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Caring for the Hills, their Wildlife and People

Issue 9 | Winter 2009

Open road for Divis Dixon Link An army of walkers has been led across a new frontier linking the mountains of west Belfast with the lowlands of Lagan Valley. The Divis Mountain to Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park walk - commonly known as the Divis Dixon Link - is a brand new hilltop pass that connects the heathland summits of Divis and Black Mountain with the rolling plains of Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park in the south of the city. The new £60,000 National Trust trail stretches from Divis to Glenside Community Woodland, upper and lower Colin Glens, Dunmurry Village, Jubilee Park, Fullerton Park and finishes in Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park. It was the route for the Belfast Hills Partnership’s 2009 fundraising walk and generated almost £2,000 for conservation work in the Belfast Hills. This virgin territory got its first ever walking pioneers to hit the trail for the Divis Dixon Link Challenge Walk on November 14. Up until now it has not been possible for the public to walk a path from Black Mountain down through Colin Glen in the west of the city. The challenging 10 mile hike attracted

hardy souls who – not to be deterred by heavy rain in the morning – were treated to glorious sunshine from mid-morning to afternoon. Some £30,000 cash was awarded to the National Trust by the Alpha Programme, almost £25,000 from the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure (DCAL) as well as funding from Belfast and Lisburn city councils to install the path. Belfast Hills Partnership Projects Officer Dr Lizzy Pinkerton expressed her gratitude for the money raised on the day and to all those who made the event possible. “We had a wonderful day and I hope everyone enjoyed being the first to walk the route. It was a brilliant crowd that turned out and we hope to run more events on this walk in the future. “The Belfast Hills Partnership commends the National Trust for all its hard work and the Alpha Programme, DCAL and Belfast and Lisburn city councils for making it possible to open up this link from west to south Belfast for outdoor recreation,” she said.

Reproduced with the kind permission of Land & Property Services. Permit No.80257. © Crown copyright and database right 2009

Talking trees A new book has taken a root and branch look at the trees that grow around Belfast and its hills. Ben Simon (pictured bottom right) has studied every sap of knowledge about our woodland trees and tells some fascinating tales about the species that are found around the city including Colin Glen and Cave Hill Country Park. His new book entitled If Trees Could Talk takes a look at species such as hazel, oak, willow and alder around Belfast. Over the last 14 years Ben, who works for Belfast City Council, has been involved in working with communities throughout Belfast, organising tree planting projects and promoting the care and protection of trees. He said his book was to highlight the importance of our trees and inspire people to take more interest in the trees growing around where they live. “Woods are remarkable places. Once you start visiting and exploring them it

is difficult not to start to ask question after question. How old are the trees? What kind of species are they? “Over the years I have also been fascinated to find fragments of information about Belfast’s woods and as my pile of notes, photographs and stories grew I knew that someday I would have to write it all down,” he said. “Helping communities to take a lead in improving the landscape where they live can also be immensely rewarding. “If trees could talk, they would ask us all to explore our woodlands, search out our remarkable trees and to plant and care for saplings that will grow to become woods, avenues, parks and gardens that future generations will visit and enjoy walking under.” If Trees Could Talk is available from Belfast City Council Parks and Cemeteries Services, 4-10 Linenhall Street, Belfast, priced £10.

Ben Simon with his book ‘If Trees Could Talk’

Belfast Hills Partnership visits heart of Europe with local MLAs Climate change, energy and the protection of our environment were on the agenda for a Northern Ireland delegation, including an envoy from the Belfast Hills Partnership, who travelled to the heart of Europe recently. Dr Lizzy Pinkerton, our Projects Officer who scrutinises aspects of planning, various environmental consultations and who is spearheading our invasive species project accepted an invitation from Maurice Maxwell of the European Commission Office.

