Swimming cows make a dash for island pastures on Strangford Lough

The grass was definitely greener on the other side of the lough for a herd of cattle in County Down, when they attempted to swim back to their island grazing pastures last month.

Eight cows took to Northern Ireland’s Strangford Lough after their return to the mainland from a stint grazing on Darragh Island.

Farmers have moved cattle between the islands on Strangford Lough for generations, in the pursuit of fresh grass.

And National Trust rangers regularly transport sheep and cattle between the 12 islands the conservation charity cares for on the sea lough.

Will Hawkins, National Trust ranger at Strangford Lough, said: “We had a tricky job getting them on to the barge. We left a group of cows on the mainland and we were just coming back with the others when a few of the cows decided to swim back to the boat.”

After a few seconds in the water they changed their minds and headed back to the mainland.

“The cows like being on the islands,” Will said. “Other than a couple of kayakers there’s nobody else on the islands. The cows are free to roam.”

The grazing cattle help rangers encourage wildflowers to grow on the islands.

“The way the cows graze and ‘poach’ the ground with their hooves means we get flowers like dog violet coming through.

“It’s like a sea of purple on some of the islands in the spring.”

The cattle belong to the Dines family, one of the last Strangford Lough farming families to graze their animals on islands.


Giant project up for a ‘Giant’ prize

The new Giant’s Causeway visitor’s centre at Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site has been shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize, one of the most coveted awards for architectural excellence.

The £18.5 million centre, designed by Heneghan Peng architects based in Dublin opened in July 2012 and is now the gateway to the 40,000 iconic basalt stones.
The centre, which took two years to build, has also been designed to fit seamlessly within the landscape without impacting the view of the coastline from the stones.

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Celebrating unsung heroes of environment movement

A group of green space guardians marking their silver jubilee, a red squirrel champion and a passionate birdwatcher are this year’s green heroes celebrated in the National Trust’s Octavia Hill Awards.   

The three winners, who saw off strong competition to claim the ultimate accolade, feature in the July issue of Countryfile Magazine, with an awards ceremony for all of the shortlisted finalists in the autumn.

The awards are named after Trust founder and social reformer Octavia Hill who died in August 1912. They are being run in partnership with Countryfile Magazine.

Helen Timbrell, Volunteering and Community Involvement Director at the National Trust and one of the judges, said: “Being a volunteer is in our national DNA and it’s great that these awards recognise and celebrate the commitment, passion and determination of the people that care for the green spaces that matter so much to them. 

“The standard of nominations for the Octavia Hill Awards this year was really high and shows that the spirit of volunteering is alive and well.”

The 2013 winners are:

“Green Space Guardians” – Stroud Valleys Project in Gloucestershire – Now into its 25th year the Stroud Valleys Project works with a variety of volunteers to ensure green spaces and unused land is taken care in the area. This year it has launched a ‘Get Growing’ project in 23 local schools and they’re now looking to improve 25 wildflower meadows, and if they can’t find enough, are willing to create them.

Runners up: Friends of Russia Dock – London; Gunton Woodland Community Project – Suffolk.

“Love Places” – Allan Davies, County Antrim in Northern Ireland – Having walked 20 long-distance footpaths, taking him around the whole of the UK and thoroughly enjoying the experience, Allan felt that having retired, it was time to give something back.  Now, a volunteer at Cushendun for almost three years, Allan has been proactively working to increase the number of rare and much loved red squirrels on the site, creating a better habitat for them, and helping to improve disabled access.

Runners up: Dianne Lang – Lake District; John Weeks – Somerset.

 – “Natural Hero” – Mike Barrett in Norfolk – At 89 years old, Mike has been interested in nature all his life.  He ran a 15-acre nature reserve at the power plant where he worked and has helped with the Marsh Harrier Monitoring project at RSPB Titchwell Marsh reserve.  Today Mike is still volunteering at Titchwell Marsh, four half-days a week helping people with wildlife queries and hands-on reserve management.

Runners up: Margaret Sweet – Birmingham; Martin Woolner – Berkshire.

The awards attracted more than 140 entries and a final shortlist was selected by a panel of judges. Sitting on the panel were Helen Timbrell, Volunteering and Community Involvement Director at the National Trust, Fergus Collins, Editor of Countryfile Magazine, Grahame Hindes, Chief Executive of Octavia House, Julia Bradbury, Countryfile presenter, and Matt Smith, who were both winners of a 2012 Octavia Hill Award.  The public then voted, in their thousands, for the shortlisted entries.

