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August 5th - Ligoneil Dams

Botany  and Zoology

Ligoneil comes from the Irish ‘Lag an Aoil’ meaning ‘the Hollow of the Limestone ‘ and has a mixed habitat of chalk grassland, mature woodland, rushy fields ,streams and hazel copses. The Belfast Hills Partnership and the Ligoneil Improvement Association have been working to restore the area around the old dams and mill races. A group of twenty members arrived for this evening walk in a little known part of Belfast.

A large plant of Lesser Burdock (Arctium minus) with its bracts ending in stiff, hooked points was examined. Arctium in Greek means Bear, so the name comes from the resemblance to a bear’s shaggy hair. A Swiss engineer, George de Mestral invented Velcro in the 1940s after examining the burrs of Burdock stuck to his own clothes and his dog’s fur after a hunting trip in the Alps. 

Because of the area’s association with linen mills, a large area has been sown with Flax (Linum usitatissimum) which will be a sea of bright blue when it flowers. Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) and Devil’s-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) plugs were planted to encourage the spread of wild-flower meadows. In wetter areas the predominant plant was Wild Angelica (Angelica sylvestris) with huge pinkish-white umbels - called Angelica because of its healing powers but many umbellifers are poisonous. Another wet grassland plant is Sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica), related to Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) but with larger ray-florets.

The old mill races and ditches were thick with Water-cress (Nasturtium officinale/Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum) - Nasturtium  ‘nose-twisting’ because of its mustard-oil smell. The garden Nasturtium is actually a Tropaeolum, a tropical family. Jim Bradley showed us River Jelly Lichen (Collema dichotemum), a rare amphibious fungus which grows in cool, clean  siliceous streams and is an indication of the good water quality of the streams coming down from the Belfast Hills. The paths ended at a steep hazel-covered slope, another habitat worth-exploring.

Jim Bradley walked us round the lower Mill Dam where the local fishermen can fish for trout and we saw a Mallard family (Anas platyrhynchoson) the water. The upper Dam can be fished for pike.

It was a lovely evening after a wet day and warm enough for us to see a couple Green-veined Whites (Pieris rapae) in flight. As Jim told us about the history of the area and the plans for its development as we walked round the Dam and up the paths passing the ‘story telling’ circle made of wood carvings. A high-backed seat for the story teller and a ring of seats for the listeners were created a couple of years ago and still look good - with no graffiti.

We continued up to the woodland with swallows (Hirundo rustica) feeding on the wing and gold finch (Carduelis carduelis) with their delightful liquid twittering song and call. There are good views from many of these green spaces in Belfast Hills and we had a clear view of the city as we walked down with a buzzard (Buteo buteo ) flying high above us.

An area to watch as it develops into a natural environment for fauna, flora and the community working to maintain it.

Margaret Marshall and Pamela Thomlinson


Wild Angelica


Jim Bradley and Storytelling Chair

Rear view of Mallard