…

Jungles 4

Planet Earth 2 – Jungles – Aine Mallon

Planet Earth 2 – Jungles – Aine Mallon

Planet Earth 2 – Jungles

Guest Blog by: Aine Mallon


Jungles/rainforests are often called the lungs of the planet for their part in absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen which the animals and plants depend upon for survival. Jungles are home to half of the world’s animals and plants on land. In this report I will discuss how different species within this habitat have adapted to survive due to many factors such as competition for food and limited space, along with the negative implications related to human activities and climate change. I also want to highlight how we can refer to the survival skills within the animal kingdom during COVID-19.


Survival is not easy for this species as they face many challenges in relation to all striving for food and space in the area. The jungle has been described as the most competitive place on earth for survival. However, the indri has adapted to jungle life by making distinctive songs, which can last from 45 seconds to more than 3 minutes. This is done not only for solidifying contacts between groups, the songs may communicate territorial defence and boundaries, reproductive potential of the group members, and warning signals. This reminds other species to not cross their territory because the jungle is a sanctuary for all to live peacefully.

Jungles 1

Another primate which has adapted to their habitat in the jungle is the spider monkey. They are built for climbing because of their distinctive features: the prehensile tail and the hook-like hands, both making the spider monkey ideal for arboreal (tree) life. What we can gather from both these species is their dependence on their family as they thrive in big social groups. During these uncertain times what we can rely on is family and friends to help get us through this. Technology has allowed us to see loved ones when we cannot visit, through skype and FaceTime, to still be there for each other. Family is very important within the human and animal kingdom, during COVID-19 we are relying on loved ones to support one another and it is bringing families together again.

Jungles 2

The Hura-tree

Everything in the jungle competes for space. This evergreen-tree was said to have raced for space to ensure it received light from the sun to grow in to a giant tree, now it has risen above the gloom of the jungle floor. With this tree being so tall (some are measured at 40 metres) it allows it to reach the sunlight meaning that many plants can use it. Its successful growth has given life to other plants including orchids and figs. This is a prime example of the features and characteristic of the jungle working together to sustain all matter of life. It is also a safe place for a diversity of plants to grow because of its common name ‘Monkey-no-climb tree’ which is in reference to the characteristic spiky trunk. Plants can thrive here on the taller parts of the tree to receive enough sun for photosynthesis as well as having no fear of monkeys too.

We have witnessed a range of panic-buyers overloading with one of the same items, however the competition for resources has calmed down now. People are beginning to see the bigger picture and that this is a time to help all those in need by volunteering to deliver necessities to people’s homes.


The impact of the weather for different species

Jungles are the richest place on earth, they have even been known to ‘make their own weather.’ Trees are a vital part of this in the jungle, because the trees gather rainwater on their leaves which is then returned to the atmosphere as vapour, in a way, the trees breathe out clouds. Rainforests are subject to such heavy rainfall, for example in Brazil, trees can be submerged from rain. Due to this it provides an opportunity for other species you would not expect to find in the rainforest. The river dolphin has been found here during the heavy rainfall season. They are almost totally blind in this water; however, river dolphins use their conical-shaped teeth and long beaks to capture fast-moving prey in murky water. These species are well-adapted to living in warm, shallow waters.

Jungles 3

It is very unusual to see dolphins here, but we have witnessed many shocking sightings of species in parts of the world during COVID-19. Dolphins and swans were indeed spotted in some of Italy’s waterways after the nationwide lockdown was imposed. In the jungles, where there is very little human interference, we have learnt that dolphins migrate to these waters. Just like in the rainforest, as our world has been put at a stop with no tourism and work, we are witnessing a change in the natural environment and where once was the busiest and polluted canals in Italy, is a sanctuary for different species. COVID-19 may be a way for the nation to see how the natural world will reclaim its space during this silent time, and the environment will heal itself.

The impacts of human activities and climate change  

The jungles are a place of wonder and magic, meant to be a safe place for the species within it however 10,000 square kilometres of Amazon rainforest has been destroyed in the last year. 90% of animals spend their whole lives in trees but deforestation is continuing at alarming rates. The loss of trees and other vegetation will increase the rate of climate change, desertification, soil erosion, fewer crops, flooding, increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and a host of problems for indigenous people. Tropical deforestation accounts for up to 15% of net global carbon emissions each year.

Trees and other plants, like all living things, are made up of carbon. But when forests are cleared or burned, much of that carbon ends up in the atmosphere, like burning fossil fuels. This carbon changes the planet’s climate and contributes to rising temperatures, stronger storms, more severe droughts and rising sea levels.