Fergus Collins, editor of Countryfile Magazine, said, “If it wasn’t for an army of volunteers offering their skills, energy and spare time for free, we would have significantly fewer beautiful, wild green spaces in both countryside and cities. From conservationists to craftspeople, campaigners and gardeners, these people are the unsung heroes who deserve all of our thanks.

“Octavia Hill understood the enormous value of green spaces for the physical and emotional well-being of local communities. She would certainly have been proud of this year’s winners.”

Each of the winners will receive a specially commissioned bowl made by Tony Alderman who works at the National Trust’s Chartwell in Kent. The bowls have been made using English elm, oak and yew collected from woods near to Crockham in Kent where Octavia Hill lived.

Amend the Planning Bill – news from Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has stunning special places: the cliffs and beaches of the North Coast, Fermanagh’s lakelands, the Mountains of Mourne, the Sperrins, cities like Belfast and Derry with their fine architecture and the country’s only World Heritage Site – the Giant’s Causeway.

Such places could be under threat from a Planning Bill which is currently going through the Northern Ireland Assembly. Together with other a range of organisations, we are supporting the ‘Amend the Bill’ campaign to call for politicians to make changes to protect some of the country’s most special places for generations to come; and to deliver a better planning system for everyone.

Amend the bill header

So far more than 4800 messages of support have been sent to politicians across Northern Ireland.

Heather Thompson, National Trust director for Northern Ireland said: “The Planning Bill contains two clauses which focus on economic development which could result in planning applications which aren’t in the best interests of communities and the environment, being approved. We should all welcome the introduction of a more effective system of planning. However we need one that ensures a fair and balanced approach to economic, environmental and social issues, and supports economic development which takes all three into account.

“The Bill also presents an ideal opportunity to bring in protection for World Heritage Sites and their settings in Northern Ireland, which includes the Giant’s Causeway and the countryside immediately around it.

“With the Bill currently in front of the Northern Assembly, it is vital that people speak up now in order to protect our special places for everyone that enjoys them today as well as future generations.”

The Planning Bill reaches an important milestone when it goes to Consideration Stage on 24 June 2013. At this point it is debated on the floor of the NI Assembly.

You can join the discussion on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/AmendTheBill and follow us on twitter at @AmendTheBill. There is also a campaign blog with more detailed information at http://www.amendthebill.wordpress.com

Residents from outside of Northern Ireland can also register their support by emailing info@amendthebill.org

An online tool has been set up for NI residents at http://www.amendthebill.org.uk (a NI postcode is needed to use this tool)

National Trust bitterly disappointed at court ruling on Giant’s Causeway development

We’ve posted previously on our legal challenge to a decision to grant planing permission for a golf course development in the setting of the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site. Today the High Court ruled against our challenge.

A National Trust spokesman said:

“The National Trust is bitterly disappointed by the Court’s ruling and we remain convinced that a massive development in the setting of this World Heritage Site is wrong.

“We still believe that if a development of this scale does go ahead in this location, the message is that nowhere in Northern Ireland, no matter how important or protected, is safe from development.

“The ruling today has served to highlight aspects of very serious concern for those partners involved in the care and protection of the World Heritage Site.

“It is essential that we work together to get planning policy right in Northern Ireland to ensure that appropriate development can happen, but not at the expense of our beautiful landscapes and historic places. 

“There are also significant issues regarding the relationship between Government in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and UNESCO that must be addressed to ensure the protection of our World Heritage Site for the long term.”


Runkerry Golf Development – Judicial Review

The National Trust goes to the High Court in Belfast, 9-11 January 2013, to challenge through judicial review the granting of planning permission for a golf resort at Runkerry. This significant development is in the identified setting of the Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast World Heritage Site, Northern Ireland’s only such site.

In 2007, an application for a proposed golf resort was submitted to the Department of Environment,  Planning Service.

The applicant Mr Alistair Hanna, is a former resident of Northern Ireland, now residing in America.

