The National Lottery Heritage Fund are supporting a new project based in Northern Ireland which aims to conserve some of our priority wildlife species through community action. This exciting new project has been developed by a partnership including Newry, Mourne and Down District Council (NMDDC), Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK (ARG UK) and The Herpetological Society of Ireland (HSI)
Based in the Newry, Mourne and Down District, Dragons in the Hills has been awarded £100,000 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, to find out more about Northern Ireland’s own little dragons – our three native amphibians and reptiles: common frog, common lizard and smooth newt. Although two of these are designated Northern Ireland priority species based on reported widespread declines, little is currently known of their abundance and distribution, or how they are faring in today’s fast-changing world. We will aim to improve our knowledge of the conservation status of the amphibians and reptiles in the Newry, Mourne and Down district by mapping their distribution and by encouraging land managers to create and connect important habitat features, will increase the area suitable for them.
Dragons in the Hills will also work closely with the communities living in this ancient landscape including the volcanic Ring of Gullion, the atmospheric Mourne Mountains and the beautiful Strangford and Lecale Areas of Outstanding National Beauty (AONBs). We aim to reconnect the local people of Newry, Mourne and Down, as well as those coming from farther afield to visit the ‘land of ice and fire’, with their rich historic and natural heritage by offering them the opportunity to explore the ‘small places’; looking out for jelly-like frog spawn, masses of shoaling tadpoles, the whisk of a lizard’s tail or the glory of our little amphibious dragons, effortlessly sculling through their watery world.
Following on from the success of ARG UK’s ‘Adders are Amazing’ project, working with communities in rural West Wales, we are taking a creative approach to conservation, using arts, crafts, music and story-telling to bind the world of myth and legend with the natural world, and allow our dragons take us on a journey of wonder and magic. By encouraging local communities and landowners to cherish their natural heritage and to develop a new respect and understanding for their amphibians and reptiles, we hope they will become wildlife champions.
Chairperson, Cllr Charlie Casey Newry, Mourne and Down District Council said “Newry, Mourne and Down District Council (NMDDC) is committed to protecting and conserving the diverse habitats and their associated species within our district, in particular the wetlands and peatlands which are priorities in our Local Biodiversity Action Plan. We are fully supportive of this exciting new project funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund to coordinate volunteer and community engagement relating to amphibians and reptiles. NMDDC are also delighted that a key part of the project will be to work closely with local communities and land managers, providing an additional resource for local schools and greatly enhancing the wonderful work currently being undertaken as part of the Eco-schools programme across the district”.
Paul Mullan, Director NI, The National Lottery Heritage Fund added “We were delighted to support this fascinating heritage project that seeks to draw out the wonderful world of amphibians and reptiles in NI. We were particular struck by the weaving together our inherent love of stories, myths and legends with our love for nature. Northern Ireland has wonderful native wildlife and its conservation depends on the community support and active participation this project is going to develop.”
Robert Gandola, Senior Science Officer, Herpetological Society of Ireland said “We believe that this project is a very worthwhile endeavour that will encourage local people, from school children to adults, to actively engage and learn about the singular species that constitutes the native Irish reptile fauna. Aside from the zoological aspect, the habitats in which this species lives on our hills and uplands are also heavily associated with Irish mythology and legends, particularly those concerning dragons or "peist". The popularity of Game of Thrones and its strong presence in Northern Ireland is yet another element that, we feel, will garner support and participation in the project”.
Dr Angela Julian, Coordinator of Amphibian and Reptile Groups of UK said “The National Lottery Heritage Fund is a real life line to help us conserve Northern Ireland’s amphibians and common lizards, and by engaging communities ensure that they will persist for future generations to enjoy”.
Dragons in the Hills is a partnership project with Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and The Herpetological Society of Ireland generously supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation