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Volunteering and Youth rangers programme

Volunteering and Youth rangers programme

The Volunteering and Youth rangers programme is implemented through The Ring of Gullion Landscape Partnership Scheme. The LPS is part of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s programme to conserve and enhance some of the region’s most treasured landscapes. The LPS runs from September 2015 until August 2018.

The total budget for this project is £40,500

The aims of this project are: To significantly reduce the amount of litter in the Ring of Gullion by establishing effective clean up teams in the area, and raising awareness of how the community can report litter and litterers to their local authority: To reduce the occurrence and size of uncontrolled wildfires through awareness raising, in order to prevent wildfires; encouraging informed controlled burning; and providing detailed information to NIFRS, to control wildfires. To build capacity in the local population to carry out conservation work. To inspire and build capacity in the area’s young people to manage protected areas.

The outcomes of this project will reply heavily on the work of committed volunteers.  If you would like to see the pictures of the hard work our volunteers do, please visit our gallery.

Project Updates

Volunteering in the third quarter of 2017

Update published on: September 30, 2017

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The conservation volunteers had a holiday during July and August, save for those in the tree nursery; despite this we still had a very busy and productive quarter.

During July we had our very enthusiastic Youth Rangers carry out lots of varied work, see below for details. During August volunteers were vital to the organisation and running of our Lúnasa Festival, from our Ambassadors guiding walks, to various community members working hard behind the scenes. Some of our Youth Rangers returned to help create messy volcanoes and earthquakes in the Geotastic Extravaganza.

Come September things were getting busy in the tree nursery once more, with all hands on deck collecting and processing seeds. We also celebrated the achievements of our Youth Rangers at a presentation evening and awarded our long serving volunteers with plaques, thanking them for all their hard work.

Our 100-hour volunteers are: Anne Fegan, Órlaith Rice and Séan Maxwell.

We also have one 200-hour volunteer: Claire Voigt

Thank you to everyone who volunteers with us, but especially to those four.

Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2017 - Days 9 & 10

Update published on: July 28, 2017

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Day 9 – Surprise Adventure Activity

On Wednesday afternoon we were told to bring our swim wear, old shoes and a towel for our surprise activity, this morning we learned it was bouldering up the Bloody Bridge river. The plan was to give us the opportunity to learn about the history and landscape of the Mournes and compare the rocks with those in Gullion. Whilst we did spend quite a lot of time looking closely at the rocks it was mostly to find the best way to climb up them with out falling back into the cold river pools.

The bouldering was a lot of fun once we got used to the cold water; the wetsuits helped. You could climb up the river in different ways and could get very wet climbing up waterfalls, or stay mostly dry by going around the rocks on the edge of the river if you wanted. We were given challenges of getting everyone to the top of the waterfalls, along with the litter collecting equipment and the litter. I fell a few times trying to climb up one of the bigger waterfalls. It was tricky getting across some of the pools as we couldn’t see the bottom and there were often hidden boulders which made the pool unexpectedly shallow and then deep.

We got about one big bag of litter collected along the river, and were rather worried at the number of boxers we found hanging from trees.

At the end of the climb there were two deep pools that we could jump into from quite high up. Some of the Youth Rangers were too scared to jump from the height, I was really scared the first time and the water was very cold but it was lots of fun. The other times I jumped weren’t as bad.

We had lots of fun today [And learned a bit of geology and history I hope – Alison].

Day 10 – Tree nursery & end of programme party

The final day of the youth ranger programme was extremely enjoyable. We began the day with a trip to Tí Chulainn Cultural Centre in Mullaghbane. The focus of our day here was to tend to the tree saplings in the adjoining nursery and to remove any weeds from the tree beds. We paired up and began our task of weeding around the trees. When we had finished weeding we began the task of removing bull rushes from an overgrown area of the nursery, which the tree nursery will be expanding into this autumn. We had to dig up the rushes with shovels and we disposed of the weeds and rushes by throwing them onto the compost heap. Another group of rangers tidied up hedging around the nursery and collected some wildflower seeds.

After a quick break we headed to an old abandoned church in Camlough [St. Jude’s Church, Church Rock] to have a look at work undertaken by last year’s group of Youth Rangers, where they had cleared a large area of weeds. Indeed they had made a great job of it!

We returned early afternoon to the tree nursery and tidied up after our morning’s work. Each youth ranger then filled out an evaluation questionnaire based on our time as Youth Rangers in the Slieve Gullion area, giving helpful suggestions on how and if any improvements could be made to the programme for next year. Our day of activity concluded with a spot of axe throwing, which was great fun but I wasn’t able to hit the target. We rounded off the day with a tea party and toasted some marshmallows; this was a well deserved treat for all of our hard work during the last two weeks and the perfect way to round off a brilliantly fun and challenging two weeks.

Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2017 - Days 7 & 8

Update published on: July 26, 2017

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Day 7 – Zombie Apocalypse Survival

Today we were to learn how to survive in the wild using different bush craft skills that may be needed during the zombie apocalypse!

At the beginning of the day we were split into two groups and sent to two different locations to find and pick berries. One group collected raspberries and the other collected blueberries. After we had collected enough we all gathered together and headed into the forest to our training location.

We were split into groups and set with the task of creating a shelter for 3 – 4 people to help survive the night. We all then judged each other’s shelters based on how dry and sheltered from the wind it would be.

Next we were sent to do one of three jobs: 1) fire lighting 2) wood crafting or 3) making soda bread. Lighting a fire was done using a magnesium and steel fire lighter, some tissue and some wood shavings. The wood crafting consisted of carving off the side of a piece of wood leaving enough room for us to write our names, with the difference that our name wouldn’t be written normally, instead it would be written in an ancient Celtic language! We wrote our names on the wood by burning it with copper tools heated in the fire. Finally the soda bread was made by mixing together flour and buttermilk, this was then cooked later in a pot on the fire.

We also made jam from the berries that we had picked earlier that day and tried nettle and pine needle tea. As a treat we got to roast marshmallows on the fire!

After we had finished eating the food we had made for ourselves, we got to have a go at axe throwing. This was a very important part of the training as we are all now capable of killing zombies.

All in all it was a very fun day.

Day 8 – Path building at Glassdrummond Wood, Crossmaglen

Today we returned to Glassdrummond Wood, this time to build a path.  We were split into two groups, to collect logs for each end of our path. After we had collected enough logs we marked out where we would put the logs and dug shallow trenches, the logs were then placed into the trench and secured with stakes if needed. Once the path was marked out with logs it was filled in with wood chippings created by other volunteers working on the site.

In a particularly wet and boggy section one team created a bog balancing obstacle for more adventurous children. It involved creating a mat of smaller branches, on top of which larger logs were placed. The mat of smaller branches was essential to stop the logs sinking into the boggy ground. At the end of the day we all stood on the logs for a group photo. We were happy with our work for the day and I was happy to help the community.

Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2017 - Days 5 & 6

Update published on: July 24, 2017

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Day 5 – Canoeing on Camlough Lake

Today, our group was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to go canoeing. We travelled to Camlough Lake with Stephen, with the intention of litter picking around the area while also having some fun in the process.

In order to avoid our boats tipping over, we started the day by attaching the canoes together in pairs. We worked in groups of six to steer the boat and collect as much litter as possible. We assigned roles in the team making it easier to manoeuvre the boat and steer it in the right direction. We stuck with this method for a while until we were confident enough to separate the boats and work in twos. This made it harder to avoid tipping the boats as we were now much less stable. We had to learn to work effectively in a small team and cooperate with one another.

All in all, we collected several bags of rubbish to make the lake a much more pleasant place to be, while also building on our team working skills and having lots of fun!

Day 6 – Hill walking and the hunt for cowberries

Today, we hiked to the top of Slieve Gullion mountain and put the navigation skills we used into practice.  We started by using what we could see on the land and matching it to the map, then later in the day learned how to use compass bearings and the map to direct us.

At the top of Slieve Gullion we took a group selfie before going into the Calliagh Berra’s cave, which is really a Neolithic passage grave. After a short break we were set the team challenge of finding our own way to the edge of the lake on the summit of the mountain. Once there we started looking for cowberries, a rare plant in South Armagh, which the leaders want to grow in the tree nursery. However, despite lots of searching we didn’t find any, which was rather disappointing.

On the way down the mountain we picked up litter as well as in the car park at the bottom before heading home.

Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2017 - Days 3 & 4

Update published on: July 20, 2017

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Day 3 – First Aid

Today we were given a lesson in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). John (one of the instructors) brought with him some Resusci Annie dolls to help simulate what it would be like to perform CPR on a real person. John taught us about the ABC of first aid, which means;

Aware: We are aware that this person has no danger around them, that they are not sleeping and that you have made them aware of your presence by introducing yourself and the actions you are about to undertake to assist them.

Breathing: Kneeling beside them, lower your ear to their nose and mouth and look, listen and feel for 10 seconds for signs that the person is breathing. If they are not breathing, check their airway to ensure there is no blockage, call for help and then begin chest compressions.

Compression: Place your hands on their sternum, interlock your fingers and begin pushing down on their chest to a depth of 5 to 10cm, repeat this 15 times. After this begin mouth to mouth resuscitation, by tilting their head back, pinching the fleshy part of their nose, then cover their open mouth with yours blow, looking to see if the chest rises. Repeat this twice, before resuming chest compressions. [You can leave the rescue breaths out if you feel uncomfortable, the chest compressions are often enough to keep someone alive – Alison.]