Hills Projects Officer Lizzy Pinkerton accompanied a delegation of Northern Ireland politicians to the heart of the European Union in Brussels recently to learn about environmental legislation

She travelled with a cross-party group of MLAs that sit on the Assembly’s environment committee including Roy Beggs, Dolores Kelly, Danny Kinahan Alastair Ross and Paul Butler. The group visited the European Commission and European Parliament in Brussels and met policy makers. This visit, which was facilitated by NIEL (NI Environment Link), provided an opportunity both for Non Government

Organisations (NGOs) and the Stormont MLAs to gain a greater insight into environmental issues and policies relevant to Northern Ireland. “These speakers highlighted the key environmental issues and policies impacting upon Northern Ireland such as climate change and energy, sustainable development, protection of the marine environment and waste management. “The Commission Office also arranged access for the group to a meeting of the European Parliament Environment Committee,” said Lizzy.

Life’s great adventures prove big hit Life’s great adventure was played out with a spectacular programme of events throughout the Belfast Hills this year that proved a big hit with a wide range of people. This year we’ve already walked among a sea of spring bluebells at Carnmoney Hill and picked hazelnuts in autumn among its enchanting hazel groves. We’ve travelled across the hills on our annual bus tour, amazed and confounded GPS users with our great geocaching challenge and bridged the generation gap with scores of grandparents, parents and young


people taking part in orienteering at Cave Hill Country Park on a joint event with NI Orienteering. We looked the part for our Heritage of the Hill Day that attracted almost 1,000 people to a stairway to scenic heaven on Cave Hill to launch our Friends of the Belfast Hills group. We hunted for butterflies at Slievenacloy and discovered a rare frog orchid on the Ulster Wildlife Trust local nature reserve. In late summer we picked ripe, delicious bilberries on Divis Mountain – a practice that goes back to ancient times.


But our events are not over yet! Check out our website on www.belfasthills. org and see what’s on this winter and coming spring in the Belfast Hills. We’re certain we’ll tempt you with our winter warmer New Year – new decade – walk of Colin Glen to burn off those Christmas excesses, and our Mama Mia Belfast Castle walk on Mother’s Day weekend in March. Look out for our new events programme this spring as 2010 also promises to be a great year for getting out into the Belfast Hills with the Belfast Hills Partnership.


1. Deborah McLaughlin is sitting pretty at our springtime walk of Carnmoney in April 2. Walkers on our springtime walk of Carnmoney in April 3. Our bus tour in June took in all the main sites in the hills with time out to walk and eat a picnic lunch 4. Trail Blazers carving out a path on the first ever Divis to Dixon Walk in November 5. Quick Brown Fox aka Raymond Gibson from Carryduff came out the victor on our Great Geocaching Challenge. He is pictured here receiving a year’s free membership of the Friends of the Belfast Hills group alongside his daughter Hannah

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6. Slievenacloy was the venue for our butterfly walk in July that attracted some very young social butterflies as well as the insect variety 7. Our orienteering evening on Cave Hill in July saw Robert McMillen from the Irish News, struggling to get to grips with how to lose yourself with the aid of a compass and map 8. Bilberry hunters were out in force at our evening bilberry picnic on Divis in August 9. Almost 1,000 people climbed a stairway to scenic heaven on Cave Hill for the launch of our Friends of the Belfast Hills in July

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10. Lizzy Pinkerton in full dress regalia to promote the heritage of Cave Hill at our Friends day

Master plan for Ligoniel environment and heritage site unveiled Details of a plan to safeguard an area of beauty in the Belfast Hills have been unveiled. The Ligoniel Environment and Heritage Project is a major initiative by the Ligoniel Improvement Association (LIA) to protect, preserve and maintain the area around the Wolfhill dams, adjacent to Wolfhill. The 15 acre site is a significant local resource for natural and industrial heritage and is rich in biodiversity. The report pays specific attention to the provision of measured walks and fishing platforms for people with a disability. It suggests having an outdoor classroom to educate local school children about nature and biodiversity. It also recommends the creation of a natural refuge adjacent to housing developments. When the master plan is implemented, it will open the site to the people of Belfast. It has further been suggested that the site could provide links to the Belfast Hills including Cave Hill

L-R Jane Williams from Heritage Lottery Fund, Prof Tom Lovett Chair of the Ligoniel Improvement Association and Maria Morgan Chief Executive of the Ligoniel Improvement Association unveiling the master plan for the development of Wolfhill dams

Country Park. The project is made up of representatives for LIA, Belfast City Council, Belfast Hills Partnership, Ligoniel Fishing Club and Ligoniel Village Neighbourhood Partnership. Chair of Ligoniel Improvement Association Professor Tom Lovett said: “Thanks must be conveyed to the HLF for its support which has enabled the

project to gather momentum and to Groundwork NI for the production of this in-depth and very comprehensive report. “Also to all the staff and volunteers that have given their time and effort to enhance and preserve this valuable asset at the lower slopes of the Belfast Hills.”