The application is for a proposed golf resort including 18-hole championship golf course, clubhouse, golf academy incorporating driving range, a 3-hole practice facility, 120 bedroom hotel incorporating conference facilities and spa, 75 guest suites/lodges, and associated car parking, maintenance building and landscaping. The proposed development is to be built along the Whitepark Road and Causeway Road to the north of Bushmills and to the east of Portballintrae, County Antrim.

The application was designated one of major importance under Article 31 of the Planning (NI) order on 13 June 2007.

In 2011, Minister Attwood was appointed Minister for the Environment. He announced his intention to expedite outstanding planning applications and clear the backlog to reinvigorate the regional economy.

On 21 February 2012, Minister Attwood announced that after due consideration he intended to approve the Bushmills Dunes planning application. Planning permission was formally granted on 29 March 2012.

The Trust expressed its disappointment at the decision, confirming that it had consistently opposed the planning application, reiterating its serious concerns about the impact on the landscape, the environmental impacts, and the potential threat to the World Heritage Site designation.

The National Trust was granted leave for a judicial review on 27 June 2012.

The judicial review is timetabled for 3 days, running in the High Court in Belfast from 9-11 January 2013. The outcome of the hearing will be known later in the year.

In December, we wrote to our 60,000 Northern Ireland members explaining this significant development is in the identified setting of the Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast World Heritage Site, Northern Ireland’s only such site. We told members:

‘World Heritage Site status is the highest conservation and heritage accolade that any place can achieve, and is awarded by the international body, UNESCO. The land on which this would be built has been identified in the draft Northern Area plan as an area that should be protected and where such development should not take place. This is based on the strong recommendation from UNESCO that there should be a buffer zone to protect the landscape that surrounds this World Heritage Site. In July 2012, UNESCO formally requested the Government to ‘halt the proposed development ….until its impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site property has been assessed.’

‘As the guardians of the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site, we have a duty to care for it for ever. This is the context in which we have taken this judicial review.

‘The Giant’s Causeway is known and loved globally, positioning Northern Ireland on the world stage. It is fundamental to the local economy. We believe that such a development in this protected landscape is wrong – once it’s gone it’s gone. If this development is allowed to proceed in this special place, then the message is being despatched that nowhere in Northern Ireland, no matter how special or protected, is safe from development.’

There’s a useful timeline on the Trust’s care for the Giant’s Causeway here.

Update: timeline link added Friday 11 January 2012.

Note: As we’re in an important stage of this legal process we can’t comment on the particulars of the case so comments have been disabled for this post.

Review completed at Giant’s Causeway visitor centre

The National Trust opened the new £18.5million Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre less than three months ago. In this short period the World Heritage Site has already welcomed 250,000 visitors from 130 countries, including over 90,000 from Northern Ireland. 

Inside the new Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre. Credit Peter Nash

Upon opening, one small piece of interpretation section evoked a wide and mixed response. As a result, on 18 July the conservation charity committed to undertake a review of this particular section

Having taken on board a wide range of feedback, and commissioned interpretive specialists to develop a suitable reflective piece, the National Trust has now amended the existing exhibit. 

A new piece of audio, approximately 20 seconds in length, replaces the previous recording and makes the Trust’s views completely clear.

Graham Thompson, Project Director for the Giant’s Causeway, said: “This change will help clear up any misunderstanding there may have been. 

“The National Trust only endorses the scientific explanation of the origins of the stones yet recognises that others have alternative beliefs.

“The National Trust is content that this review is complete and thank all for their feedback on the matter.”


The amended transcript can be viewed below within the Debating Characters section. See the previous transcript here.

Column 1 – Stone or Giant Fossil? : Thomas Molyneux & St. George Ashe

Ah, so you’d like to know my opinion on the matter? Thomas Molyneux is the name, State Physician of Ireland my calling.

I made a long study of the Causeway, this wonder of creation, and the first thing to say is that it has nothing to do whatsoever with ancient myths and legends and so forth – superstitious nonsense!

I believe what we have here is simply basalt rock; now hours of study through my lens show no signs of fossils in the stones… whatever others may have to say on the matter… and whoever those others may be – these ridiculous letters aren’t even signed!

Oh, come now, Dr. Molyneux! I do not admit to writing any letters, but I shall freely confess to being St. George Ashe, Bishop of Cloyne, and to believing firmly that the fossils are not in the stones – they are the stones themselves!

