Slieve Gullion, recognised by its designation as a Special Area of Conservation, is one of the largest expanses of European dry heath in Northern Ireland, and heathland covers roughly 12% of the area in the Ring of Gullion.
Darren Rice Ring of Gullion officer said, “The heaths form on thin acidic soils overlying granitic rocks and is home to colourful gorse and bracken in the autumn. However this thin soil is easily eroded and some parts need conservation if we don’t want to see further erosion.”
Pupils from St Josephs Meigh, and St Oliver Plunketts in Forkhill are working on a habitat restoration project for Slieve Gullion’s heather. Cuttings were taken last year from Slieve Gullion and have been carefully looked after in specially controlled greenhouse. The time has come for them to move into bigger pots to encourage more roots.
Darren continued, “This is a great opportunity for the pupils to learn about the biodiversity in the Ring of Gullion. The children are taking real ownership of their mountain by helping to restore the heather on Slieve Gullion.”
He continued, “Footfall over the last decade or so on Slieve Gullion has increased and is causing severe erosion. The new path will halt the erosion and through the CASA programme we are able to help restore some of the erosion on the mountain.”
The pupils are potting up heather plants for the greenhouse, and later in the year when they have more established roots the pupils will head up Slieve Gullion and plant them out.
Peter Shields, Eco Schools Coordinator in St Josephs said, “The kids are all so enthusiastic to be involved in real conservation work. It’s a great opportunity for all of us to get our hands dirty and make a difference to Slieve Gullion.” St Joseph’s principle, Isobel Temple said, “I am delighted to be involved in this project. I hope that it will enhance the children’s respect for the mountain and the plants that grow on it.”
“This is an excellent opportunity for the children to take ownership of their local environment. It provides them with a great insiht into the biodiversity and wildlife in the Ring of Gullion” explained Turlough Hannaway from St Oliver Plunketts.
Mark Bryson, Ecoseeds director said, “I am delighted to be involved with this project, and it’s great to collect heather plants from such an important and protected habitat. It’s fantastic to see the children involved in this project too.”
All the children are looking forward to getting up the mountain in June and eager to tell you how it went!
You can find out more about this project and others by logging onto www.ringfogullion.org or by liking or following Ring of Gullion on Facebook and Twitter.
This project is managed by CASA (Castleblaney/South Armagh) Partnership thanks to funding from the European Regional Development Fund, INTERREG IVA Programme.