We need to act now and there are many ways everyone can help protect the jungles to protect its value and species within it by,

  • Teaching others about the importance of the environment and how they can help save rainforests.
  • Restore damaged ecosystems by planting trees on land where forests have been cut down.
  • Encourage people to live in a way that doesn’t hurt the environment.
  • Support companies that operate in ways that minimize damage to the environment
Planet Earth 2 – Jungles – Michael McCoy

Planet Earth 2 – Jungles – Michael McCoy

Planet Earth 2 – Jungles

Guest Blog by: Michael McCoy

Covering less than 6% of the Earths surface, the Jungle is home to more than half of the plants and animals on land. Filled with lush tropical plants, each species competes not just for food, but also for space making the jungles some of the most competitive places on the planet.

 Spider monkeys have adapted to life in the jungle through the adaptation of large limbs with long, gripping tails for holding onto branches. This allows the Spider monkeys to be able to climb and navigate its way through even the tallest of trees. However, only 30% of Spider monkeys reach adulthood as many young can easily fall from great heights and not survive. The young are more encouraged to develop this technique by themselves under minimal supervision of the parents. Only in great peril will the parents step in to save their young. Humans themselves have adapted in similar manner for teaching their young how to survive in the world, although we take more care to ensure accidents don’t happen. In Human society we have schools where students learn the vital skills such as communication. Although we do not have a tail to help with climbing, humans have adapted by inventing climbing equipment (e.g. ladder) to access areas that would normally be out of our reach.

 Draco Lizards could live their entire live on one tree as it would provide the lizard with enough food for a lifetime. However, only one tree would be sustainable for one lizard. Therefore, if two Draco lizards come into contact on the same tree they have two options: they must fight or flee. Many individuals choose to flee if competing against larger rivals. The lizards can extend their ribs and connecting membrane to create wing-like features which helps the lizards glide to safety if fleeing. For Humans, instead of fighting over resources, people have adapted by trading. Trading allowed the exchange of resources without there being any physical confrontation. In today’s age, food is traded in exchange for money, which helps with the growth of more food. As resources are not distributed equally, many people will transport food from one area to another using aeroplanes and trucks.

The blood of the jungle is water, as it flows through the rainforests in rivers and consistent periods of rainfall is key for the survival of many plants and animals alike. The jungle creates its own weather by allowing for rapid evaporation of water from leaves which results in low clouds over the canopy. The clouds then release the water in torrential downpours. Every species has to deal with this, many do so by hiding under leaves for shelter. Humans have adapted from extreme rainfall by building houses in high up areas and having roofs which prevent water seeping through to ensure people are warm and dry. The heavy rainfall can cause flooding with some areas being submerged in 30 feet of rainfall. This has allowed for the adaptation of aquatic species to thrive.

Along the riverside, many species live and thrive as they have access to both water and food. Crocodile–like creatures known as Caiman live in the rivers and attack any species it can find by sneaking up on the prey with its streamline body and capture prey with its powerful bite. Prey includes fish mostly as well as some mammals such as Capybara, the largest rodent species in the world. The Capybara have adapted to swim in the river to be able to eat fish themselves, move between riverbanks as well as being able to cool off in the warm sunny weather. Humans have always seen rivers as important resources as they also utilise the river for fresh supplies of water. Humans have been able to catch fish through creating nets and inventing fishing poles. Water was also extracted for bathing, drinking and getting rid of waste. Civilisations have travelled in search of water and have built their homes near it. Even today, many of the great cities such as London, New York, Budapest and Paris have rivers flowing through them. Rivers have proven essential for the development of Human life.

 The Jungle forces many species to have specialised traits and characteristics, this includes courtships. Male Red Birds-of-paradise preform a dance to impress the females. The dance includes moving up and down on branches of the trees. The female then chooses a partner based on the dance they preferred the best. Wilson Birds-of-paradise stay near the ground, and require a bit more effort to capture the attention of the female. The male must first find a patch of light so they can be easily seen, have a branch that hangs down so he can stand on as well as removing any brightly coloured leaves, especially green ones. This is all so the female is not distracted and will focus solely on him. Humans today are quite similar with people focused on the way they look to attract a partner. Make-up and other cosmetics have been introduced to enhance features along with some even using plastic surgery for cosmetic effect. A large amount of people also do regular exercise to get bodies they feel are adequate and desired by partners and wear expensive clothes to impress potential partners. However, not everyone focuses on just looks like birds do, but also look for partners with a particular personality and attitude.

The jungle is a wondrous place filled with the most remarkable of species which aren’t found anywhere else. However, the jungle does face many threats including deforestation which has seen many of these great species disappear.  As we too had relied on the jungle for survival, is it not our right to help protect these places for many, many years to come?

Planet Earth 2 – Jungles – Aoibhe McCarron 

Planet Earth 2 – Jungles – Aoibhe McCarron 

Planet Earth 2 – Jungles

Guest Blog by: Aoibhe McCarron  

This Episode of Planet Earth II was about jungles and their inhabitants. We start off with a family of spider monkeys living in the top layer of the canopy. Spider monkeys are primates like us but they are adapted to this extreme niche by having long limbs and a prehensile tail that can grip like a hand. 1/3 of Spider monkeys never make it to adulthood due to the extreme heights they live at, but this is the risk they take to keep themselves safe from danger on the jungle floor and competition lower down in the trees. Our current situation reflects this, we must stay at home to keep ourselves safe and avoid catching the corona virus.

Next we meet the Draco lizard, they are the size of a pencil. Once they find the right tree, it can be a home for life supplying a constant conveyor belt of ants for them to feed on. When the little Draco lizard finds the perfect tree, he unfortunately finds this tree is already occupied by another Draco. What he does to escape a fight is an incredible adaptation to his habitat of ancient tall trees, he leaps from the tree and uses his wing like skin flaps to glide to freedom.  The lengths he takes to avoid competition and conflict with others is not unlike our current isolation situation. Like him, we should avoid conflict and taking many resources for ourselves. To share them equally is to increase our chances of survival.

In Ecuador, there are over 100 species of hummingbird, all competing for the same thing; nectar. The swordbill is one of these hummingbird species and is the only bird to have a beak longer than its body. This is a special adaptation which helps him outcompete other hummingbirds; they have their own supply of nectar from long flowers that other hummingbirds can’t reach. However, with this comes sacrifices, the swordbill cant preen his feathers like other hummingbirds and the long beak can be hard to clean and sometimes makes life a little awkward for him. This is the sacrifice they make to ensure their food supply and survival, similar to the sacrifices we are making right now to ensure our survival as a species.

In Brazil, the ecosystem is so jam-packed, that it supports giants.  There are Capybara (the world’s biggest rodents), otters the size of men as well as 10 foot long Caiman. Each section of the river/jungle edge is ruled by a different queen Jaguar, who have an abundant supply of Capybara to prey on. No other ecosystem in the world supports this many big cats. The male Jaguar is much heavier and does not bother with the Capybara, they are too wary and there is too much competition from females. He leaps into the water and preys on Cayman. This is an ecosystem where due to extreme competition, giants must eat giants. This is reflective of the competition we are currently facing as a species. We must think outside the box like the male Jaguar to avoid overcrowding and make sure there are enough resources for everyone.

In Costa Rica, The glass frog is adapted to his jungle environment by being almost completely transparent, so that predators cannot see him. He guards several clusters of eggs. Wasps approach, they specialise in hunting frog’s eggs so he must be on high alert. He defends the youngest clusters of eggs. His back is very similarly patterned to an egg cluster, so this acts as a decoy and confuses the wasps and they try to prey on him. He uses his strong hind legs to kick them off. This is a huge risk the little frog takes to protect his young, as a single one of the wasp’s stings could kill him. Fortunately he is successful in fending off the wasps and protecting the majority of his young. This is not dissimilar to the huge risk front line workers are taking to protect their children, by moving out of their homes or staying away from their children as much as possible. As hard as this can be, it will ensure that more children and families survive to see the end of this pandemic.

The episode finishes off with a family of Indri in Madagascar. These are the largest lemur species, and like us, primates. They are so closely adapted to the jungle that they cannot survive anywhere else and the jungle is their sanctuary. In the past 10 years in Madagascar alone, 10000 square kilometres of jungle have disappeared and along with it, half of all Indri families. Each jungle animal must find its own way of surviving the jungle competition, almost all plant and animals have their origins there, and we must remember that we too once depended on the jungle.  Just like the COVID 19 pandemic is separating families, we have been doing the same thing to our jungle cousins for many years.






Improving Your Garden for Wildlife – Planting for Pollinators

Improving Your Garden for Wildlife – Planting for Pollinators

Improving Your Garden for Wildlife – Planting for Pollinators

Blog by: Lisa Critchley

No matter how small your garden is, or even if you do not have a garden, you can still improve your outdoor space for wildlife. If you only have a windowsill, you can still get a window box and plant it up to encourage insects and other beasties. For example, at my house in Belfast, I have cherry, rowan and oak trees in flowerpots on my windowsill (which do need planting out soon!). I salvaged wild garlic bulbs, which were exposed from construction work at a work site a couple of years ago, and planted them in the tree pots and I bought crocuses to bring some spring colour to the pots. Balanced on top of my oil tank, I have mint, oregano, rosemary, thyme, chives, hyacinths from a few years ago and a couple of plants I chose to attract pollinators into the yard. I also bought a hanging basket (that was reduced to throw out with dying plants in it but look how healthy it is!) and added lavender to it, again to encourage pollinators to visit. This goes to show, you really can add a lot of life to a seemingly lifeless area! Please note, I did all of this to my yard over the last few years, not recently.