Hills endorsed in visitor survey Number of local visitors and tourists visiting the sites: 100 90

Local visitor


Tourist outside from NI

No. of visitors

70 60 50 40

No. of visitors

30 100 20 90 10 80 0 70

Local visitor

Cave Hill


Tourist outside from NI

60 50 40 30






Overall satisfaction with the sites: No. of people

Hill and Divis were either very good or good. This reflects the hard work of both Belfast City Council and the National trust in maintaining their sites to such a high standard. Cave Hill had significantly more tourist visitors from outside Northern Ireland than Divis, reflecting the availability of public transport available to get to the sites. Dr Lizzy Pinkerton said the research showed how a tourism product for the Belfast Hills might take shape in future. “Landscape Partnerships is the buzz word now for sustainable use of our environment. This ties in with tourism and heritage – something we feel the Belfast Hills is very rich in. With data from this survey of Divis and Cave Hill and future studies we can work out the opportunities and strengths of the Belfast Hills and try to help the communities who live within them take full advantage of a sustainable tourism and heritage product.”


50 Cave Hill




Cave Hill

20 80 70 60 No. of people

The Belfast Hills Partnership has conducted its first major research into visitors to the Belfast Hills and the verdict has been a resounding thumbs up for our hills. Over spring and summer this year partnership staff and volunteers took stock of visitors at Cave Hill and Divis and asked their opinions on aspects of the hills. The evaluation of the two main outdoor beauty spots comes as Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau figures revealed overnight stays in Belfast last year stood at 1.6 million – an 11 per cent increase on 2007. Industry figures for 2009 expect that figure to remain steady despite the economic downturn. Some 200 people were asked to rate the sites in terms of frequency of visits, facilities, signage and activities they would like to take part in. This impressively showed that 98% of people felt that overall their satisfaction of the public sites Cave


10 0 very good




very bad don't know

50 40 30 20 10 Cave Hill

0 very good





very bad don't know


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Slievenacloy was the venue for a fungal foray when Partnership staff took Friends around the various mushroom delights at the site including seeing the rare pink waxcap.


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L-R Brendan Toland Belfast Parks Estates Manager, Michaela Strachan from TV’s The Really Wild Show and Fintan Grant Park Manager at Cave Hill Country Park with the Green Flag

Since then, member only events have also included an invitation to a book launch in the Belfast Hills. Subsequent to launching our Friends of the Belfast Hills group in July, we have received an overwhelming amount of interest and people signing up.

Above: Waxcaps were in abundance at Slievenacloy for the Friends Fungal Foray in October

A great gift this Christmas for a loved one who cares for the outdoors would be a year’s membership – a snip at only £10. So get in touch with staff and ask for a form and make 2010 a year of helping the Partnership look after the beautiful resource of the Belfast Hills. Contact Lizzy Pinkerton on 028 9060 3466.

Some Friends at the Fungal Foray

Carnmoney Hill is blooming marvellous A section of Carnmoney Hill has been transformed into a wildflower meadow as part of the Woodland Trust’s Forest of Flowers project. The initiative has been made possible through £10,000 of funding from IKEA stores. It involves soil being inverted and wildflowers sown alongside native trees. As well as giving fantastic flower displays the following year, the wildflowers help to suppress weeds as the new trees grow. Gregor Fulton, Woodland Officer for Carnmoney said the Newtownabbey site will be the place to go to see

Belfast Castle flies the flag for green spaces

wildflowers this summer. “In order to create the wildflower meadow the grasses were sprayed, flailed, ploughed and the seeds sown. It then takes about three to four weeks before the site begins to go green and the flowers will actually be in full bloom the following year so visitors in spring and summer 2010 will get the best effect,” he said. Meanwhile Carnmoney Hill which is owned by Newtownabbey Borough Council and managed by the Woodland Trust has also achieved short quality walk status from the Countryside Access and Activities Network. Kaye Coates, Woodland Trust

