Thursday, 17 September 2015

Woodland Wander

On Saturday, we had a great group of 20 kids come to Minnowburn as part of a multi ethnic cross-community project known as the Creating Cohesive Community Project. We split the group in 2 and led them on a couple of different activities.

Mick took one group to the wood by the Minnowburn River and got them involved in few things such as building a shelter, a bit of fire safety, foraging and making some hot chocolate as well, all as part of the outdoor nature programme. While this was going on, I took the other group around the sculpture trail and showed them various trees (including those with the same name as my own..) and plants and explained a bit about them. The kids collected lots of little souvenirs along the way like oak leaves and hazelnuts, ate some blackberries and made wishes while sitting on top of the terrifying dragon.

Mick and I swapped the groups over when we’d finished the trail and then off we went, once again. Unfortunately, the second time around it was a lot harder to find any blackberries because the first group were so good at finding them! When we got the groups back together the kids were all a little tired, so we all had a few slices of pizza from the Piccolo Mondo pizza van which everyone enjoyed. To finish the day off we went for a gallop in the meadow above the Minnowburn pond.

Finally, I’d just like to thank Ann Marie, the project coordinator, as well as Vaishali and Tony, the youth workers, the project volunteers and of course the kids themselves for all making the day so enjoyable.

Rowan Patterson
Academy Ranger

Thursday, 13 August 2015

From the Lagan Weir to Minnowburn, (a recycling story)

The story starts with a phone call from Graham Construction Ltd to a National Trust Belfast ranger to enquire whether we would be interested in re-using any parts of the Lagan Weir Bridge that they were going to remove as part of a project to put in a much bigger footbridge connecting Belfast City Centre with the Titanic quarter.

The ranger was immediately interested and went for a look and couldn’t help noticing that the bridge was decked with a very nice and very durable hardwood. After a wee bit of thinking it was decided that that this timber would be ideal for making some furniture for a garden on a hill just a few miles upstream at Minnowburn. The garden in question is Terrace Hill and if you don’t know it you should go and check it out.

Graham Construction very generously donated hundreds of the decking planks and our volunteers and staff went to work giving them a good old clean. Another one of our volunteers Steven Ryan of Green Woodwork Ireland conjured up an Art Deco inspired design for 2 benches to fit snugly into the alcoves at either end of the garden. We gave the timber and drawings to a local joiner, Colm Clarke of Dix & McBride to manufacture.

Just to add the cherry on the cake, the long standing and very marvellous supporters of the National Trust, the Ulster Garden Scheme, donated the funds to pay the joinery firm and we picked up and installed the benches just in time for the first ever wedding at Terrace Hill Garden.

The benches are beautiful and a perfect place to sit and enjoy garden and views across the Lagan Valley.

We have a good number of the planks left and we’re already planning more furniture for Terrace Hill Garden.

A big thank you to all those who have given and supported this project, watch this space for more.


Lead Ranger Belfast

National Trust

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Faffin around in Norther Ireland!

We have a guest blogger this week who recently came to visit the team at Belfast.  Sarah normally works across in the Lake District in England but decided to come and see what Belfast has to offer.  Realising our somewhat intermittent approach to blogging she has helped us out by writing a blog about her week with us, Cheers!

Working for the National Trust has many great benefits, one of the main being you are a part of a national organisation and you have colleagues in loads of interesting and beautiful places, including over in Northern Ireland (which can be easy to forget...sorry NI).  As such Rangers across the Trust have the opportunity (thanks to the generosity of the Mayled family, in memory of Andy Mayled), to link up with other Rangers allowing them to learn, discover and experience somewhere new.  So what greater contrast than the high fells of the Lakes to the hustle and bustle of Northern Ireland's capital Belfast!

From here... here!
This was the choice I (Upland Ranger Sarah!) made and over 3 days in June I swopped the 14 strong Ranger team in the South Lakes for the some what smaller 3 Ranger team in Belfast... 