As a test of our skills John made us carry out practice runs on the Annie dolls. Everyone passed the examination, so to finish the day’s training John gave us a demonstration on how to bandage an injured arm as well as a demonstration of how to assist someone who is choking.

Day 4 – Dead hedge building at Glassdrummond Wood, Crossmaglen

Today we were set the task of building a hedge over a quarry, to prevent smaller children from nose diving off the sudden drop. We were directed on how to hold the tools safely, thankfully first aid was yesterday so if things went south we knew what to do; I think. We split the task into two smaller manageable chunks; this made the work a whole lot easier. First, both groups gathered a mountain of small, medium and large pieces of wood.

After a much deserved break we began to build the hedge itself. We placed the larger sticks onto the ground to build the foundations and then moved onto placing the smaller sticks; over time the hedge began to take shape. More and more sticks of all shapes and sizes were piled up onto the dead hedge; we weaved them together so the hedge was secure and would not budge. We then collected thorny bushes to make the hedge look unpleasant to warn off kids. This part of the task was rather unpleasant as when the thorns pricked you it was sore. Once the hedge was finished we looked on in amazement as we could not believe we had built this masterpiece, we took plenty of photos as proof. All in all it was worth the hard work.

Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2017 - Days 1 & 2

Update published on: July 18, 2017

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The Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme began again this week with 10 keen Youth Rangers, five boys and five girls, from in and around the Ring of Gullion.  The programme is an excellent opportunity for young people aged between 14 and 17 to explore the Ring of Gullion whilst learning outdoor skills as well as practical conservation skills.  For pictures of their exploits visit the Youth Ranger gallery.

This year we incorporated an Explorer level John Muir Award into the programme, as part of this, each Youth Ranger had the opportunity to write a blog of their daily adventures.  The blogs are recorded here (with minor editing).

Day 1 – Getting to know you and navigation skills

We began the day by getting to know each other through various ice breaker challenges, under the sweltering glare of the sun.

Next, we learned how to read a map and played a game with it; in pairs, we had to pick a location on the map and other teams had the challenge to find it, whichever team had the hardest place to find won. After a quick break, we jumped in the van and drove up near Slieve Gullion, where we did more map reading. Thankfully, lunch was just around the corner (literally!!)

After lunch, we played archery for the title of King/Queen Archer. When that was over, some of us had the opportunity of becoming a human GPS!! After taking a few wrong turns, we finally arrived at Ballykeel Dolmen, where we learnt about its history and talked about how hard it must have been to get the rocks in that organisation. Then, we drove to the tree nursery, where we all stuffed our pockets with rhubarb stalks (in the hopes of rhubarb crumble in the evening!!), as well as eating the growing strawberries. Next, we drove into Jonesborough (with help from the human GPS’s), and collected sticks of wood for bracken bashing. Overall, it was a good beginning to the programme.

Day 2 – Bracken bashing on Slieve Gullion

“Bracken bashing,” the so-called “Stress reliever” that delivered nothing more than a couple of blisters and cuts on your arms and hands. [It wasn’t as bad as that; definitely a good work out though – Alison.] We started the day by going up the forest drive and stopped off at the famine wall, perhaps one of many famous yet forgotten relics in Ireland. As we unloaded and gathered our sticks and gloves, we were greeted by a ton of bracken, shaded by the dense covering of trees, and foliage. It was all fun and games until we found out that it wasn’t as easy as John and Alison were explaining it to be.

We were all given a section each to which we had to bash the bracken. At around 11 am, we had our first break; we cherished our last few minutes of peace before we had to start torturing the weeds again. As we moved up slowly but steadily falling into nature’s holes one by one, we had our lunch at the half way point, we looked down satisfied with the work we had done. As we moved further, the bracken had gotten denser and we just couldn’t hit it down from the top. One of us bravely stepped forward with the idea to simply just jump, and fall down on the bracken using all our body weight to break it. While having our third break, it was all the rave to make the guys look like unicorns by pinning them down and giving them ponytails [See you still had plenty of energy after all your hard work]. At the end of the day we learned that it was not as stress relieving and peaceful as we all had hoped for, however it was pretty fun.

Volunteering in the 2nd quarter of 2017

Update published on: June 30, 2017

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This quarter the weeding of the tree nursery began in earnest as did planting out saplings which had initially been grown in pots.

During April this year, 21 volunteers participated in two Big Spring Cleans of our area; around Glassdrummond village and forest, and up Slieve Gullion mountain. Between them they collected 14 bags of rubbish, 6 of which were recyclables.

