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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 2019

Update published on: September 30, 2019


It was a general holiday during July and August for the conservation and tree nursery volunteers, however the event volunteers came into their own, by helping make the Lúnasa Festival possible.

We had another enthusiastic group of Youth Rangers, who probably got a bit too much experience of braken bashing due to the weather not playing ball. We reckon we had the wettest Youth Ranger programme to date, which rather upset the planned activity schedule. Still they had fun and learned lots, which is the main thing.

We were delighted to showcase the work of all our volunteers at our end of delivery phase celebration event: Celebrate Ring of Gullion, held at Killeavy Castle Estate. The work of the conservation volunteers right through to the Ambassadors and community members, without whom most of our work would be impossible was show cased. We had talks from those involved in various aspects of the programme. The highlight by far was giving awards to nine new 100-hour volunteers, most of whom were Youth Rangers who continued volunteering with us, and two new 200-hour volunteers. Their commitment to the programme has been absolutely inspiring.

Our 200-hour volunteers are: Anne Fegan and Órlaith Rice.

Our 100-hour volunteers are: Anna Rice, Conor Shields, Divij Prajapati, Isabella Collins, John-Patrick Donaghy, Paddy McBride, Pádraig O’Hanlon, Ria Prajapati and Róisin Gray.

Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2019 - Days 7 & 8

Update published on: July 25, 2019


Day 7 – Bracken bashing and hill walking

We went up the mountain where we had last done bracken bashing. Most didn’t want to bracken bash again but we finished after and hour and had a break. [They valiantly worked on to finish the work the rain prevented us from completing on day 2; which is preparation for a guided Lúnasa Festival hike telling the story of the famine wall and those who built it.]

We climbed up to the summit of Slieve Gullion having lunch on the way. We reached the pile of stones on the top [passage grave] and visited the tomb underneath. We could see miles in every direction. We climbed down and reached the car park. Dáire and John went to collect the van while the rest of us litter picked around the car park. John picked us up and we went back to the main forest park.

Day 8 – Litter survey & end of programme party

Our first activity for the day was to make bird-feeders and compost pots. This was fun; the bird-feeders job was very messy, as we had to mush together vegetable fat and seeds, and the compost pots were made of newspapers, cress seeds and compost. The bus journey to Tí Chulainn was good banter as usual; once we arrived at the tree nursery, we were briefed by Alison and John about the next stage of the day.

We were all to walk around the local river in Mullaghbane and retrieve litter that people have discarded along the path or the riverbank. This time, we were to also record what type of litter we would find, for the purpose of the ‘litter survey’ Alison required. We were split into two teams: one team carried out the task on one side of the river-path, the other team did the other side. There were different litter pickers circulating: eight foot, six foot or the normal sized ones. It was a long process, as there was LOTS of litter to pick up. In the litter survey, I think it was fairly obvious that the main culprit was… sweetie wrappers!. It was fairly tiring, constantly picking up the rubbish left behind by other people; however, the feeling of success was great when we saw the good we had done for the path, and also the community!

It was lunch when we came back to the tree nursery, and we had our farewell leaving party (or could also be referenced as the ‘stuffing of our faces’) with lots of delicious goodies that everyone brought in. Anna outshone us all once again, by baking a cake and scribing everyone’s names on the EDGES (not corners, as it was a circle cake. I had to learn the hard way.) The sun was shining and it was a lovely atmosphere, all of us felt grateful for the memories we’ve made, but sad that we would part soon.

After lunch though, the work didn’t stop. A couple of us went down to the river, accompanied by Alison, and hung up posters drawn by pupils at St. Mary’s Primary School, Mullaghbane, which encouraged ‘no littering’ and picking up rubbish. The posters were great at conveying the messages, and I would definitely never litter after reading them, some of them stating that a ‘curse’ would be put on you if you littered. We returned to the others in the tree nursery, and while John set up the archery we had some fun playing bulldog. Archery was a close competition, but the boys won :-(. We had a little certificate ceremony in the greenhouse, and all of us congratulated each other on the two weeks. We were also the first group that had 100% attendance every day, which was something to be proud of!

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the youth rangers programme, every day was full of busy work, and looking back now I can see that all our hard work this week will be reflected in a good cause! I loved and enjoyed every moment, and I would certainly recommend this course to anyone who loves learning about the environment, our beautiful Gullion area and giving back to the community, and most importantly the feeling of fulfilment at the end of the day. Massive appreciation to John and Alison, who ran the course super well, were both enthusiastic every day and show their commitment to all of us. Many thanks. [You are most welcome Isabella, it was a pleasure working with you and I’m glad you enjoyed it so much.]

Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2019 - Days 5 & 6

Update published on: July 23, 2019


Day 5 – Litter lift and canoeing on Camlough lake

Today we did canoeing and a litter pick at Camlough lake. I enjoyed going into the water even though it was very windy, which made the canoes hard to steer. I enjoyed the scenery of the lake. It’s a nice way to see the lake. the litter pick was important to keep the area tidy for other people to enjoy.

[Rumour has it a floating unicorn was rescued… possibly not though.]

Day 6 – Biodiversity Surveying

Over the course of the day we visited various locations. At the first one we set up a camera trap to find out if there were any red squirrels in the area. [Update – the camera trap as left up for eight days and unfortunately no red squirrels were recorded.]

We then went to a farm near Creggan and surveyed a hedge row and wildflower meadow. I really enjoyed finding the different kinds of flowers in the guide books. James, a Masters student from Queen’s, who was helping us got very excited when we found a common orchid.

Hairy dragonfly / Brachytron pratense

The last site we visited was a pond on the slopes of Slieve Gullion where we attempted to catch dragonflies and damselflies; some people were more successful than others as they fly very fast. We finished with a bit of pond dipping to see what was living in the pond. We saw an adult newt under the water but were advised not to catch it. We also saw a lot of damselfly nymphs but no dragonfly ones.

Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2019 - Days 3 & 4

Update published on: July 19, 2019


Day 3 – Bracken Bashing

Today we fought our way through some very tough bracken along a stretch of famine wall in Slieve Gullion Forest Park. At the beginning the bracken was small and not too dense; easily overcome. As we made our way further up the mountain the bracken got deeper, thicker and stronger, posing more of a challenge; but, undeterred we continued to bash our way through to clear the path. Everyone worked really hard as a team and we took plenty of breaks to make up for the hard work. Despite the heat and tiredness we battled on and made it to the top, all clearing our own section of the path. When we reached our highest point we finally got the chance to tuck in to our very welcome lunch, as by this stage we were all famished. We returned along the same path admiring our good work as we passed en-route to another area of bracken to clear and create a space for observing our native red squirrel in their natural habitat.

But, don’t be mistaken it wasn’t all hard labour, there was lots of fun, laughter and craic, and a spirit of camaraderie is developing within our group. We even had an opportunity to watch a movie in our storm shelter when the weather turned nasty. Good times were had by all.

Day 4 – Zombie Apocalypse Survival Training aka Bush Craft

We started the day by picking raspberries at Slieve Gullion Forest Park, once we had enough we went to Jonesborough Forest. Whilst John started a cooking fire and set up shelter tarpaulins, we cleared an area covered by weeds. We practised how to start a fire with a flint and steel then made jam with the raspberries picked earlier that day. While the jam was cooking we made soda bread which we cooked on the griddle and began to whittle spoons and knives. We ate the bread and jam and it was delicious. Overall it was a successful day.

Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2019 - Days 1 & 2

Update published on: July 17, 2019


We were able to secure partial funding for our Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme, which is back this week with a few tweaks on previous years. Due to only partial funding we had to implement a charge of £100 for the eight-day programme; this has resulted in a slightly smaller contingent of seven Youth Rangers, but no less enthusiastic for all that. We have three old hands, who enjoyed the programme so much last year, they came back for more.

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.

As the Youth Rangers are working towards an Explorer level  John Muir Award we give them an opportunity to write a blog of their daily adventures.  The blogs are recorded here (with minor editing).

Day 1 – Ice breakers & human sat-navs

We started the day by playing some icebreaker games, we all stood in a circle and threw a ball at each other, shouting out our names, then the townlands where we live. Eventually we shouted the name of the person we were throwing the ball to.

We then played a game where you had to get a ball from one end of the line, to a bucket a few metres from the end of the line, by using short pieces of pipes. After a few attempts, some successful, some not, we had a break and started a new activity.

We got into the bus, setting off on a journey directed by us. We drove the Slieve Gullion Forest Drive, stopping in several spots; the spot we’d be doing bracken bashing the next day, and some viewpoints. After the Forest Drive two of us were called up to the front seats, handed a map and given a location on the map to navigate to, the first was a dolmen. After we arrived there we were taught the history of the local area, and the usages of dolmens.

Several photos were taken. We returned to the bus and a different location and pair was picked. We drove around sightseeing and talking about what we would be doing and generally having a good time. The final location was Mullaghbane. After our journey to the Tí Chulainn Cultural Activity Centre we drove back to the starting point and we were given a few minutes in the park. Over all it was a brilliant day and I’m excited for the walk and bracken bashing tomorrow.

[You forgot about the lunch time archery session.]

Day 2 – Rainy First Aid

Today, we were all prepared to go bracken bashing but the weather was very bad and it unfortunately rained a lot!! Instead, we did first aid in the outside classrooms at Slieve Gullion Forest Park. We learnt what exactly we had to do if someone was:

  • unconscious,
  • bleeding,
  • choking,
  • burnt, and
  • if they had overdosed on poisonous substances.

It was very informative and is very useful to know for the future and for the coming days on the course. [Though hopefully you won’t need to use any of it; we haven’t needed it yet. I don’t want the 2019 Youth Rangers to break the good run.]

The bracken bashing was rescheduled until tomorrow so we decided to prepare for it today. We were informed about the famine wall and the historic value it has and later on in the day we cut the sticks we will use in the bracken bashing. Also in our free time we went to the zip line and bonded as a group!

Volunteering in the second quarter of 2019

Update published on: June 28, 2019


Volunteering this quarter, mainly consisted of work in the tree nursery keeping on top of the weeds; due to bad weather on Saturdays preventing volunteering. However, the tree nursery regulars did turn their hand to painting railings at Victoria Locks.

They also tried their hands at using 6ft and 8ft-long litter pickers to carry out a litter lift along the banks of the Forkhill river, which flows through Mullaghbane village. The very steep river banks were even too much for the 8ft litter pickers, but they did an admirable job none-the-less.


Volunteering in the first quarter of 2019

Update published on: March 29, 2019


We had a varied volunteering schedule in the first quarter of this year. We continued the work of clearing the invasive cherry laurel from entrance drive of Slieve Gullion Forest Park. We coppiced some of the hazel at Jonesborough Forest, continuing the work of opening the forest floor to more light.

We supported the ‘Trees on our Land’ project, once again, by being a distribution centre for tree orders. We distributed over 8,000 trees to various people from around the Ring of Gullion and further afield. Work in our own tree nursery progressed apace, though we’re getting to the happy position of nearly having too many saplings to cope with. We’ll have plenty of oak and crab apple trees looking for their forever home in the autumn.

Volunteering in the fourth quarter of 2018

Update published on: December 21, 2018


With the extension of the Landscape Partnership, the volunteers were able to get stuck into a new vegetation clearance season. After a few false starts, courtesy of rubbish weather, we got stuck into the cherry laurel on the driveway into Slieve Gullion Forest Park. Project staff have been looking forward to getting stuck into the dark and forbidding mass.

It has been easier work than initially anticipated, with each main section of laurel cleared making a big difference. The plan is to clear as much as possible with volunteers and then get a tree surgeon in to do what the volunteers can’t, not to mention chip all the brash.

The cleared areas will be planted up with native understorey trees such as hazel and holly. In two Spring times, so Spring 2020, visitors should see a noticeable difference in the amount and types of spring flowers growing along the driveway.

Volunteering the third quarter of 2018

Update published on: October 1, 2018


The Conservation Volunteers took their usual summer holiday, save for those involved in the tree nursery, who had plenty of weeding to keep them busy. We also had one hardy volunteer come and help us spray Giant Hogweed with herbicide; a thoroughly unpleasant job, not only are the plants dangerous, but we ended up venturing out on a particularly hot day and so were nicely boiled in the white plastic overalls we have to wear. Still it’s a vital job which needs doing to remove this harmful plant from our area; the areas that have been sprayed annually over the last three years have shown a marked reduction in the seed bank.

We had another fantastic bunch of Youth Rangers who bashed bracken, built paths and got up to all sorts of adventures, which you can read about in more detail below.

Once again the Lúnasa Festival in August couldn’t have gone ahead without the input of volunteers, especially the larger events of Cultured Celts and Geotastic Extravaganza, not to mention the numerous guided walks carried out by the Ambassadors. A big thank you once again to everyone involved in volunteering over the year.

Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2018 - Days 9 & 10

Update published on: July 27, 2018


Day 9 – Surprise Adventure Activity: Bouldering

I woke up this morning feeling really excited; it was the second last day of our camp. Today we were going bouldering. We met up as usual in Slieve Gullion Forest Park and made our way down to Castlewellan where we donned our wetsuits, helmets and buoyancy aids. Then we continued our journey to Bloody Bridge, Newcastle where our adventure began.

We made our way over the rocks and into the freezing cold water, it was very refreshing at first, just what we needed to get our blood pumping. Soon we were warmed up and enjoying the whole experience. There were a lot of small pools that you could swim in but I was really excited for the big jumps at the very top. We also took the litter pickers and cleaned up any litter as we went along the river, surprisingly there was lots of rubbish.

The little water falls were challenging to get up, there was lots of slipping and sliding but that just made the whole experience so much funnier. When we finally reached the bigger jumps we met lots of other people with their families having picnics. After the first 2 people jumped it was my turn, as I stood on the edge of the 3-metre drop the adrenaline was running through me, it was so scary, our leader John said, “Just sidestep off the edge”…  Splash! I plunged into the water; I swam to the edge of the pool and scrambled up the rocks, buzzing and ready to go again. Everyone was totally absorbed, using all their best efforts to jump, swim and climb. I was thinking to myself, that was so much fun, a real adventure, an experience that I can’t wait to repeat and hopefully our crew can do it all again.

On our way home in the bus we were all tired but felt liked we had achieved something, recounting all our jumps and our struggles. There was a real sense of friendship between us all, friendships that have grown over this past two weeks and that I hope will continue.


Day 10 – Tree nursery, party and certificate presentation

The final day of the Youth Ranger programme started off normally, as did the previous nine days. We arrived at the car park excited, yet a little sad; we knew that we were finishing our course. We got into the minibus and travelled to Tí Chulainn with John. There we made our wooden spoons with the help and guidance from John. Afterwards we cleaned the tree nursery and got rid of the weeds in the flower and tree beds.

Lunch time arrived we ate our lunch and had a party with all the buns, cakes and strawberry laces that everyone brought with them. Anna even decorated a cake to mark the end of our great time on the Ring of Gullion Youth Ranger course. After our party we had archery, which became very competitive between the two teams. Everyone enjoyed it. Afterwards we had our presentation, where we received individual certificates. A participation certificate and the John Muir Explorer-level award, for our volunteering over the past two weeks.

It has been a highly enjoyable two weeks and was definitely worthwhile. This course will be remembered and cherished. I am so proud to have been a part of it. I am delighted to receive an Explorer-level John Muir award and a 50-hour Millennium Volunteers award as well as a first aid certificate. Thank you to all that attended and special thanks to John and Alison for a truly enjoyable two weeks. I hope for the future that this course continues and would highly recommend this to all.


Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2018 - Days 7 & 8

Update published on: July 25, 2018


Day 7 – Zombie Apocalypse Survival Training aka Bush Craft Skills

Bushcraft and berry picking…ohh what a day. Let’s just start by saying if there was ever a day of putting our newly learned first aid skills to use, this would be it. I remember explicitly being told to always make a risk assessment to see how dangerous an activity could be. Obviously the risks could not be so severe. It’s like Alison was trying to get us killed? [Definitely not…. besides that’s John’s day to be in charge. – Alison]

Though thinking back, it was a recipe for disaster. First the berry picking; reaching through nettles and falling into ditches wearing shorts and a t-shirt. [Not exaggerating at all, or anything.] All for some, I must admit, delicious jam; but my finest moment was yet to come. Next we made camp behind Joneborough hall, huddling under an impressive tipi, put up by sheer teamwork and more realistically, John telling us what to do. We had arrived and now the fun could begin.

Three stations were set up; woodcarving; fire starting; and most messy of all, bread making. Straight away my hands were cut off me by my clumsy nature while carving a handle for my stick. Next came the burns and blisters trying to start a fire, I was the last person to be able to do it. The day seemed to at something of a loss, I thought, as I ate my burnt bread which I had made black; that’s was until John announced an opportunity to redeem myself…AXE THROWING. I was hopeful until the axe wouldn’t stick to the target. Oh well you win some and you lose some.

Day 8 – Upland path maintenance

Walkers on Slieve Gullion have been walking off the gravel path and creating new paths over the grass and causing a lot of damage [usually where the path is needing improvement]. Before beginning we were briefed in what tools we were going to be using like shovels and spades, which proved to be really useful!

We were split into two groups and stationed over different sections of the shortcuts. One person would work down until they met the person behind them, ensuring that an accurate job was done. Although this proved to be hard work, we never failed to have a bit of craic. This took us about four hours in total. Finally we planted some heather to cover up our work and make it look more natural, which was very rewarding to look at after our hard work.

Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2018 - Days 5 & 6

Update published on: July 23, 2018


Day 5 – Canoeing

Today was great craic! We started the day driving to Camlough lake , the weather was quite bad but that didn’t stop us! We got changed into our wetsuits before helping each other carry the canoes down to the slipway, so we could get on the water. We practised canoeing in a certain bit of the lake to get used to it then we ventured out further as we did a loop of the lake, collecting rubbish as we went along. Finally to finish off we all capsized our canoes!

Day 6 – Forest maintenance

Looking forward to another week of being with the Youth Rangers, I was ready to involve myself knee-deep in the environment and good craic once again. Today we focused on clearing a path in Jonesborough forest, because the land had started to overgrow it and the public were unable to walk on the path. The morning began with all twelve of us taking taxis to the forest, as one of our leaders, John [who drives the minibus] was stuck in England.

Arriving, we had a briefing on all the tools that were to be used today, ranging from hoes to shears to slashers. We split into two groups and my group concentrated on preventing the grass and weeds from growing any further on a picnic bench. Using the shears, we all cut the vegetation until the picnic bench was perfectly fine to sit on.


The long day stretched out, the hours used to clear the pathway. The aim was to either pull the roots out of the ground or cut all the vegetation using the clippers. The day was really chilled and relaxing, working hard under the heat of the sun, up until about 2pm, when all my group wandered down to the closest place to go to the bathroom and were chased by a three-legged dog. The dog chased us all the way up the road, and all of us ran for our lives. We finally made our way back to the forest very cautiously, and told everybody what had happened. Being back in the tranquil forest with all the rangers was quite comforting, but the memory of running down the road with my group with a dog hot on my heels will be a memory to keep! [Perhaps, best to stick to the loo-with-a-view next time 😉 – Alison] At the end of the day we were all able to look at what we had accomplished – the path was very clear now, and the vegetation was pulled right back! A good youth ranger day once again :-).

Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2018 - Days 3 & 4

Update published on: July 19, 2018


Day 3 – First Aid

Today we carried out first aid training, this was important as the activities of the next fortnight will involve the risk of injuries. First aid training can also be useful at any time in life – you never know when it will be needed. We learned the acronym, “DR ABC”:

Danger – Checking the scene of the accident for immediate danger.

Response – Checking the level of responsiveness.

Airways – Making sure that airways are clear and unobstructed.

Breathing – Making sure that the casualty is breathing and, if necessary, perform CPR. We used Resusci Anne dolls to practise CPR (among other things).

Circulation – Checking for signs of bleeding. We practised applying dressing to each other’s “wounds”.

We ended the day by discussing how to deal with various illnesses and conditions that we may run into, such as asthma, diabetes, strokes and heart attacks. Overall, the day was extremely useful to us and we all learned a lot from it.

Day 4 – Map reading & navigation

We hiked to the top of Slieve Gullion mountain to the top, which was covered in a swarm of wasps, so we didn’t hang about! We went in to the Calliagh Berra’s cave, which is really a Neolithic passage grave. Inside we learnt about why it was built and what it was used for. After that we walked over to the lake and had lunch. We went litter picking around the lake before heading back down to the car park, picking litter as we went from the mountain and around the car park. JP and Conor found a tire that was  burnt and Isabella and I found an onion, which was very weird.

Volunteer Youth Ranger Programme 2018 - Days 1 & 2

Update published on: July 17, 2018


Our final 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.

As the Youth Rangers are working towards an Explorer level  John Muir Award we give them an 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

It was horrible – I had to wake up early with no coffee. I felt like a zombie going in; thinking I knew no one doing the program. The day started with a BBC interviewer interviewing two of our Junior Leaders Ria and John-Patrick [who were Youth Rangers last year]. After the interview we started some team ice breakers such as skipping and doing some quick thinking, when it came to stepping stones. After lunch we practised our orienteering skills by reading maps and directing the bus to different locations. Our first stop was Ballykeel Dolmen and Cairn, where we learnt about the Neolithic people who constructed the big stone masterpiece. We then stopped at Moyry Castle and learnt about the history of the Gap of the North and how the English stole the land from the O’Neills. We then headed back to Slieve Gullion carpark and headed our separate ways, very tired and eager to learn more about our local area and it’s rich diversity.

Day 2 – Bracken Bashing on Slieve Gullion

Our main activity today was to clear a path along the historic famine wall from the invasive plant species [bracken] by hitting it with a stick for around four hours. The job itself was extremely tiring, yet still managed be cathartic, oddly satisfying and a great work out; we had several breaks to make up for the lack of energy. We all had our own section to deal with as we continued to move up the mountain however this quickly blended into large groups swinging sticks around mere feet from each other and sometimes even ‘accidentally’ prodding one another.  The task was quite rewarding with minimum risk of being hit by a flailing fellow ranger. Clearing the path is very important in maintaining interesting Irish history as this path runs along a famine wall which was created by impoverished Irish people for little food and money [relief works during the Potato Famine – if you’d like to hear the full history of the wall come along on a guided hike during the Lúnasa Festival].

When we got to the highest point in our journey we were all separated and were allowed sit back, relax and lie down in the heather. We were given two minutes of silence when we could close our eyes, look at the clouds or look at the Irish countryside below; all of which was extremely rewarding after the tiring work.

Volunteering in the second quarter of 2018

Update published on: June 30, 2018


The second quarter of 2018 was much quieter than other years – we even had a bit of holiday in the tree nursery! Thanks to successful experiments with close planting of seeds and the fact that the Gardening with Wildlife course participants did most of the weeding for us.

The focus this quarter was largely on litter lifts with the Big Spring Clean of Slieve Gullion, complete with a guided tour from some of our lovely Ambassadors. Fortunately, there wasn’t much litter to be had so the adults had a lovely guided walk, whilst the children had a competition to see who could collect the most litter; helped along by adults pointing out any pieces they missed. We also helped the Woodland Trust with their Big Spring Clean of Daisy Hill wood.

As the quarter progressed our thoughts turned more to the summer and volunteers played a vital role in getting the website and events guide ready for the Lúnasa Festival in August.

Volunteering in the first quarter of 2018

Update published on: March 30, 2018


The weather played havoc on our volunteering plans this quarter with many work days cancelled on rescheduled; still, we persevered. We managed to get some coppicing done in Jonesborough Forest, cleared and tidied overgrown graves in Forkhill Church of Ireland graveyard and finished off the vegetation clearance season in Derrymore Estate, taking on the pervasive cherry laurel.

Volunteering in the tree nursery generally carried on regardless of the weather – the polytunnel proving it’s worth as a shelter, though we did get snowed and frozen out on occasion.

Needless to say all the volunteers are looking forward to the warmer and calmer weather of spring, with plenty of spring cleans planned.

Volunteering in the fourth quarter of 2017

Update published on: December 31, 2017


With the change in the season it was back to vegetation clearance and overhauling untidy green spaces. The regular tree nursery volunteers had a change of pace by visiting Drumintee Primary School and helping them overhaul and rejuvenate their Remembrance Garden. Once the heavy digging was completed by the volunteers, under the break time supervision of most of the school, the Eco-Committee helped us plant native trees from our nursery, some tasty fruit trees and lots of pollinator friendly wildflowers. In the process of our tidying we also created a simple mini-beast hotel, which will no doubt prove popular with pupils in the months to come.

The weather played havoc with our weekend volunteering, in particular Storm Brian, however we did get out to do some further gorse clearance in Jonesborough Forest. The gorse that’s left will probably keep us going for at least another three to four Saturdays, but it makes a big difference to the forest floor when we get a section cleared. Last spring the sections we cleared of gorse the winter before burst to life with bluebells, wood sorrel and anemones. We also had our first work day in Derrymore Estate, helping the estate warden remove ivy from the boundary wall before it could cause any lasting damage.

Volunteering in the third quarter of 2017

Update published on: September 30, 2017


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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