The shape of the columns tells me that they are the stems of huge, fossilized sea creatures – mighty relatives of the little Entrochus fossils that the dedicated searcher may sometimes find along the coast.

Preposterous, old friend! One might as well talk of fairies and giants!

Tcha! We’ll see, Dr. Molyneux – we’ll see!

Column 2 – Forged in fire or born in water? : Nicholas Demarest & Abraham Werner

Bonjour! Nicolas Desmarest at your service! And so you are interested in knowing how the great stones were created, n’est-ce pas? Bien! Amateur I may be, but I am still a man of science. And, whatever Abraham Werner says, the Causeway is exactement like the volcanic stones in the Auvergne in France. 

No, no, no, you say volcanic – I say it is…

Thank you, Herr Werner, but you will permit me to finish, s’il vous plaît! Ahem! I have observed this old lava again and again and everywhere in it – voilà! Columns. In the Giant’s Causeway, these same columns are proof of an old volcano. Werner may be a mining expert – but when it comes to geology…

…when it comes to geology, I am Teacher of Mining and Mineralogy at the Freiberg Mining Academy und NOT un amateur! I visited the most famous basaltic hill in Saxony, near Stolpen, in person, and it is not a volcano! More – there is no volcano anywhere near it! Earth’s waters, not its fires, created its rocks!

Bof! Mon dieu. Ignore Herr Werner! I myself have seen ancient lava that has flowed over great distances! You must search far to find its source – so perhaps this area, too, was once flooded with lava and…

Nein, Monsieur Desmarest! Nein, nein, nein!

Mon Dieu, ces Allemands! This is the 18th Century, n’est-ce pas?!?!

Column 3 – An Ancient Earth or a New Creation? : James Hutton and Dr Richardson

Now see here, I am deeply concerned that…oh I do beg your pardon. My name is Richardson – the Reverend Doctor William Richardson. Rector of Clonfeacle.

I am a keen naturalist, so I have every sympathy for open-minded scientific enquiry. But as I say, I am deeply concerned that Mr. Hutton may mislead you with his theories on the age of the Earth.

We know from the Bible that the Earth is 6,000 years old! One has merely to count the generations between Adam and the birth of Our Lord. And for all his eminence as a geologist, and his standing with the Royal Society in Edinburgh, that makes Mr. Hutton’s theory nonsense!

Now, now Dr. Richardson, I am well aware that my theory is challenging…upsetting to many…I myself find it dizzying…yet when I look at the evidence, at the slow and steady volcanic formation of rocks – occurring even as we speak! – I am driven to believe that 6,000 years is a mere blink in the life of the Earth – I see no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end!

Well, I shall return to Antrim once more, Mr. Hutton! I am sure I shall find proof there that all rocks are formed under the sea – and put an end to your theory of an ancient Earth!

Indeed? Well I wish you luck, sir…

Column 4 – Bamboo? : Captain Morton

Ah, good day to you! Morton’s the name – Captain Charles Morton, Royal Navy. So – want to know the real truth as to the origins of the Giant’s Causeway stones, do you?

It seems to me that anybody who’d sailed with me would have a better chance of understanding their origins than these landsmen who sit and read their books.

As for me, well, the logs will show that I served Her Majesty Queen Victoria long enough in the tropics to recognize bamboo when I see it!

The long, narrow stems – the occasional joints on the columns – why, any Jamaica Station hand would know this for bamboo.

Giant bamboo, yes, as befits the age of dinosaurs – but fossilized bamboo it must be and is!

(Chorus of laughs)

Quiet there! Quiet on deck, I say!

Column 5 – A Special Place

Today there is a clear understanding among scientists that the heat of the earth was the driving force behind the formation of the Giant’s Causeway – and that the earth is far older than had previously been thought. James Hutton suggested this back in 1785; modern geologists agree with him.

All the scientific evidence points to a volcanic origin for the columns of the Giant’s Causeway, around 60 million years ago.

However, not everyone agrees with the scientific view.  There are some people who believe – often for religious reasons – that the earth was formed more recently: thousands of years ago rather than billions.

The National Trust supports the scientific view of the formation of the Giant’s Causeway.  We are proud to be the guardians of such a special place – one that has played an important role in our understanding of the world around us.

For further information on this exhibit, please speak to a Ranger.