Meet the Team

Meet Deborah McLaughlin, Bog Meadows Community Engagement Officer

How many years have you been working in conservation? 

I worked for Friends of the Earth for a couple of years and volunteered at various places before starting with Ulster Wildlife in August 2007.  So, I’ve been with Ulster Wildlife for almost 14 years now and during that time I’ve worked in a variety of roles – BBC Breathing Places Project Officer, Bog Meadows Wetland Restoration Project Officer, Nature Reserves Officer and now most recently as Bog Meadows Community Engagement Officer. 

Deborah McLaughlin

Why did you choose a role in conservation? 

I’ve always had a love of nature from a young age, which was nurtured by my father through walks in the Belfast Hills and watching endless wildlife programmes.  I grew up in Twinbrook, a housing estate on the outskirts of Belfast but back then it was completely surrounded by countryside and I spent my childhood exploring the local valleys, rivers, hills etc.  After leaving school, I took a career path into hospitality management but eventually the ‘call of the wild’ came back to me and I returned to study environmental science, while also volunteering at various places to gain that all important work experience.

What does a typical day in your job look like?

I just started in October in my new role as Bog Meadows Community Engagement Officer on the ‘Our People, Our Places’ Project and this role is quite varied, so it’s difficult to say what a typical day is.  Some days I will be delivering the ‘NatureFit’ volunteer programme on the nature reserve, which will involve practical conservation activities, while other days I will be delivering programmes for community groups, or working on the youth engagement programme, such as the Nature Tots group.  

If you could write your own job title that best describes what you do, what would it be? 

‘The officer of all things Bog Meadows’.  I’ve been looking after the nature reserve for almost 12 years now so I think that just about covers everything that I do!

Bog Meadows, Nature Skills Trainees

What do you enjoy most about the work you do? 

That’s a tough question – it’s hard to pick just one thing but I really enjoy engaging with people on the nature reserve.  It’s great when people stop to ask questions about the work we’re doing and I love getting the chance to explain a bit more about the nature reserve, it’s wildlife and the importance of what we do.  And this has been said before by my colleague Ryan, but I also love when people say ‘you’re doing a great job’.  It makes all the hard and usually dirty work, much more worthwhile!

What has been your proudest moment to date, since working for Ulster Wildlife?  

Over the years I have helped to deliver projects at Bog Meadows that have made big improvements to the site.  One project in particular, transformed the whole entrance area and saw the installation of an outdoor classroom, outdoor education area, entrance gates, new signage etc.  This area is now a safe and inviting space and a much more enjoyable place that’s now suitable for hosting a whole range of events and activities.  Of course, there’s still more work to be done!

What is your favourite Ulster wildlife? 

I do love Kingfishers with their beautiful plumage and I get super excited any time I see that flash of blue on the nature reserve, which has been a lot more in recent years.

Kingfisher (c) Jon Hawkins 

Kingfisher (c) Jon Hawkins 

What’s your most memorable wildlife encounter? 

It has to be when I was a young girl standing on the street in Twinbrook waiting on my friend coming out of her house.  As I turned my head, I caught sight of a barn owl silently gliding past me, heading in the direction of the farmland surrounding the housing estate.  I was mesmerised.

What are your top 3 favourite nature-related podcasts/books? 

Working on nature reserves, you regularly make use of ID guides and I’ve got the Collins guides on birds and wildflowers but the ones I like to refer to most are my Reader’s Digest field guides, as they also provide interesting information on plant / tree lore.

A book I’m currently reading is ‘The Nature Fix’ which investigates the science behind nature's positive effects on the brain and the many benefits of spending time outdoors in nature.  Of course, due to the current pandemic, we all realise this is now more important than ever.

A book I have to mention that I have read and thumbed a lot over the years is ‘The Bog Meadows and the River Blackstaff’ by Des O’Reilly.  This book has been a great source of information to me over the years.

Bog Meadows Belfast

Bog Meadows Belfast

What do you like doing when you are not working?  

I’m in a triathlon club and do a lot of training but if I’m not doing that I’m usually out walking or gardening.

What’s your top-tip for helping wildlife?

Do whatever you can in your garden or around your house to help wildlife and encourage others to do the same.  Whether it’s putting up bird feeders, letting areas grow wild or putting out window boxes, it all helps.  I only have a small garden so I regularly help out in my friends and my parents gardens too and I encourage them to garden with wildlife in mind.