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Photo © Jon Cranfield

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.

Exploring 'Nature and Biodiversity' with Schools in the Ring of Gullion

Despite the restrictions under the COVID-19 lockdown in Northern Ireland our 'Dragons in the Hills' project officer, Josh Twining, has been busy developing a virtual outreach programme for the project based on online video conferencing. He has been working with local primary schools in the Ring of Gullion area of Newry, Mourne and Down District to help the children explore their natural environment through a brand new interactive programme “Nature and Biodiversity”. This is a three part series aimed at children in school years P5 – P7. The series starts with ‘What is nature?’ and moves on to ‘Our place in nature?’ exploring the diversity of life with a special focus on animals that can be seen in the local area including mammals, amphibians and reptiles. The final part is on ‘Conservation: where, what, when’. This  explores the importance of conservation and monitoring, spotlighting a few of the on-going projects in the local area, with an emphasis on Dragons in the Hills.

Big thanks to Mabel Cheung Harris for her artworks

Mabel has designed our fabulous project logo, showing one of our native Northern Irish common lizards, curled protectively around Slieve Gullion. Mabel is also working on a more detailed picture showing common lizards and newts in their natural habitat, to illustrate our outreach materials. To find out more about progress with these stunning original artworks you can visit Mabel Art FB page.

Saving Amphibians from Drains = Happy Frogs and Newts!!

Although the current restrictions mean that it is has not been possible to start our full programme of habitat creation and restoration, Josh has been able to undertake some interventions on welfare grounds. Traditional land drains or gully pots can prove a death trap for small creatures, including amphibians and small mammals, which are washed in (or fall in) but are unable to make their way out. Previous visits had found highly protected smooth newts trapped in land drains at Slieve Gullion Forest Park – whilst trying to make their way to the pond to breed. With the help of the British Herpetological Society who kindly match funded a set of Enkamat amphibian ladders, we were able to install these into the drains, thereby allowing our wee chaps to find their own way out (Smooth newts handled under NIEA licence).


89435978 2423992304367011 3610224375145431040 n    Smooth newt Slieve Gullion 2 Josh Twining   Smooth newt Slieve Gullion Josh Twining   Newly installed amphibian ladder copyright Josh Twining


Frogs are spawning, newts are on the move, and common lizards are basking - if you want to join in with Dragons in the Hills then drop your sightings in our Record Pool on 'Whats in your pond?'

To find out more follow Dragons in the Hills on Twitter and Facebook

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


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