Supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Dragons in the Hills is 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).
As we come to the end of our first year on the funded project, we wanted to look back on some of our highlights and achievements.
In common with many other programmes, it's been a difficult year. Although we started well with the recruitment of our Dragons in the Hills project officer, Josh Twining, the limitations on movement and gatherings imposed by the COVID-19 virus in Northern Ireland impacted our planned outreach and events programme for much of 2020.
But our amazing team rose to the challenge, and working within the restrictions, Josh supported by our partners at NMDDC, HSI and Ryan Boyle from NI ARG as well as local volunteers and communities, have been busy, and are already making a huge difference to amphibian and reptile conservation in Newry, Mourne and Down District.
Information and ID leaflets
With grateful thanks to Brett Lewis, Kevin Clarke, Gary McParland and John Baker for their fabulous photos, Ursula Mhic an tsaoir for her very kind translation of the Irish language version, and Dani Green for her innovative design. (Common lizard photo copyright P McErlean).
Outreach with schools
Josh has presented a series of online seminars for schools entitled “Nature and Biodiversity” using remote software which enables the children, teachers and interested parents to log in remotely, and interact with the rest of the group, whilst observing lockdown constraints.
This is a three part series aimed at children P5 – P7. The first two talks in the series are on ‘What is nature?’ and ‘Our place in nature?’ and explore the different animal groups and diversity of life with specific detail on animals occurring in the local area. The three taxon groups covered are mammals, amphibians and reptiles. The final part is on ‘Conservation: where, what, when’, and discusses the importance of conservation and monitoring, and spotlights a few on-going projects in local area, with an emphasis on Dragons in the Hills.
Training days, survey and monitoring
Despite lockdown restrictions we have been able to run a number of guided walks and citizen science training days throughout the summer and early autumn in the Slieve Gullion Area, and the smaller 'socially distanced' groups had a great time out and about spotting our elusive common lizards, and checking out ponds and watercourses for frogs and smooth newts. Some very dedicated volunteers have taken this even further, and the top prize goes to Philip McErlean, lizard spotter extraordinaire, who has submitted over 85 records this year, and taken some amazing photos.
A key part of the project is to work with volunteers and local land owners and managers to improve habitats for our little dragons - by creating ponds, brash piles for shelter and hibernation spots, and more suitable habitat for our common lizards. We are delighted to have been able to partner with An Tobar CIC at Finnegan's Nursery Silverbridge, Bluebell Lane Glamping, National Trust Derrymore House, and Red Branch Bushcraft to run a series of events including regular habitat tasks with community groups in NMDD. Thanks also to The John Muir Trust for additional support, to help us engage with groups with additional needs.
(Volunteers creating common lizard habitat at Bluebell Lane Glamping copyright Josh Twining)