For the duration of lockdown, I have been living at my boyfriend’s house and his garden is another perfect example of an outside space that needs improving for wildlife. The area in which I can plant is minimal, as you can see from this picture and the accompanying video, but I have still managed to plant for pollinators.

You too can improve your garden or outside space for wildlife by planting for pollinators. Watch the video to see how or read this article!

First you need to work out what kind of environment the area you are planting into is like, is it sunny, damp, shaded? This will help you to choose which plants to buy. I had a limited choice of plants to buy as, due to lockdown, I could only access them at garage shops and supermarkets, but they still had good plants available. During my essential shop, and following government guidelines on social distancing, I bought a verbena, a calibrachoa and a lavender. I used the RHS website to find out if they are good for pollinators when I was at the shop. I also planted a hyacinth that was going over: they are bulb plants so come up every year and need not be thrown out once they stop flowering. You will need to prepare the area before planting: weed out any undesirable plants and dig through the soil to aerate and loosen it. I had to improvise for tools as I did not have a trowel and so used an old spoon, which did the job perfectly. Next, dig the hole for the plant making sure it is deep enough to bring the base of the plant stem level with the soil and wide enough to allow loose soil around the roots. Gently squeeze the plant pot and take out the plant by carefully holding the base of the stem. Next, lightly tease the roots and then place the plant in the hole. Fill the hole back in with soil and press down firmly. Remember to give your plants a good watering once they are planted and keep an eye on moisture levels in the lovely weather we have been having. Do let us tag us in your planting adventures and tell us what wildlife you have encouraged into your garden. Before I planted these, I had only seen one bumblebee in the garden but within a day of planting them, a hoverfly, honeybee and several more bumblebees have visited!

I want to say a huge thank you to our funders, Heritage Lottery Fund, for making this video and all our continued work possible during the lockdown. We at Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership are very fortunate to still be able to reach out to the public to continue to educate, inform and upskill them in natural and built heritage around Lough Neagh.

Improving Your Garden for Wildlife – Planting for Pollinators

As we find ourselves stuck at home, we begin to look around us to see what we can improve. How about improving your garden or outdoor space for wildlife? Watch this short video to find out how you can transform even the smallest of outdoor spaces into wildlife friendly areas!

Posted by Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership on Tuesday, 28 April 2020


A Mental Map of Lough Neagh – Dr Liam Campbell

A Mental Map of Lough Neagh – Dr Liam Campbell

A Mental Map of Lough Neagh

Blog by: Dr Liam Campbell

I made some connections this week between some great scholars of the landscape in the west of Ireland and Lough Neagh. Firstly,  I must say that I have always loved maps and it is ironic that one of the greatest map makers on this island, Tim Robinson died last week following his late wife Mairead on the list of fatalities of Covid 19 after having to move back to London from his beloved Connemara.  He was to me a hero,  in his ability to capture the “ immensities in which this little place is wrapped” and the richness of even “ the tiniest fragment of reality.” I would not put him into any category as he was at once an historical geographer, ecologist, environmentalist, natural historian, botanist and translator.

I wish to connect his work to an enlightened project in 2008  by the then University of Ulster and four men John McKenna, Rory J. Quinn, Daniel J. Donnelly and  Andrew G. Cooper. This too had a major influence on my life and research and indeed I think it is no accident that I now work at Lough Neagh and live beside Rory Quinn ! In research completed by the Centre for Coastal and Marine Research, based at the University of Ulster, a mental map of the bed of Lough Neagh compiled from interviews with local fishermen was compared to maps produced by “science-based” techniques. The paper that they produced is one of very few that has attempted to compare Local Ecological Knowledge with scientifically acquired data. The scientists at the time had the wisdom to take on the likes of Danny Donnelly to interview the fishing families of the lough and to glean their wisdom of the place and the “ tiniest fragment of reality “ as Robinson did so well in Connemara.  There is a timeless wisdom that seems to transcend historical events and epochs. It is difficult to define yet many know and recognise it instinctively. It has been called variously Local Ecological Knowledge, (LEK) ; Traditional Ecological or Environmental Knowledge, (TEK) or Indigenous Ecological Knowledge (IEK) but in a sense this doesn’t matter as what matters is the story of the place. The fishermen of  Lough Neagh Know  these stories. Constant attention to details of nature, memories of the way the land and water looks and stories told by other travellers and fishermen about the region are used together with the movements of the animals and the sky maps plotting the moon and the stars.

