For the first time the Ring of Gullion and Cooley cross border Conservation Volunteer team met up on Saturday 23rd February. Their task was to remove Rhododendron from Ravensdale Forest Park. This truly was a partnership event; with tools from the Mourne Heritage Trust, equipment from Newry and Mourne Council, and leaders from both Councils and four different programmes – there was expertise from every corner. None of it could have happened without the hard work and enthusiasm from all the volunteers.
Abby McSherry Action for Biodiversity Officer told us a little bit about Rhododendron, ‘Where conditions are suitable, Rhododendron will out compete most native plants. It will grow to many times the height of a person, allowing very little light to penetrate through its thick leaf canopy. This effectively eliminates other competing native plant species which are unable to grow due to insufficient light. This in turn leads to the consequent loss of the associated native animals.’
Brendan McSherry Louth Heritage Officer went on to explain, ‘Rhododendron areas are essentially barren. Even where trees exist above the Rhododedron canopy, species such as woodland butterflies disappear. This is because the caterpillars of most woodland butterflies can only feed on the wildflowers and grasses which are found in the glades and rides of well managed woodland.’
The group spent about 4 or 5 hours clearing Rhododendron from the Coillte site. As a result this should allow native species to come back overtime, making a forest rich with biodiversity. When Rhododendron is cleared from a site it allows light back to the forest floor, and in turn native plants can recolonise and this leads to native insects, birds and mammals moving back too.
Alison Henderson Geotourism Education Officer went on to explain that, ‘Getting the message out about invasive species is important. The more people are educated about different invasive species the more likely we can control them.’ Alison is running a series of education programmes as part of the new geotourism project and she encourages community groups and schools to get in touch.
Education is am important part of conservation and days like this are invaluable. People have fun; get some exercise and fresh air while doing some socially useful work.
Darren Rice Ring of Gullion Officer added, ‘It was a great day, and there was so much work done. With this amount of effort we can really make a difference to the area. We have a series of events lined up throughout the year, and I really would encourage anybody who enjoys the outdoors and giving a little back to nature and their community to come and join us in the future.’
The newly established Gullion-Cooley Conservation Team plans to hold regular events over the coming months and years in the area. If you would like more information check out www.ringofgullion.org, like Ring of Gullion on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.
This project is supported by the INTERREG-funded projects Action for Biodiversity and the Mournes, Cooley Gullion Geotourism; by the Ring of Gullion management, Mourne Heritage Trust and Louth County Council.