Across N. Ireland a whopping 111,137 volunteers participated in a Live Here, Love Here: Big Spring Clean and collected 141 tonnes of rubbish, equivalent to 26 African elephants! The value of all that hard work added up to £1,481,833!

A few of our brave volunteers took on the onerous task of spraying the Giant Hogweed growing in and around the edge of the Ring of Gullion area. This vital task will help stop the spread of this dangerous plant further into our area as well as preventing harm to people. If you spot the Giant Hogweed anywhere in the Ring of Gullion please let us know.

Volunteering in the 1st quarter of 2017

Update published on: March 31, 2017

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Once the last of the tree seeds were planted, we took the opportunity to give the tree nursery a spruce up before spring arrived, including getting a new polytunnel cover. The warmth of spring brought us an excellent crop of crab apple and oak saplings. The other seeds seem to be rather slow on the uptake that spring has indeed arrived; however the weeds have taken full advantage.

We used the last of the winter season to continue vegetation clearance of unwanted trees, namely gorse and cherry laurel, from Jonesborough Forest and Glassdrummond Wood. Thanks to the hard work of our volunteers over the last four winters, and Challenge Fund money, it was possible for upgrading work to be undertaken. The work involved restoring the paths to their former glory, installing picnic benches and outdoor learning equipment. Aside from a few remaining gorse patches, which we’ll get next winter, Jonesborough Forest is largely finished. You can see the progression of the forest here.

We don’t just cut down trees though, on occasion we do plant new ones; our volunteers have just completed work planting a new hedge around St. Jude’s Church, Camlough. It is part of ongoing work to improve the overall biodiversity of the site.

Our first 100-hour volunteers

Update published on: February 9, 2017

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We were very pleased and grateful to present two of our volunteers, Claire and Sean, with ‘100-hours volunteered’ plaques.  They are the first volunteers to have gifted 100-hours since the project began.  The full story can be read here.

Volunteering in the 4th quarter of 2016

Update published on: December 31, 2016

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The main focus of our volunteering this quarter was the tree nursery as it is was the busiest time of year for collecting, processing and planting tree seeds.  We were joined in the tree nursery by the Gardening Club from St. Mary’s Primary School, Mullaghbane.  The pupils eagerly took to squishing the seeds out of berries and planting them.  We estimate we have planted somewhere in the region of 2,000 – 3,000 seeds so it will be interesting to see what the spring brings.

Vegetation clearance work resumed in Jonesborough Forest.  We ran a weekend training course in coppicing skills and woodland management; which involved cutting down several hazel trees to allow them to rejuvenate from the stump.  This process, coupled with the removal of weaker trees will improve the overall health and biodiversity of the forest.  We have also successfully re-opened a previously hidden secondary loop walk.  It will require further work to make it safe and comfortable to walk on; but we’re getting there.

Volunteering in the 3rd quarter of 2016

Update published on: September 30, 2016

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We’ve had a busy and varied summer of volunteering.  We had a fantastic group of Youth Rangers who did the majority of our practical conservation work for this quarter, clearing paths, restoring St. Jude’s Church, Camlough and finishing off the work in Jonesborough Church of Ireland graveyard.  Full details of their adventures and work can be seen in the previous project updates below.

I’d like to say a big thank you to all the volunteers who were vital in making the Lúnasa Festival a success again this year, without them there would be no Festival.  Our volunteers helped with the organisation, promotion and running of the majority of the festival events.

Other volunteers have been steadily working away in the tree nursery caring for our young tree saplings and continually battling the weeds.  After our first year we have just over 100 young trees and we’re hard at work collecting and planting seeds for next year.

We finished off this quarter by clearing vegetation at the Dorsey Embankment to open up the feature so that it’s overall shape can be clearly seen.

Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2016 Days 9 & 10

Update published on: July 29, 2016

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Day 9 – Rock climbing & Abseiling in Altnadua Quarry

On Thursday, 28th July, the day started off with a surprise trip to Altnadua quarry near Castlewellan. This was the Youth Rangers’ surprise day during which we did Rock climbing and rappelling/abseiling, after learning a bit about the geology of the quarry and wider area, including the Ring of Gullion. My group and I very much enjoyed this and would recommend it for next year’s Youth Ranger Programme.

After this we took a trip to an activity centre were we got free hot chocolate along with a break. Straight after this we journeyed to a maze, near the activity centre, where my friend Olivia and I got completely lost while the others tried help us find our way out. This brought us to the end of the day when we returned to Slieve Gullion and headed home at half four.

I enjoyed every second of this day, as well as everyone else in the programme and would love to take part in this again next year, as well as other volunteer programmes.