The comparison revealed that the mental map was highly accurate even though none of the fishermen had ever dived to the lough bed. It was intuited by the fishermen who having fished the lough, for as long as they know, though they had never seen, the differing textures and substances on its floor. I now have the privilege to work at Lough Neagh and this local  ecological knowledge has and continues to inspire me “The accuracy of the Lough Neagh map is attributed to the fact that is a compendium of the knowledge of several generations rather than an individual perception” (McKenna et al., 2008). The article argues that the accuracy is prompted by economic self-interest and that high accuracy may be a characteristic of the mental maps held by artisanal exploiters of natural resources. Is this not simple self-sufficiency on the part of the indigenous population? Exploitation of natural resources seems modern capitalistic twist on an indigenous way of life that was managed in a sustainable way for self-interest?

Andrews one of Ireland’s experts on maps, claims that Ireland was too small to have developed a map-making tradition (Andrews in Foster, 1997: 199) and there are no known early native Irish made maps of Ireland. But it is the outsider who needs a map in order to occupy it, get around and own the local landscape and the image of that landscape. The local people did not need one as they had their own way to get around and know their own place. Recently Rosie Ryan of Coyle’s Cottage fame took me to the site of where an enormous ancient ash had fallen and was to tell me that it was a marker for the fishermen of old long before GPS. It reminded me of one of the first times that I was out on half decker crabbing off Fanad in Donegal and as the men set the pots and plotted them on the GPS, I asked what they would have done before the advent of this technology and the reply was to the effect that, they never would have left sight of the shore beforehand and knew the water from the markers in the land. Possibly we all got too greedy and moved to far from the land.

 As the poet Eavan Boland says, “ the science of cartography is limited “ (Boland cited in Smyth, 2003: 58). In the Gaelic such maps were either unknown or not formally used and territories and peoples were administered mainly by words and living images associated with manuscripts, memory, local lore and myth.

Most of us carry a mental map of our place in this world. We consciously and unconsciously engage in mental discourses with the places in which we live and also the places we encounter in our travels. We make subjective comparisons between “our” place on the one hand and neighbouring places and the “outside world” on the other hand. We construct real and imaginary boundaries between our place and that of our neighbours. The French philosopher of space and matter, Bachelard has written:

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 (cited in McFarlane, 2007: 232).

Stories occur in places such as Lough Neagh.  For oral cultures the spoken word was everything. They mix facts and metaphors in order to tell the story and engage the listener. They imagine the land and create and recreate it in their minds. It reminds me of what Ishmael said in Moby Dick (1851, 1998) about the island of Kokovoko: “It is not down on any map; true places never are”. The earliest sort of maps would have been story maps: spoken cartographies describing landscapes and events that took place in them. Maps such as these could be learned, amended and passed on between people and down through the generations as they are around the shore of Lough Neagh.

One way to build community is through stories. Over time, small bits of knowledge about the region accumulate among local residents in the form of stories. They are remembered in the community and even what is unusual is not lost or becomes irrelevant.

Losing the names of these places and events is a step in losing respect. Knowing the names is a first step in regaining a connection. Communities sharing such knowledge and working together are likely to engage in more sustainable ways of working that builds up local renewable assets for the future. At the end of the 2008 article on mental mapping it states

“…A pessimistic scenario is that continuing failure to recruit young men will ultimately lead to the end of the fishery, and with it the mental map of the lough that has been transmitted down through the generations. This outlook may be unnecessarily gloomy. The mental map will survive as long as the occupation it serves survives. Although numbers of fishermen may decline still further, there will probably always be a market for eels, and consequently fishing will continue on Lough Neagh. It seems likely that for the foreseeable future the fishermen will continue to rely heavily on the mental map of the lough handed down to them from the past. “

We are lucky that so much work has been done about the Lough Neagh stories but the sheer immensity of the place means that the work following  the likes of Tim Robinson is never finished here.

The full title of the article and that abstract read as

Accurate Mental Maps as an Aspect of Local Ecological Knowledge (LEK): A Case Study from Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland

 A mental map of the substrate of Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland, compiled from interviews with local fishermen, is compared with maps produced by science-based techniques. The comparison reveals that the mental map is highly accurate. This finding contrasts with the spatial distortion characteristic of the classic mental map. The accuracy of the Lough Neagh map is attributed to the fact that it is a compendium of the knowledge of several generations, rather than an individual perception. Individual distortions are filtered out, and accuracy is promoted by economic self-interest. High accuracy may be characteristic of the mental maps held by artisanal exploiters of natural resources.

It can be accessed in full at:

Bog blog – Dr Liam Campbell

Bog blog – Dr Liam Campbell

Bog blog

Blog by Dr Liam Campbell

When I was a child growing up in Donegal, a phrase that was commonly used to sum up someone’s stubbornness, rudeness, or more often stupidity was, “You can take the man out of the bog but you cannot take the bog out of the man.” I don’t buy this any more, and thought not a scientist of the wonders of peat and bog, I began to wonder why culturally we have denigrated our bogs and peatlands to simply a resource to be burned or drained ?

