Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

Forget the rain and take a walk on Belfast's wild side

The Woodland Trust meadow at Carnmoney Hill on the outskirts of north Belfast

It’s been an almost entirely miserable summer to date — with Northern Ireland battered by lashing rain, submerged in rising waters and bowed under hailstones and lightning.

There’s been little to see but soggy grass, grey floodwater running along our streets and tourists huddled under umbrellas.

That’s why it’s so glorious to see these heavenly wildflowers turning their faces to the skies to soak up what little sun there is. They boost our native wildlife, provide nectar to our beleaguered bees and most importantly raise our spirits.

Five hectares of wildflowers have been sown at Carnmoney Hill in Newtownabbey — that’s the equivalent of seven Windsor Parks. The Woodland Trust is inviting nature lovers to feast their eyes upon the hill’s vibrant displays, which include corn camomile, cornflower and corn cockle with scatterings of oxeye daisy and poppy.

A total of five wildflower meadows have been created by the Woodland Trust, thanks to support from Biffa Award and Ikea Family members.

The meadows vary in species and size, but unite to form one colourful carpet on this ancient green monument.

“The area is buzzing with wildlife. The flowers provide a valuable habitat for numerous insects, from hoverflies and honeybees to butterflies and moths. We’ve also noticed goldfinches, swallows and swifts, who feed on the seed and insects,” Trust site manager Gregor Fulton said.

“The flowers will be at their best during July and August, and already you can see a hue of yellow high up on the hill from the motorway.”

EcoSeeds, who created the meadows for the Trust, used several different methods. One meadow was created using a ‘soil inversion’ method with a plough to invert the soil, burying the fertile top layer and bringing the less fertile sub-layer to the surface. The less fertile soil provides the perfect growing medium for many wildflowers.

Other meadows were created by scraping some of the grass away, so that some soil is exposed. Parasitic yellow rattle was the first seed to be sown. This feeds off grass, reducing the competition and leaving space for other wildflowers to flourish.

Carnmoney Hill — a green oasis in an urban setting — is a honey-pot for wildlife, which includes the long-eared owl, sparrowhawk and Irish hare.

Here the Woodland Trust has planted over 60,000 native trees which bolster the remaining fragments of irreplaceable ancient woodland and provide an extended haunt for the precious wild inhabitants.

Walkers will also come across several built features — reminders of a distant past.

They should look out for a restored Victorian well, two souterrains (man-made underground tunnels, probably used as escape routes from Vikings and other raiders) and the remnants of at least two lime kilns.

The Trust advises visitors to don stout footwear, be prepared for some steep inclines and get ready for breathtaking views over Belfast Lough and the surrounding countryside.

A new leaflet is available to help you on your journey. To get a copy call Woodland Trust on 028 9127 5787 or visit www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/carnmoney

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