Day 10 – Tree Nursery & Certificates

On Friday 29th, the last day of the Youth Rangers scheme, myself and the other eight Youth Rangers (there was meant to be nine, but one was off on the last day) went to the tree nursery that is located in Mullaghbane, in the grounds of Tí Chulainn.  We spent the first half of our time there cleaning up/weeding the tree beds as well as planting some of our own trees in an empty bed.

After working for a few hours we were taken into Tí Chulainn and given hot chocolate and biscuits as well as filling out a questionnaire on what we thought about the summer scheme.  We were presented with our two awards, one being the John Muir award and the second being a Youth Rangers award, as well as joke certificates given by our group leaders, each certificate personally describing what the leaders thought about us over the 10 days of the programme.

After the awards were given we returned outside to finish up work on the tree beds.  After working for another while John (one of the leaders) brought out an archery set so that we could have a competition of boys versus girls.  Along side archery, those who had had their turn in the competition were trying to make a small fire in a Swedish fire log so that we could roast marshmallows.  Eventually we managed to get the fire going and were able to roast marshmallows as an end to the programme.

A note from the leaders:

We have thoroughly enjoyed working with the Youth Rangers this year and were sad to see them go. I’m sure we’ll all appreciate a well earned rest after all the hard work that has been achieved and the adventures completed. We wish you all the best in your future endeavours and hope we have inspired you to get out and appreciate the great outdoors.

Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2016 Days 7 & 8

Update published on: July 27, 2016

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Day 7 – Zombie Apocalypse Survival Training

We started off the day by picking wild raspberries that were growing on bushes alongside the Slieve Gullion Forest Park driveway.  Once we had filled up on raspberries we then went further up the mountain.  We collected blaeberries, to flavour bread, pine needles, to make tea, and birch bark, that we would use later to light a fire.

We all then separated into two groups, the boys and the girls; each group had to build a shelter good enough to be able to spend one night in.  We also made soda bread on an open fire, it was all great fun and then we cleared everything back up to the way it was before so that it looked untouched, leaving no trace that we were there.

Day 8 – The end of bracken bashing

Today was our last environmental day.  We drove up to the beginning of the famine wall to finish clearing the path for the Lúnasa Festival walk.  We learnt that during the Great Famine landlords made their tenants build this wall in return for a small amount of money and a portion of food every few weeks, since they refused to feed them for free.  The landlords used this wall as a border between the townlands of Annahaia, Drumintee and Slieve Gullion.  It is suspected that one of the walls, separating Drumintee and Slieve Gullion, has been built on top a stream.  When we reached the peak of the wall, we decided to meditate for 30 minutes, to clear our minds and absorb the view.  I found it very relaxing and rewarding to take in the beautiful surroundings.  Overall I thought it was a very beneficial experience as it felt good to contribute to the community.

Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2016 Days 5 & 6

Update published on: July 25, 2016

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Day 5 – Canoeing in Castlewellan

On Friday we went to Castlewellan (ideally the Youth Rangers would have gone to Camlough Lake but it is currently out use due to the dam repair works).  We got dressed into wetsuits, buoyancy aids and helmets before going canoeing with Steve.  In the lake we had to litter pick around the sides, especially in the places that can’t be reached from shore.  We had lunch at an island on the lake.  We then left the island and canoed to a part of the lake that was shallow enough to swim in.  We jumped out and all went swimming.  At the end of the day we returned to Slieve Gullion.

Day 6 – Bracken bashing & climbing Slieve Gullion

The Youth Rangers spent the morning bashing back the bracken which had overgrown the Famine Wall walk on the steepest part of the walk.  In the lower part of the walk the bracken was shoulder height and decreased to around waist height further up the mountain.  As we are having a guided walk on the 7th August, as part of the Lúnasa Festival, it was very important that the bracken was beaten down.

After a restful lunch we all hiked to the summit of Slieve Gullion and explored the Neolithic (New Stone Age) Passage Grave and learned a little about it’s history.  Once the Youth Rangers had rested from their climb the hunt was on for Pokémon; rumour had it that there was a rare one over by the lake.  Unfortunately no rare Pokémon was found, but there were others to be captured, before we headed back down the mountain and called it a day.

Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2016 Days 3 & 4

Update published on: July 21, 2016

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Day 3 – Remote Emergency Care First Aid

Today we started off the morning by recording how many paces we took in 100 metres.  Once we found our pace per 100 metres, we walked the length of the Fairy Trail and made a record of each 100m section so that by the end we could estimate the length of the Fairy Trail.  The rest of the day was dedicated to learning first aid; we learnt CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), how to help a choking victim, how to bandage cuts and we also learnt how to assess a casualty in order to treat them correctly.  We then went to a field to lie in the field and relax (forest meditation).