Many years ago, I was lucky to interview Prof Mike Baillie ( QUB )  on the shores of Lough Neagh re his work on of dendrochronology on Ireland’s long oak tree ring chronology and his identifying the significance for global environmental history of growth reductions in tree rings. He has since tied these to various global catastrophic events such as volcanic eruptions etc . All this research originating in the peat around Lough  Neagh. Later I was to meet another hero, Dr John Feehan (UCD )  co-author of The Bogs of Ireland and these scientists were to encourage and inspire me. Now lucky enough to work in  place surrounded by so  much of the ‘dark  stuff ‘  (the title of  Donald Murray’s book on peat ) it is a pervading and wonderous presence .

  The study of the nature of the bogs of Ireland is  interwoven with the story of human presence and human perception of that nature in Ireland. The bogs are a kind of palimpsest, superimposed forms and places that testify to the complex interaction of nature and human culture. This attitude goes back as long way as far as I can see. Even in the 12th century the cleric and writer Gerald of Wales wrote,

 The inhabitants of Ireland do not have affinity with castles as a means of defence ; instead they make the woods their stronghold and the bogs their stinking  trenches.

Giraldus Cambrensis ( Gerald of Wales 1185 )

Later in the sixteenth century, Edmund Spencer the poet and writer who reflected the Elizabethan world was to write,

Ireland is a wasteland in need of improvement that is flat, empty and inscribable  full of wolf and woodkerne

Edmund Spenser 1595- A View of the Present State of  Ireland

It is interesting to add the wolf and the woods to this debate on bogs as they are all demeaned and demonised literally and animals and places to be eliminated.

For Elizabethan colonists, the prospect (or actual view) of bogland from the English Pale was, as it were, the ground-level reality of Irish nature, very different from the colonial prospect (or anticipated view) of Ireland from England. Gerard Boate’s Ireland’s Natural History (1652) writes of the reason for the extent of our bogs: “now wonder if a country, famous for laziness as Ireland is, abound with them.”

 There is indeed a long history of colonial writing on the nature and culture of bogs.

In 1685 William King – later to become Archbishop of Dublin – published ‘ Of the Bogs and Loughs of Ireland ‘ in Philosophical Transactions, in which he  calls Irish bogs ‘ infamous’ and equates extensive bogland with barbarity. The bogs offered an advantage to resistant natives, who, King believed, deliberately built near them: the bogs ‘are a shelter and a refuge to tories [ dispossessed natives turned outlaws], and thieves, who can hardly live without them. They take advantage then to them to have the country unpassable, and the fewer strangers came near them, they lived the easyer. The bogs are very inconvenient to us  ‘.

It is easy to blame a colonial mentality towards the bogs but a mentality has come down through the years. Think of the phrase “ Drain the swamp “  used in American by Donald Trump !

The science and wonder of the bog is magnificent and has been well recorded of late. There have  been some iconic books on the nature of our bogs with the likes of David Bellamy’s The Wild Boglands (1986) to the monumental study by John Feehan et al. in The Bogs of Ireland (1996).I’d also recommend Michael Viney’s Ireland – A Smithsonian Natural History (2003) for its chapter on the Brown Mantle  ( a phrase I love ) and Padraic Fogarty’s Whittled Away – Ireland’s Vanishing Nature (2017 )   But little has been written ( with the exception of  Derek Gladwin’s  Contentious Terrains: Boglands, Ireland, Postcolonial Gothic ) about how the political and geographical history of boglands are represented in modern and contemporary Irish literature and culture and how this impacts on present day attitudes.

The bog has been a subtle theme in modern Irish history, extending to political and cultural issues as well as permeating social and economic ones. There is a  picture richer in detail and more complex in its development than traditional images of the bog question in Ireland would suggest. It is  timely, given the current political and environmental debates and in the  exploration of how colonization and its legacy overlap in new forms of “colonization”.  Nature and culture in Ireland finds its debate par excellence in the story of the bog.

Boglands invite a whole academy of sciences to their study, but the cultural element is often neglected. You cannot have one without the other. If we add the threatened ecology of bogs to the resources of literature, archaeology, and other elements of culture the possibilities are limitless for their survival.  The arts and sciences do not meet often enough. There are few other substances that can join the built, natural, and cultural elements of our heritage as much as our bogs. Joseph Beuys, one of the world’s most influential post-war avant-garde artists described our bogs as, “the liveliest elements in the European landscape, not just from the point of view of flora, fauna, birds and animals, but as storing pieces of life, mystery and chemical change, preservers of ancient history.”  These contentious terrains can throw a light on the past and help us look to the ( uncertain )  future.

