My Bog Meadows experiences

Poplar Hawk-Moth caught in Bog Meadows 

Hi! My name is Aoife de Bhál and I am a trainee Nature Reserves Assistant on the Our People Our Places project based at Bog Meadows Nature Reserve, in west Belfast. I will be sharing my experiences here over the next 9 months, so keep your eyes peeled!

I work with Deborah McLaughlin, our Community Engagement Officer, and a team of volunteers. Over the course of the traineeship, I will be learning about the different flora and fauna we work to protect across our nature reserves, participating in practical conservation work and site management, leading educational activities, and helping to deliver community engagement projects here at Bog Meadows

Courses & trainings

The first three months of the traineeship have been jam-packed with training of all shapes and sizes. I completed several species identification courses, which come in handy as every day on site is an opportunity to practice your identification skills! Ulster Wildlife’s resident butterfly and moth expert Andy Crory led a butterfly identification course at Bog Meadows in March, and this has enabled me to carry out regular surveys for the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. We have also been trapping moths regularly to monitor the species diversity on site.

Poplar hawk-moth (c) Aoife de Bhál

Poplar Hawk-Moth caught in Bog Meadows 

Bees & hedgehogs

I also had the chance to learn about bumblebee identification with Katy Bell at Slievenacloy Nature Reserve in May. I never knew there were so many different types of bees! Conserving these pollinators and the habitats they depend upon is essential for a healthy ecosystem.

Katy is also an expert in hedgehogs, and with her guidance the ECS volunteers, Deborah McLaughlin the Community Engagement Officer for Bog Meadows, and I carried out a hedgehog survey at Bog Meadows in June. This used “footprint traps”, which are essentially small tunnels with sheets of paper, ink and bait in the middle. When something goes in to check out the bait, they walk across the ink and leave their footprints on the paper. It seems we had three different traps with hedgehogs present! Collecting this data will help us understand the state of hedgehog populations across the island of Ireland, and therefore help us to better protect areas where they are present.

Are you interested in taking part and helping to survey Northern Ireland’s hedgehogs? Visit the Irish Hedgehog Survey 2021 webpage to register.

Hedgehog tunnel building (c) Aoife de Bhál

Setting up our footprint tunnel traps – science isn’t always high-tech!  

Community events at Bog Meadows

We have also been busy delivering community events at Bog Meadows. Some of our recent events included green woodwork, bird-ringing and a wildflower identification walk!

On top of this, we have had several primary school groups out for wildlife activity sessions. Activities usually include pond-dipping, minibeast hunting and outdoor play. These sessions were delivered in partnership with St. Gall’s GAA and used their beautiful new outdoor classroom. I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to lead several of these sessions in the Irish language – mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí!

We have a lot more events lined up over the summer – check out the Bog Meadows Facebook page for the latest info!