Day 4 – Planting wildflowers in St. Jude’s Church, Camlough

First thing in the morning we went to St. Jude’s Anglican church in Camlough, a run-down, disused building with no roof that was completely overgrown with nettles, brambles and other weeds inside.  In our teams, we used various tools to clear the overgrown areas of the ground, and created a compost heap from the cleared growth.  We then used shovels to make the ground level.  After combing the ground for glass, stones and large roots we sowed wildflower seeds onto the soil.  The difference from what we had started with was extraordinary.

Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2016 Days 1 & 2

Update published on: July 19, 2016

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The Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme began this week with 10 keen Youth Rangers, five boys and five girls, from in and around the Ring of Gullion.  The programme is an excellent opportunity for young people aged between 14 and 17 to explore the Ring of Gullion whilst learning outdoor skills as well as practical conservation skills.  For pictures of their exploits visit the Youth Ranger gallery.

This year we incorporated an Explorer level John Muir Award into the programme, as part of this, each Youth Ranger had the opportunity to write a blog of their daily adventures.  The blogs are recorded here (with minor editing).

Day 1 – Getting to know you & Map Reading Skills

We started the day off by playing warm up social games to get to know everyone.  After we were familiar with one another we were taught how to read maps, split into pairs and set the task of working out how far our homes where from Slieve Gullion Forest Park.  Once we finished that each pair was given a litter picker and bin bag, we then walked around the Walled Garden collecting rubbish.

After lunch we were all assigned a destination on the map to give directions to.  We visited Ballymacdermot court cairn, Bernish viewpoint, overlooking Newry, and Ballykeel dolmen, where we discussed how the large capstone was put in place.  We then proceeded to the tree nursery at Tí Chulainn, Mullaghbane, where we picked raspberries.  Once we were full of raspberries we travelled to Urnaí graveyard where we tried to read the old head stones.  It was a good start to the Youth Ranger Programme.

Day 2 – Restoring Jonesborough CoI Graveyard

Today we started the day by taking a trip to Moyry Castle and Kilnasaggart standing stone; after a brief talk about the history of both sites we continued on to Jonesborough.  In Jonesborough we stopped at an old Church of Ireland church in much need of rejuvenation.  It took our best efforts to make the graveyard accessible to those who want to stop by.  We cleared the ground of brambles, nettles and ivy, before scattering freshly collected grass seeds on the cleared ground.

We were also told to research one of the people buried in the graveyard, I chose Reverend Archibald Kidd, but that is for another time.

Volunteering in the 2nd quarter of 2016

Update published on: June 30, 2016

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Work has continued at the two Jonesborough sites.  At the graveyard a lot of spring flowers, especially bluebells took advantage of the reduced ivy and bramble coverage and covered much of the cleared areas.  A lot of the previously cut wood was chipped.  The pieces that were too big to be chipped will be put into woodpiles out of the way to rot down naturally.  In the forest, the flowers have paid no heed to all our work of clearing brambles and ivy off the path and have grown so thickly that a sizeable section of the path has become impassable once again.  We are working steadily to clear the path; by sheer coincidence we had our first ever all female work team.

We were honoured to show case the hard work of volunteers in Jonesborough Forest to Sir Peter Luff, Chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund, and his party.  They were impressed with how much we have accomplished over the years.

We started work at a new site this quarter, Glassdrumman wood.  The local primary school, working alongside the local community want to develop it into a pleasant place to experience nature and learn more about it.  We had fantastic community turn out at our first work day, clearing away years worth of litter that had accumulated in the site.

The tree nursery has moved to the allotment at Tí Chulainn, Mullaghbane and we have lots of saplings needing T.L.C..

We have also selected our Youth Rangers for this year’s programme and are looking forward to working with them in July.

Volunteering in the 1st quarter of 2016

Update published on: March 31, 2016

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Our volunteers worked hard through the winter months and completed all the necessary vegetation clearance at Jonesborough Church of Ireland graveyard.  There is still a lot of work to do to improve the overall site to keep it tidy and accessible.  Brambles and ground ivy need to be replaced with wild flowers; this will have the joint benefits of improving biodiversity and making site maintenance easier.  The graves themselves need to be cleaned, mapped and researched.  We also hope to restore fallen gravestones to a secure upright position.

We had a very successful day in February when the volunteers teamed up with project staff to distribute 77,000 trees from Slieve Gullion Forest Park as part of the ‘One Million Trees in a Day‘ project.  Alongside tree distribution the spring seed planting of elder and blackthorn took place.  Hopefully we’ll have lots of seedlings in a few months.