The Belfast crew, green helps them blend in....
 Why Belfast I hear you ask?!  Well, I've done a wee bit of traveling, but hadn't yet made it to any part of Ireland, so when I heard about the Ranger link, heading over to Belfast seem a good way to kill two birds with one stone.  It also helped that I knew the Ranger, Craig, from the work I do as a rep with Prospect, the NT's union.  As such it wasn't long before we had dates in the diary, ferries booked and I was getting excited to be somewhere new and completely different.  Only as it turned out it was different...yet the same!

Same old fencing job, different location!
 Let me explain.  You see, although the South Lakes has a 13 strong Ranger team, that team is broken down into more specialist teams and day to day I mainly work with the 3 other guys that make up the Upland team.  So rocking up to the Ranger office at Minnowburn and meeting Colin, Mick and Craig felt like a temporary exchange of the usual faces.  Accompanying them was a friendly bustle of volunteers, and lets not forget Bella!

The South Lakes massif
Over the 3 days I got to see some of the main bits of work the guys get up to in Belfast.  From working with school groups pond dipping and in the forest school, to practical work on one of their coastal sites in Port Muck, to the intricacy of project planning a car park development at Minnowburn where they can annually receive over 150,000 visitors.  It's what we as Rangers would expect to be involved in, it's just the balance of jobs or the habitats that may be slightly different. 

Irish language school group
Pond dipping!

A totem pole about CAKE!
 For example in Belfast the large majority of their volunteer input is from large groups, whether those are corporate groups wanting to get out and do something different, or school groups looking to have a mix of education and conservation.  Partnership working is also key, Minnowburn itself is only 120 acres within the much larger Lagan Valley, covering 3500 acres in total and welcoming between 2-3million visitors a year.  Being on the doorstep to a population of over 300,000 people living in Belfast the opportunities to work with communities are well taken, a great example being the community garden that sits just behind the Ranger office and comes complete with a wood fired pizza oven for those long summer evenings!

Community garden, a great space!
 All in all it was a really interesting week that I would recommend to all Rangers.  It makes a refreshing change for both sides of the link and allows for plenty of learning, even if to start with you don't know how to articulate what that learning is!  For me though its back to the grind stone and back to home sweet home.

Home sweet home
By Sarah Anderson
Upland Ranger South Lakes
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Thursday, 11 June 2015

New railings for Terrace Hill

We’re really sorry for the lack of posts in recent months. We are definitely going to make an effort to spend a bit more time updating our blog.

I’m not going to go into a long list of what we’ve been up to recently, suffice to say we’ve been very busy around the Belfast sites improving things for wildlife and our visitors.

First up, the new Terrace hill railings! The old railings had disappeared quite some time ago and the external path around Terrace hill garden had got a bit overgrown.
We applied to the Alpha programme (land-fill tax) for a grant and they very kindly gave it to us. We also received donations from a local company and very generous NT supporters.

The project was completed quickly and without too much mess, but what a difference it has made. If you get a chance get up there and have a look see.

As part of the funding we put in a interpretation panel and managed to source some pictures of the garden in 1965. Picture courtesy of Belfast Telegraph.


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Path to the Rath

Sorry for the few and far between postings over the past few months, I’ll make the old excuse that we’ve been busy, but really we should have been keeping folks up to date with our adventures.

With the help of a generous grant from the NIEA Challenge fund, which is administered by the Northern Ireland Environment Link we have upgraded the path to Lisnabreeny Hill, the highest point in the Castlereagh hills.

The path runs up through ‘Whinny Hill’ which is covered in yellow flowering gorse, then crosses a field. We cut this field in two with the path and planted a mix hedge on either side.
The path goes as far as Lisnabreeny Road but a really interesting feature on the way is Lisnabreeny Rath, basically a late Iron Age fortified farm, which once would have had a palisade fence around its earthen banks.

There are lots of Raths in Ireland, they were kind of protected by superstition after they were abandoned due to legends that featured fairies and it was considered a very bad idea to mess with a ‘fairy fort’

The name Lisnabreeny is derived from old Irish and means fort of the fairies.

