24th May - Balloo Ulster Wildlife Trust



The evening proved sunny and pleasant although a cool wind meant that warm layers and coats were needed by all! A good number of Field Club members turned out to hear Willie McNamara tell us about the site, it’s function and the way it was managed.


It is a managed wetland and woodland site which the Ulster Wildlife Trust took over in two parts. The woodland was purchased in 1995 from the Nicolson Estate. The wetland was only taken over in 2006 when the Trust started to manage it for the Down County Council in 2008. This part is a relatively new project, whose aim is to create an environmental haven in the middle of an industrial estate. 


UWT drained part of the area to create a pond and made an island in the centre. The aim was to create live feeds from bird boxes placed on the island with cameras powered by solar cells. Unfortunately the trees blocked the signal to the factories nearby where the computers could pick them up.  A great idea which just needs more worked!

The area has become a focus for many of the local residents who help by watching the area and reporting any changes or problems. A small group of 8 to 12 volunteers, ranging in age, meet on a Friday and carry out a variety of tasks including everything from biological recording to tree planting and grass cutting.


The Club had planned to pond dip during the evening but Willie explained that there had been two major pollution leaks into the water. One was raw sewage, the NI Water board test showed it was five times more toxic than a septic tank! Another, some type of green chemical pollution which as yet has not been identified.

However the walk round the ponds was very rewarding as we saw herons, a moorhen and some mallard in the water. The ponds are surrounded by reeds (Phragmites australis), the board walks make all parts of the area accessible along with a bird hide, information panels and picnic areas.

We saw a buzzard, house martins, herring gulls, lesser black backed gulls, black headed gulls and hooded crows in flight.


The area has a rich variety of plants supporting the wildlife including Kneegrass, (Alopecurus geniculatus), Trifolium dubium, , Germander speedwell  (Veronica chaemaedrys) and Brooklime (V.beccabunga), Meadow-sweet (Filipendula ulmaria), Epilobium hirsutum, Mentha aqua, Greater Stitchwort (Stella Major) and Pinappleweed (Matricaria discoidea).

We then moved to the Woodland Nature Reserve, an oasis for wildlife and people in the heart of the Balloo Industrial Estate. Unlike the wetland, which is a newly created, the woodland at Balloo has been there for a long time. What is now called Balloo Woodland was previously the grounds of Balloo House, home of the Steele-Nicholson family since the early 1700s. An oasis for wildlife and people in the heart of the Balloo Industrial Estate, it is full of mature native (and some exotic) trees and woodland plant life, with a small pond to provide a home to some watery wildlife too! There are terrapins in the pond competing with herons to feed on the frogs.

The House was demolished in the mid 1900s but the remains of the family mausoleum built in 1792 (known locally as Nicky’s tomb) still exist on the eastern edge of the wood. North Down Borough Council bought the woodland in 1995 and stopped it from being built upon. They also built a windmill which helps to power the recycling plant.

Here we found well established oaks, as well as woodland plants such as Pignut (Conopodium majus), Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), Wood sanicle ( Sanicula europaea), Red campion (Silene dioica), Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) and Bird Cherry (Prunus padus).



There is an active campaign to eliminate the invasive Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) with is proving to have some success. Well done to all the staff and volunteers involved! (Full species list supplied in the archives).


Pamela Thomlinson

 
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The President, Claire Foley, and Alastair McIlwain take time to 'Treehug'. 

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