Biodiversity Projects at Oxford Island
What is Biodiversity?
Biodiversity is the variety of life on earth. It includes all flora, fauna and the eco-systems they inhabit. Biodiversity has an inherent importance and should be protected. It should not be forgotten that all biodiversity is interlinked and humans are as much a part of it as any other species. Biodiversity is vital for the health of the planet and of human beings.
The real value of biodiversity has been proven time and again. The decline of peregrines in the 1960s alerted the world to the dangers of pesticides. The economic importance of insects that pollinate our crops is immense. Trees produce oxygen which is vital for other forms of life. Aside from these practical benefits the observation and study of animals and plants provides much pleasure.
Coppicing is a traditional method of forest and tree rejuvenation whereby the old, dead and/or toppled hazel tree or shrub is cut down and removed whereby only the tree/shrub stump remains. From this process it encourages the Hazel tree/shrub to regenerate and grow anew. Thereby creating a healthier tree and improving the habitat range of other native animal species that rely on Hazel growth as a home.
This work has been carried out by Conservation Service staff from the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre with the help of local volunteers.
The projects conducted by the Oxford Island conservation team are listed below:
Having been left untouched for over 30 years prior to the beginning of this project in 2008, the large plantations of Hazel Trees and shrubs in Oxford Island Nature Reserve undergo a process of Coppicing.
Himalayan Balsam Removal
Himalayan balsam is a beautiful plant from Asia, which can reach up to three metres in height and has large bright pink flowers and distinctive “popping” seed heads. It may be pretty, but causes a range of problems in damp habitats across the British Isles. Himalayan balsam was first introduced to the British Isles in 1839 as a garden plant, and by 1855 it had escaped gardens and was growing in the wild. It is now found along riverbanks and in other areas with damp soils, including marsh and woodland. It is widespread right across Northern Ireland.
Himalayan balsam can take over large areas. As well as causing problems for native species, Himalayan balsam increases the risk of riverbank erosion because it stops the more long-lived plants such as grasses, which bind the soil with their roots, from growing. This means that when the balsam plants die in the autumn they leave bare patches of soil, which can be more easily washed away by rain.
Large areas of the woodland at Oxford Island were covered with Balsam and so the Conservation Service planned a programme of removal, spread throughout the summer months. In conjunction with this a series of ‘Balsam Bash’ days was organised to gain extra help and raise public awareness of the problems of introduced species. The first of these events took place in 2009 and ran in partnership with CVNI and a band of local, enthusiastic volunteers. The Balsam Bash which ran over two days saw the intrepid team pulling up the plants by hand and placed into large sealed bags to stop the seeds escaping and spreading. The Balsam Bash and programme of removal proved to be highly successful and has continued through 2010. The Balsam at Oxford Island is now well under control, although the process will be an ongoing one in the coming years mainly due to the fact that Oxford Island is beside the Lough and the Closet River which means that Balsam seeds are constantly being transported into the reserve.
So keep your eyes peeled for these introduced species in your own area. Pictures of them can be found on the Invasive Species Ireland website: www.invasivespeciesireland.com
Wildflower Seed Collection
Staff from the Conservation Service based at the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre and staff and volunteers from Conservation Volunteers Northern Ireland (CVNI) collected Yellow Rattle seeds from the meadows at Oxford Island.
Yellow Rattle or Hay Rattle is one of the plants found in a healthy meadow. It is a semi-parasitic plant, taking nutrients from the roots of stronger grasses. In the past this plant was a serious pest for farmers as it weakens grasses and can reduce hay yields by up to 50%. In a wildflower meadow however, this suppression of grass growth is welcomed as it produces a better display of other wild flowers. Yellow Rattle is also an important source of pollen for bees throughout the summer months.
The meadows at Oxford Island are full of Yellow Rattle and this work by CVNI and Craigavon Council concentrated on collecting the seeds from the plants in one area and sowing these elsewhere on the reserve in order to expand the on-site meadows and increase the diversity of the sward in the new area.
Willow Scrub Clearance
Staff and volunteers from Conservation Volunteers Northern Ireland (CVNI) and Craigavon Borough Council’s Conservation Service lead a project to remove willow from the meadows at Oxford Island.
Kinnego meadow at Oxford Island is a fantastic example of a species rich, meadow habitat. In recent years in the UK we have lost 95% of our wildflower meadows which makes this area all the more precious.
Craigavon Council carefully manages the meadow, grazing it through the winter and removing any trees and shrubs which naturally start to colonise the area. Conservation Volunteers spent some sunny winter days cutting and removing willow which has self seeded into the meadow. Left to nature the willow would grow at a fast rate and dry the ground out, changing the species composition, leading over time to the area reverting back to its natural state of woodland.
While scrub is an important habitat for breeding and feeding birds its encroachment into species-rich grassland must be controlled and such work continues at Oxford Island.
Biodiversity Projects throughout Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough
As well as the Oxford Island Nature reserve, the Conservation team manage cites throughout the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough.
The Lough Neagh basin has long been a stronghold of the tree sparrow, a species otherwise scarce in Northern Ireland and which has experienced a serious decline, in recent years, across the United Kingdom. Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council has provided local farms and schools with nest-boxes and seeds for this species with the aim of expanding its range.
Slantry Wood Local Nature Reserve
Slantry Wood is comprised of planted and semi-natural woodland, wet species-rich meadows and mature species-rich hedgerows. In 2008 a number of habitat improvement measures were carried out including the erection of bird nest-boxes and the establishment of a new hazel coppice. The reserve’s watercourse and scrape were also cleared and enlarged respectively.
Craigavon Lakes – Bee Orchids
The large colony of bee orchids at Craigavon Lakes has been protected by the creation of a new footpath which allows the visitor to pass through the site without damaging the fragile plant-life within it. A range of interpretive panels have also been produced to increase awareness of the habitats and species which are present within the reserve.
Craigavon Lakes – Traditional Hay Meadow
In May 2010, Conservation Volunteers Northern Ireland (CVNI) and the Conservation Service from Craigavon Council created a traditional hay meadow in an area of rank grass and scrub beside Craigavon Civic Centre.
Craigavon Lakes – Wildflower Meadow
The Craigavon Borough Council Conservation Service in partnership with Conservation Volunteers Northern Ireland (CVNI) undertook a project recently aimed at transforming an area of grass between the houses at the Lakelands Development next to the Craigavon Lakes. Enthusiastic local people and a diligent scout group also helped brighten up the area by planting a lovely mix of wildflower seeds, including traditional cornflowers, poppies, corn marigolds, corn chamomile and corn cockle.