Go enjoy


Friday, 14 February 2014

Felling season

For the past few weeks our wardens with the help of contractors and volunteers are engaged in woodland thinning. Quite often members of public do not like to witness such an activity, but behind our work there is always a good reason.

Our main target is to cut and extract Japanese Larch from National Trust land around Minnowburn. This species is not native to Northern Ireland and since 2002 is affected in UK by Phytophthora ramorum, a fungus-like pathogen of plants which causes extensive damage and mortality to trees and other plants.
Additionally after removing all timber we will be able to plant various local species such as hazel, oak and birch. For the next few years we should expect a lot of brambles in the places where larch used to grow until the new trees will well establish themselves and the woodland canopy closes over and blocks out light. From that moment the undergrowth vegetation should decrease, except shade preferring species such as bluebells and wood anemone at spring and bracken and mosses during summer. As you can see now nature doesn’t like empty spaces so our wood extraction is actually a beginning of a wider process where a various species of flora and fauna are colonising suitable habitats.
The Larch trees that we cut over the last few years are of a various size and shape, but they all have been planted at the same time. The difference between them is dictated by a various factors: access to the sun and nutrients, location, weather condition. If you will count all the rings from the centre until the place where bark starts you will found out how old the tree is. The various thicknesses of those rings is also affected by earlier mentioned factors.

Tomasz Ciesielski

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Another year....

It's that time of year again when one reflects on the good times past and looks forward to the year ahead....and it's been another year of milestones and changes, with more to come.
The year started with us getting stuck into Lisnabreeny again, in the midst of our NIEA challenge fund biodiversity project - with paths finished and trees and scrub cleared, work and volunteer groups planted new native broadleaves, Academy Ranger Tomasz created a new natural play area and the project was brought to a successful conclusion with an eco-day with pupils from neighbouring Lagan College dipping for river beasties, building a hazel wattle fence, den buuilding and having a go at some green woodworking with volunteer and Mr. 'Green Woodworking Ireland', Stephen.

Meanwhile in Minnowburn, the MCA successfully got funding for a new gardener's shed and tools and we were kindly given funding by the Ulster Gardens Scheme to replant Terrace Hill Garden.
Down in the woods, other things were afoot, with a 'forest classroom' created among the pines at the top of Terrace Hill, both for our own work with school and scout groups and for use by Forest School teachers. already there has been huge interest and we welcomed a number of groups throughout the year, making fires, building dens and enjoying nature with George Best Airport kindly funding our learning equipment.

Suddenly it was Gig in the Garden time again and we struck lucky with the weather for another great year, this time a sellout! We've been on a steep learning curve with the gig, made some fantastic contacts in the local music industry and we've got bigger and better ideas for the future, so keep an eye and ear out for news in the next few months and of course a special thanks to all the volunteers and staff who worked on the day to make it such a success.

Back to Lisnabreeny again, this time to the former US Forces cemetary on the Rocky road, where the National Trust has worked closely with Castlereagh Council to create a fitting memorial. The memorial was officially opened in September, with representatives from UK and US forces and the First Minister in attendance. You can find out more at

There was also good news for ourselves in the Belfast team, with Will Hawkins joining ourselves and Strangford as Academy Ranger and work finally beginning on the brand new replacement for our leaky barn at the Warden's Office.
One of the biggest talking points and success stories of the year was renowned local artist Liam de Frinse's 'Art Lab' in the woods by the Lagan at Minnowburn. If you've been along the riverside path this year you'll have noticed things hanging from the trees, in between the trees, a 'nest' on the ground and more, all made from nearby materials by Liam and his team. It's a real hidden treasure to be discovered and if you're luck you might even capture a 'happening' with some music and poetry...

And so to next year, where we'll be building on the good work with an improved path to the rath at Lisnabreeny, the planting of the Terrace Hill garden and hopefully more restoration work, a new wildflower meadow nearby and more paths finished around Minnowburn. In the meantime, thanks to all our visitors and volunteers throughout the year and Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Belfast Ranger Team