The way we  look at how the bogs, the moor, the moss or whatever it’s called locally, affects me and others and has done through the ages but as we enter a crucial age for the planets survival we can all learn to love the bog that has too often been denigrated, feared and despised. The bogs of Ireland are our Amazon forest and a library of knowledge ( re climate change, archaeology, culture, biology etc )  and preservation in so many ways. I hope we can  uncover a picture richer in detail and more complex in its development than traditional images of the bog question in Ireland would suggest.

Few do it better that Seamus Heaney who in many ways as a poet has done as  much for the science and wonder of the bog as have the scientific community. But both need each other if we are to give the bogs the respect they deserve.


“ We have no prairies / To slice a big sun at evening –  / Everywhere the eye concedes to / Encroaching horizon, /  Is wooded into the cyclop’s eye /  Of the tarn. Our unfenced country /  Is bog that keeps crusting /  Between the sights of the sun. /  They’ve taken the skeleton /  Of the Great Irish Elk /  Out of the peat, set it up, /  An astounding crate full of air. /  Butter sunk under /  More than a hundred years /  Was recovered salty and white. /  The ground itself is kind, black butter / Melting and opening underfoot,  / Missing its last definition /  By millions of years. /  They’ll never dig coal here, /  Only the waterlogged trunks /  Of great firs, soft as pulp. /  Our pioneers keep striking /  Inwards and downwards, /  Every layer they strip /  Seems camped on before. /  The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage. /  The wet centre is bottomless.

Seamus Heaney – Bogland


Planet Earth 2- Episode 2 (Mountains) – Aine Mallon

Planet Earth 2- Episode 2 (Mountains) – Aine Mallon

Planet Earth 2- Episode 2 (Mountains)

Guest Blog by: Aine Mallon


The mountains provide a range of habitats for a diversity of different species due to their remoteness and tranquillity, in fact, the Himalayas have been described as one of the most hostile places on earth. In this report I will discuss the impact of life for the species spoken about and how many of their actions for survival relate to the similar reality people all over the world experience too. Also, I will discuss how the way these animals (and plants) have adapted to the changes of their environment and work together to be able to survive. There will be a discussion on how these changes to their environments are as a result of climate change and many human activities adding to this issue.

The sun-baked mountains of Arabian Peninsula

This mountain is home to a range to species but, our focus is on the Nubian ibex thriving here (they are known as mountain climbers and adults are well adapted for climbing mountains). They live in groups on the cliffs with other mothers and their young to prevent social deprivation between each other. They choose to raise their young on the steepest cliffs to provide safety for them, but it comes at a price. There is no water source available at these heights on the cliffs, meaning that they must descend into the valley which is 300m below them and risk their young’s life travelling down such a steep cliff for water. We see this in our world today, where mothers in Kenya and African children must help their mothers to gather water from their only source of water. Many people in developing countries must walk an average 3.5 miles to collect this water.



However, we as a nation have come together to help people suffering, many charities such as trocaire and events such as World Vision’s Global sponsoring walk or running marathons. This is done annually to continue raising money and awareness to bring a more equipped and cleaner water source for drinking for those who need it. Throughout our lives, we have witnessed different communities come together to help fight this crisis others face. From this, we know that the communities today are working together to battle the coronavirus. To show our support, to help the NHS, we do all we can by staying at home to prevent the spread of the disease. We also know the farming community has been working effortlessly to supply the supermarkets with adequate food supply for society. We are showing that coronavirus can be slowed down by following the guidelines and support our key workers.

The Alps

During the winter months there appears to be a food shortage in this region and species such as the golden eagle will scan the slopes for food. This is not an easy task as there is much competition for food, and although the eagle is a bigger bird when it finds food, crows will be persistent to steal her meal and other bigger eagles may try to steal it. We do not face food shortages in society, but what we do see recently because of COVID-19 is a lot of panic buying. We have witnessed shoppers buying many more of the same item needed particularly toilet roll and baby formula for their food. This is resulting in the more vulnerable, elderly people of society shopping after the mad rush of panic buyers and being left with none of the necessities they need.


However, as stated in the previous paragraph, many people have volunteered to go out shopping for those who cannot go out during this time. We have also seen stores such as Iceland open a few hours earlier only to allow in the elderly that need to shop without the chaos of others.

Mountains of North America

Here grizzly bears will hibernate until springtime when they emerge however it was shown that, although it is rare, in these mountains’ avalanches can occur whilst they are hibernating. However, bears prepare their dens for such events, for example they ensure there’s two separate exits, keeping numerous breathing holes open into their den, and making methodical checks up to the surface occasionally. Like bears, people in society prepare their homes for all safety measures, for example in areas where it is prone to flooding. These defences include planting vegetation to retain water and constructing channels (floodway’s) and more modern flood defences can include dams.