Belfast Castle is flying the flag for quality green spaces after securing a prestigious green flag award for Cave Hill Country Park. The flag is now fluttering from the castle ramparts and means that Cave Hill Country Park now joins Colin Glen Forest Park as the second major Belfast Hills site to be awarded the accolade – out of only four sites in the whole of Northern Ireland. The green flag award scheme is the benchmark national standard for parks and green spaces. Site manager Fintan Grant said the award was a great boost for the popular site. “Winning the Green Flag award has brought excellent publicity and a real focus onto the park. Both the media and the public are becoming increasingly aware that a site flying a green flag is a high quality green space,” he said. “Cave Hill Country Park was assessed on a wide range of criteria and was given a rating in the band 75 per cent to 79 per cent. This was an excellent result and proof of the commitment and enthusiasm of all the staff involved in attaining this accreditation. “The green flag award visibly demonstrates to the local community and visitors that a clear improvement has been made to Cave Hill Country Park. We are certain that by gaining this award we will attract even more visitors to enjoy the history, heritage, walks, spectacular views and all that this truly unique park has to offer.” Fintan Grant, Belfast City Council

STEP IN TIME FEMALE FLYING ACE American aviator Amelia Earhart may be the subject of the new Hollywood film Amelia, but the Belfast Hills was the location for the first woman in the world to design, build and fly her first aircraft 20 years before Earhart became famous. The 1911 census shows the Belfast Hills had its own flying ace in Carnmoney woman Lilian Bland who took flight almost two decades before her American counterpart. Her daring Carnmoney endeavour is believed to have made Lilian the first woman in history to have flown. The Glengormley aviator made history after her ‘flying machine’ called the Mayfly, flew a quarter of a mile on Carnmoney Hill in 1909 when Amelia Earhart was a 12-year-old schoolgirl growing up in Kansas. In the census year of 1911 Lilian lived at Tobarcorran House in Glengormley with her 78-year-old aunt Sarah Maria Smythe and 82-year-old uncle John Humphrey. Lilian Emily Bland is 32 and is listed single with her birthplace noted as Kent in England. Often full of interesting insights, the census tells us that aunt Sarah is “somewhat deaf”. She was granddaughter of a Dean of Belfast and as a young woman ‘duncer’ cap-wearing Lilian wore trousers, smoked cigarettes and tinkered with car engines. She was also a successful press photographer and sports journalist. Louis Blériot’s cross-Channel flight in 1909 inspired the Carnmoney woman to build her own bi-plane glider, the Mayfly, which successfully left the ground on Carnmoney Hill, with the aid of four Royal Irish Constabulary constables holding on to

the wings. She then installed a 20 horse power engine in it, intending to build aeroplanes on a commercial scale, but lacked the financial backing. In 1912 she emigrated to Canada, married a cousin and carved out a farm on virgin land. In 1935 Lilian had already retired to Cornwall in England, “gambling, painting and gardening” some three years before Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. Earhart famously completed her record-breaking flight in a field near Culmore in Co Derry – launching her to global fame. Lilian Bland died in 1971 at the ripe old age of 92 – a world away from the epic tragedy of Earhart whose plane disappeared over the Pacific in 1937 as she attempted to fly solo around the world. Not the subject of a Hollywood movie yet - but a plaque stands at the site of Tobarcorran House, Carnmoney, where Lilian Bland lived. The Dublin Flying club now looks after a replica of her Mayfly flying machine.

It’s your Belfast Hills

Contact the Belfast Hills for help and advice with any concerns or questions regarding the hills, their wildlife and people. Also, let us know what you would like to read about in future newsletters. Charity No: XR70288 Company No: NI053189 Address: Belfast Hills Partnership, 9 Social Economy Village, Hannahstown Hill, BT17 0XS Tel: 028 9060 3466 Fax: 028 9030 9867 Email:

winter 09 newsletter  
winter 09 newsletter