Volunteering in the 4th quarter of 2015

Update published on: December 31, 2015

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This quarter one of our volunteers, Keara, kindly digitised the Townlands of South Armagh booklet.  The information has been incorporated into our interactive Placenames map. We were joined in the office by Clare, who has been diligently bringing order to the chaos of our photo library.

With the exception of the 10th October, the weather in the last quarter of 2015 was not conducive to conservation volunteering.  We almost managed to finish the vegetation clearance of Jonesborough Church of Ireland graveyard in the last of the good weather; before the numerous Atlantic storms started pounding our shores.  The 7th November work day at Jonesborough was rained off.  On the 27th November a small band of dedicated volunteers battled the high winds and rain of Storm Clodagh to remove the tree stumps from inside St. Jude’s Church, Camlough, so that the hired skip didn’t go to waste.  Needless to say we were out for as little time as possible that day.  The final volunteer work day of the year was supposed to take place at the Dorsey Embankment, however this had to be called off due to snow and the site being flooded.  Here’s hoping we have more luck with the weather in the first quarter of 2016.

On a more positive note, two members of staff and two volunteers (Niall and Sean) successfully completed their Pa1 and Pa6(w) pesticide training.  We now have the skills and equipment necessary to tackle the harmful Giant Hogweed plants in the summer.  The Giant Hogweed has slowly been spreading out of Newry and into the Ring of Gullion; it poses a significant threat to both humans and overall biodiversity in the area.  We will be able to supervise other volunteers in the application of pesticides, so if you would like to help us kill off this dangerous invasive, you’ll be most welcome.  Herbicides will also be useful for preventing the regrowth of any of the invasive vegetation we clear out of other sites.

Volunteering in the 3rd quarterof 2015

Update published on: September 30, 2015

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Keys sites and road ways around the Ring of Gullion were surveyed by our placement volunteers,  Brianna and Tom, for alien invasive species.   Brianna and Tom were assisted on various occasions by our other volunteers and the Youth Rangers.  The data collected will be used to develop a management plan which will be used over the coming years to eradicate the alien invasive species, particularly Giant Hogweed, from our region.

The conservation volunteers started work on reclaming Jonesborough Church of Ireland graveyard from the ivy and brambles which had taken over the site.  We also teamed up with staff from Re-Gen Waste Ltd. to do a litter lift around the shores of Camlough lake.

Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2015 Days 7 & 8

Update published on: August 25, 2015

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Day 7 – Bushcraft & Leave No Trace

The Youth Rangers were taken on a visit to the Mournes to see an example of a well managed forest, roughly the same size as the site at Jonesborough.  The forest is well cared for and well used and hopefully in a few years Jonesborough will look as good.

The Youth Rangers also went for a hike up Wee Binnian to learn the skills of enjoying the environment but looking after it at the same time; to leave no trace that they were there, except for the occasional footprint.

Day 8 – Restoring Jonesborough Forest

For the last day of the Youth Ranger programme we returned to Jonesborough Forest to continue the work of the previous week, with some extra motivation provided by the trip to the Mournes.  Some interesting conversations were had about the potential future uses of the site for education and seasonal events.  A large section of the loop path was cleared down to gravel, which makes for easier walking than on ivy, brambles and nettles.

The day was finished off by learning how to safely build a camp fire and put it out and then restore the site to it’s previous condition.  Of course a good camp fire couldn’t be wasted so marshmallows were toasted and scary stories told.  Before leaving the Youth Rangers were presented with a Certificate of completion as well as their first aid and canoeing certificates.

Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2015 Days 5 & 6

Update published on: August 18, 2015

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Day 5 – Canoeing
The Youth Rangers were given the opportunity to explore the geology and landscape of Camlough Lake from the comfort of Canadian Canoes.  The Youth Rangers were given instruction in how to effectively paddle and manoeuvre the canoes.  After a practice period the group set off to explore the lake.  The lake provides an interesting vantage point to observe the geology and landscape of the area.  The lake itself is a ribbon lake, formed when glaciers carved out the softer rock between Camlough and Ballard mountains.  The ice was helped by the fact that the rock was already weakened there due to a fault.  A fault is a line of weakness within the crust which is often where movement takes place in earthquakes; at one time the ring of hills which form the Ring of Gullion moved about 200m, relative to each other, along this fault.

Of course there was plenty of time for fun as the pictures in our Gallery will show.  The day was finished off with doing imaginative jumps off the pontoon moored in the lake.

Day 6 – Restoring Jonesborough Forest
Around 30 years ago an area of land was turned into a small forest, complete with lovely stone lined gravel paths and picnic benches, by the local community.  At a later date a small pond was also put into the site.  When it was first established it was frequently used by the locals, however at some point the site stopped being used and looked after.  Over the following years, the site has become invaded with gorse, the paths overgrown and the entrance to the forest becoming impassable by a massive growth of cherry laurel, which has escaped from near by gardens.