As we have seen from the grizzly bear, we act the same by preparing our homes from protection of natural events. As COVID-19 is a new situation which many of us haven’t faced before, we are learning as a society of how to take more precautions. These have included staying 2 metres (6 feet) away from others when out in public, continuously washing our hands and avoiding handling money, so paying by contactless card when it is possible.

The Rockies

Here seasonal change is swift and dramatic with temperatures dropping to -65°C. The bobcat is a distinctive creature which remains active during wintertime. As it is difficult for the bobcat to find prey in the deep snow, it is forced to use the river for a food source. Due to the volcanic hot springs of the area, this is what heats the river and allows the animals that come out during winter, such as the coyote too, to find prey. Here we can see the environment working together to sustain the life of living things during the harsher winter months. How we can link this to our own lives, is if we look at the environmental impact from COVID-19. This change is slowing things down for people, but mother earth is healing whilst the rest of the world slows down. Unique changes in our world from reducing traffic, airplanes and tourism are allowing for a cleaner and healthier planet that we live on.

Impact from climate change on the mountains

Of all the mountain areas I have discussed, climate change from human activities is destroying their habitats. In the Andes, human encroachment is changing the highest summits. Whilst in the Rockies, rising temperatures is shortening winter hibernation and stifling the growth of food plants, negatively affecting the food chain. Also, in the Andes, rising temperatures are resulting in the glaciers shortening. As the snow retreats further and further up these peaks, it is limiting space for wildlife and a species that is declining greatly because of this is the snow leopard. Primarily they are an endangered species because of poaching and habitat loss, with a limited food supply for them in their environment.


High mountains are a bleak habitat for animal life. Food is scarce and the climate is very cold. Mammals living here have adapted to survive the bitter cold and most have thick woolly fur. It has been made evident that animals thriving in the mountains have adjusted their lifestyle to survive here and that it is possible to do so. Like the animal kingdom, we can work together as a community to help one another during this difficult time of COVID-19. Unaware of when the guidelines for lock down will be lifted, as discussed throughout the report, it is important that we care for those more vulnerable and hit by the disease and support our NHS team during this uncertain time.


Planet Earth 2 – Episode 2 (Mountains) – Aoibhe McCarron

Planet Earth 2 – Episode 2 (Mountains) – Aoibhe McCarron

Planet Earth 2 – Episode 2 (Mountains)

Guest Blog by: Aoibhe McCarron

This episode of Planet Earth II was all about mountains and the animals that make their lives there. We start off in the Arabian Peninsula where we follow the ibex family. The ibex choose to live the majority of their lives and raise their young on the steepest cliffs where predators have no access. The ibex are specially adapted to be able to find their footing on the steepest mountain sides, however this comes with consequences. It’s hard to access food and they must go down the mountain to do so, where they are faced with predators and the risk of falling. Because of this the ibex only descend when essential. Once the ibex descend, they are immediately met with a predator; a fox. The ibex split up and run different directions making it hard for the fox to pick a target, and they run back up the mountain where it’s simply too steep for the fox to follow.  This reflects humans in isolation, we take the risk of venturing out for food very rarely and stay in isolation (like the steep cliff tops) where the virus,( like the predator in a way), can’t find us.

In the Alps, the golden eagle scans the mountains with its specialised vision for food, food is scarce in the snowy mountains so the eagles are adapted to spot it from very far away and dive for prey at up to 150 miles an hour. This speed, second only to the osprey, helps them out-fly any other predators that might have spotted their meal. Once the eagle has found her prey, it isn’t long until other eagles start to gather. She must fight them off for her share, and eventually leaves the rest of the carcass for the other eagles. This is not dissimilar to people fighting over resources during the lockdown, perhaps like the eagle, we need to realise when we’ve had our share so that there are enough resources for others as well.

In North America, we meet the bobcat. His mountain habitat is covered in a thick layer of snow, so most of his prey is not where it normally is. The environment has changed overnight, so the bobcat must come up with new strategies to find prey and survive. First he uses his highly adapted sense of hearing to detect the sound of movement bouncing off boulders under the snow, this is a special adaptation to the snowy landscape. The bobcat catches a mouse this way, but it isn’t enough.  He then tries out hunting in the water, which isn’t the bobcat’s forte, in this he is unsuccessful, but he comes up with something ingenious. He travels down the river to where the steam rises and heats the trees attracting all kinds of animals, and successfully catches a squirrel. As he’s adapted to the pine forest, he can quickly shoot up the tree and catch his prey. I think what we humans can take from this, is that we need to think outside the box and adapt quickly to new ways of living to combat the ongoing situation.