Thanks to the Egan family and friends who did a great job clearing up litter from campsites in Donard Wood on Saturday 23rd July 2011. We completely filled an 8 foot by 4 foot trailer with bin bags of rubbish, segregating glass bottles, metal cans and plastic bottles which we delivered to a recycling point on the way home. During the litter lift we discovered an old glass bottle embossed with the name Beatty, Newcastle. Apparently they bottled mineral water in Newcastle around the time of the First World War. This could be the oldest piece of litter we have found. It’s now on show at Silent Valley Gate Lodge.
YOUTH RANGER PROGRAMME 2011:
REVIEW DAY 2: 25th July 2011: Mountain Navigation Day
Today we did a navigation training exercise in the mountains. The objective was to learn some navigation techniques and explore the area around Wee Binnian Mountain. The weather was mostly dry and sunny with light winds which made the walking and navigating easy as we could spot the features marked on the map most of the time.
We tried using a technique called pacing to measure distance walked. For this we counted the number of double paces we each took to cover the ground to work out our own number of paces for 100 metres (average 60 to 70). We then tried pacing a 100 metre distance up Moolieve Mountain to find a path but some folks went way too far and missed the path. This showed how a clearly marked path on the map can be still be hard to find. Knowing how to use pacing helps you locate things more easily.
We followed a series of paths round Moolieve towards Wee Binnian checking we were at the right junction each time by checking the distance we had covered. These paths are old quarry tracks and the workings can be seen scattered all over this hillside and on Slieve Binnian too. On Moolieve the quarries are all quite small (less than 10 metres deep) and a lot of the time the stone that the quarrymen were working was simply the boulders lying on the surface. When we got over to the foot of Slieve Binnian, however, we found it had been worked on a much larger scale as shown by the remains of the steel and concrete foundations of winching and stone working equipment. Quarrying of Mourne granite was the main industry in the area from the 19th century until the time of the Second World War when the use of concrete as a building material replaced the demand for granite kerbs, lintels and cobbles. Since then the local people have become more reliant on farming and the fishing industry. The mountains are now only used for grazing sheep and the old paths and workings have become overgrown but many of the paths are now used by hill walkers.
By following a stream up towards Binnian we were using a technique called handrailing where you follow a linear feature marked on the map like a fence or stream. This and a compass bearing took us to a zigzag path which led to the Wee Binnian col. The Youth Rangers were here in 2009 repairing the stile over the Mourne Wall and had to carry heavy timber beams and treads up the same path before doing the rebuilding work. Nathan and Ed were here in 2009 and their handiwork is still in good condition allowing walkers to cross the wall safely without damaging it.
After lunch and a rest at the col we took a bearing to find the track at the top of the Ardley River and then followed the paths back down – crossing the summit of Moolieve before dropping back down into Silent Valley. With an hour to spare we decided to go up to the Silent Valley Dam and repeat the Butterfly Survey we did last year. This is for the annual Big Butterfly Count organised by Butterfly Conservation and runs from the 16th to 31st of July this year. We split up into groups and spread out into different areas to count what butterflies we could see using the ID sheets. The highlight was a deep grassy embankment where Caitlin and Caoimhe counted 60 six-spot Burnet moths in the 15 minutes allowed. There was just time to stop for ice cream at the café before heading back to the Gate Lodge.
YOUTH RANGER PROGRAMME 2011
REVIEW: DAY 1 18th July 2011
DAY 1 : Bracken Bash and Heathland Restoration
After an introduction and information session about the Youth Ranger program we got started on the first practical task of the programme. This was a Bracken Bash on the Silent Valley Nature Trail to help establish a new area of Oak Woodland.
An area of 1 Hectare was planted with about 100 native Irish Oak trees three years ago. These were planted as whips (young trees less than a metre tall) which had been grown from seed in the MHT Tree Nursery at Silent Valley. The area that is planted is infested with Bracken which is a type of fern. Unusually for a fern, Bracken is an invasive plant which means that it tends to spread rapidly to take over a large area and prevents other plants from growing. As we found, the Bracken can grow to over 2 metres tall and it was like a jungle, smothering the young Oaks and making them hard to find. Fortunately Dave from the Countryside team had cut paths through the bracken with the tractor so we could get into the area. Our job was to spot the oaks among the bracken and bash the bracken round them with sticks to break or bruise the stalks. This kills the stalks and they die back, leaving the trees standing clear to get all the sunlight available to help them grow. It took over an hour for 19 of us to find and clear as many of the 100 trees as we could find – there are probably still a few lurking in the jungle. In a few years the trees will be tall enough to fend for themselves.
After a bit of lunch we started on the next task, continuing the restoration of an area of heathland which Youth Rangers and other MHT volunteers started work on back in 2008. Heathland is open, mostly treeless ground with poor soils and is a priority habitat for environmental protection in Europe. The Mournes AONB has around 5000 hectares of heathland and the plant most commonly associated with heathland is heather. This area beside the Nature Trail was being invaded by non-native Lodgepole Pine trees spreading from a nearby planting. Ultimately the trees would take over and destroy the heathland.
We were able to find Bell Heather, Cross Leaved Heath and Ling, the main heathland species, now growing vigorously in the cleared areas as well as other species like Bilberry and Gorse. This shows the process of regeneration is well under way. The task was to remove a lot of pine trees which had already been felled but needed to be cut up and removed. The trees, up to 30 feet long, had to be cut into manageable lengths with bowsaws and have the bigger side branches removed using loppers so they could be dragged or carried the 50 metres to the side of the forest track. Most importantly we had to remove all the lopped branches as well otherwise they would just continue to block the light from the ground and stop the heath plants growing. It was hard work and some of the bigger bits needed a bit of a team effort to get them out to the track. Two hours work made a huge difference, with about 40 trees cleared and another 1000 square metres of heath opened up.