Spotlight on Conservation - Belfast Hills Partnership Blog
By Jim Bradley, Partnership Manager – Belfast Hills Partnership.
Like much of Northern Ireland, popular sites in the Belfast Hills have been in turn closed during lockdown or coming down with unprecedented numbers of new visitors over the last few months.
This has brought new levels of problems such as litter, fly-tipping and damage to footpaths, but also a major rise in people’s awareness of how precious our outdoor resources are, and a desire to get involved in looking after the hills.
Belfast Hills Partnership has always had a very healthy volunteer programme ever since the early days of our Landscape Partnership Scheme. For years people from far and wide have been giving us their time to help us manage a range of issues on sites across the hills.
In exchange for their hard labour, time and effort in planting trees and hedges, digging out ponds, maintaining paths, collecting seeds, tackling invasive species etc., our volunteers have a great time outdoors with plenty of craic and sense of a community team. There is also the satisfaction in a good job well done and fantastic views over Belfast, Lough Neagh, even over to Scotland on a clear day.
All of this came to a juddering halt with lockdown. Before too long we were all dreaming of getting out and about and escaping those four walls, so it hasn’t been much of a surprise that we were inundated with new requests for volunteering over the summer.
We’ve now moved from volunteer tasks every Thursday to both Mondays and Thursdays, plus a special team to look after our new Tree Nursery every Tuesday. All of this has been done with a beady eye on Covid19 restrictions and regulations, along with a healthy dose of common sense and discussion with all our volunteers.
Lockdown has made all of us – volunteers, staff, visitors and site managers – realise what an incredible resource our Hills are. Before all of this, many of us looked at the outdoors as a great extra in our lives, a place for recreation and wildlife. Today we realise it’s much more important than that, playing an absolutely vital role in our mental and physical wellbeing, an essential rather than an extra in our lives.
A quick shout out must go to Ernest Cook Trust and the National Lottery Heritage Fund for supporting this vital work.
The Northern Ireland Environment Agency funds the Belfast Hills Partnership project under the Environment Fund. The project entails the maintenance and development of this integrated management partnership for the Belfast Hills.
If you would like to get involved in looking after the Belfast Hills through volunteering please contact the Belfast Hills Partnership on [email protected] or check out http://belfasthills.org/get-involved/
You can also follow them on social media.
NB some photographs were taken prior to Covid19.