Last winter volunteers began the work of regaining access to the site and beginning restoration work, with a lot of help from local people who had fond memories of using the site.  The Youth Rangers finished clearing the back path of gorse that had be cut but not cleared during the winter.  Another important task was going tree by tree and removing any tree guards still attached to the trees as well as the metal rods which were used to hold them in place.  The tree guards have stunted the growth of some of the trees which were unable to break them and the metal rods have rusted to match the colour of the ground and could cause serious injury if an unsuspecting person came into contact with them.  Between them, around 50 tree guards and rods were removed from the site.  There is still plenty to do at the site before it is suitable for use again, but the Youth Rangers made a valuable contribution to the process.

Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2015 Days 3 & 4

Update published on: August 11, 2015

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Day 3 – First Aid
The Youth Rangers worked with Health Matters to achieve a qualification in Essential First Aid.  The qualification not only enables them to help others who have had an accident but it is also recognised by employers and so looks great on a CV.

Day 4 – Invasive Species Surveying
The Youth Rangers assisted our university placement volunteer, Brianna, with surveying Ballymoyer forest for alien invasive species.  An alien invasive species is a species that has been introduced to Ireland from another part of the world and has thrived here due to desirable conditions or lack of predators.  Very often the alien invasive species take over an area, pushing native plants and/or animals out, some, such as Giant Hogweed, can be hazardous to humans.

After an introduction on how to use a GPS and how to identify alien invasive species, the Youth Rangers set off around the forest to see what they could find.  The most commonly found species was Cherry Laurel, a shrub often used in hedging.   If Cherry Laurel becomes established in a forest environment it is able to take over large swathes of the forest, creating a dense understory leading to poor biodiversity.  Unfortunately we also found an area of Japanese Knotweed; a very vigorously growing plant, which can grow through concrete and tarmac.  If Japanese Knotweed gets established in an urban area or near houses it will de-value the property and can cause all manner of structural problems.  Due to its ability to grow from a finger-nail sized piece it is very difficult to remove from a site and doing so requires extreme care.

The information collected today will be used to develop an invasive species control plan for the Ring of Gullion.

Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2015 Days 1 & 2

Update published on: August 4, 2015

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The Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme began this week with 9 keen Youth Rangers from in and around the Ring of Gullion.  It is an opportunity for Young People aged between 14 and 17 to learn outdoor skills as well as practical conservation skills.  For pictures of their exploits visit the Youth Ranger gallery.

Day 1 – Map Reading
The Youth Rangers began their training by developing their map reading and navigation skills, which they took in turns to put into practice and lead the group on a short walk around the lower slopes of Slieve Gullion.  The afternoon was spent getting to know one another and working on their communication through a series of entertaining and challenging team games.

Day 2 –  Bracken Bashing
In the time of the Great Famine the poor were forced to build famine walls, demarcating the Townland boundaries on Slieve Gullion for meagre pay and rations of maize.  The path following the famine walls became overgrown with shoulder high bracken during the summer months.  The Youth Rangers went to work bashing the bracken back and uncovering the hidden path and neighbouring famine wall.  You can take advantage of their hard work by taking part in the Lúnasa Festival guided walk on the 30th August.

Volunteering in the 2nd quarter of 2015

Update published on: June 30, 2015

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We had a very varied range of tasks this quarter, from helping at the Mullaghbane allotments and carrying out a litter lift, to path repair on Slieve Gullion and of course conducting restoration work on the passage grave at the summit of Slieve Gullion.  The work on the cairn even made it onto BBC News.

We also ran an Invasive Species identification course to give trainees the skills necessary to help us conduct an invasive species survey of the Ring of Gullion.

Volunteering in the 1st quarter of 2015

Update published on: March 31, 2015

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Working alongside Mourne Cooley Gullion Geotourism and students taking part in the Prince’s Trust programme in SRC Newry we did a lot of vegetation clearance in Jonesborough forest.

The forest, situated behind the Pastoral centre, had become badly overgrown with invasive species such as Cherry Laurel and Gorse.  The volunteers were vital in clearing the vegetation and uncovering overgrown paths.

The SRC students also sourced materials for and built two Minibeast Hotels.

Lottery Funded
NIEA DoE N&M DC Biodiversity

Quick Contact

Ring of Gullion AONB
Crossmaglen Community Centre,
O’Fiaich Square,
Crossmaglen,
BT35 9AA.

Tel: +44 (0)28 3086 1949
Slieve Gullion Forest Park: +44 (0)28 3031 3170
Email: info@ringofgullion.org

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