Slieve Gallion Biodiversity Profile
In the following account of this LCA it should be noted that for consistency, the biodiversity section follows the standard order for all LCAs even though some of the communities discussed later may have more importance for biodiversity than those discussed earlier
- dominated in the east by Slieve Gallion the slopes of which are covered by a vast area of cut-over and drained peat
- in the centre- west the Lough Fea platform is dominated by deep blanket peat much of which remains uncut
- peat thins in the Evishbrack - Oughtmore mountains of the extreme west to acid grassland and heath
- the undulating land of the south east is predominantly in pastures, but is cut by steeply incised rivers some of which have extensive woodlands
- State Forest occurs both in the west and on the slopes of Slieve Gallion.
Woodland occupies approximately 6% of the LCA. The majority is coniferous forest dominated by Sitka spruce; lodgepole pine is the other main species amongst a wide range of conifers present. However, at Cookstown Forest, in the extreme south of the LCA, broadleaves, particularly oak, form a significant percentage of the tree cover. Iniscarn Forest also has a small percentage of broadleaves.
Small broadleaved and mixed woodlands between 0.5 and 1.0 ha are frequent between Lough Fea and Clagan Bridge; oak, ash, beech, larch and Scots pine are common. However, there are extensive areas of such woodland; particularly noteworthy are Carndaisy Glen, Quilly Glen and Reubens Glen - all along incised streams on the south-eastern side of Slieve Gallion. The present woodlands show evidence of planting and are difficult to classify because of the wide range of species; these include oak, beech, sycamore, ash, horse-chestnut, sweet-chestnut, alder, wych-elm, pines and larch. The understorey species include hazel, holly, hawthorn and willows. The species composition also changes through the woods depending on site conditions, so that there are patches of wet woodlands, of upland oakwood and of upland mixed ashwoods.
These more extensive broadleaved and mixed woodlands are important both for the landscape and for biodiversity and not only contain examples of Northern Ireland Priority Habitats, but also rich herb layers and communities of epiphytic mosses, lichens and ferns. Some of these plants may indicate an ancient origin for woodland sites.
Grassland and Arable
Arable land accounts for only 1% of the LCA and has only a few scattered locations amongst the pastureland (c. 30% of the LCA) in the southeast and east of the LCA. This area is mainly of improved pastures, although of variable quality depending on management and site conditions. Some pastures have reverted so that they have abundant rushes. In the north and west, between the blanket peat bogs, the pastures are rushy and intermixed with acid grasslands. These areas have only low levels of management, with little use of herbicides or pesticides, and therefore tend to be more biologically diverse than the improved grasslands to the east. These damp grasslands provide a habitat for the Irish hare, and for waders, including the curlew.
Heaths and Bogs
All the peat in the LCA can be classed as blanket bog, although there are basin bogs incorporated within it. Two divisions can be made; on Slieve Gallion the upper slopes and summit are of eroded peat - mainly by gullies - and montane heath vegetation, including three species of clubmoss, including the rare alpine clubmoss. These eroded upper slopes are surrounded by a vast area of cut-over and drained peat.
The cut-over peat extends westward into the second area developed on the flatter Lough Fea platform. Here, peat is much deeper and cut-over peat is interspersed with remnants, often quite extensive, of intact bog. Some of these intact bogs have excellent examples of pool and hummock complexes, usually developed over basins in the underlying glacial deposits, and have rare plant species, including rare hummock-forming Sphagnum (bog moss) species. As a consequence, several areas of intact bog have been designated for conservation - Teal Lough and Slaghtfreedan ASSI, Teal Lough II ASSI; Teal Lough is also a candidate SAC. Blanket bog, particularly with pools and hummocks, is an internationally rare habitat. These protected areas are not under immediate threat, but the surrounding blanket peat, particularly the drained and cut-over peat between Lough Fea and Slaghtfreedan, has been used extensively in recent times for mechanical peat extraction (principally by compact harvester). Extraction of peat for fuel not only reduces the peatland, but also disturbs birds. Several bird species are dependent on the blanket peat for breeding sites (e.g. golden plover) whereas others use the blanket peat as an over-wintering site (e.g. Greenland white-fronted goose). Cut-over peat can also be of considerable biological diversity, especially where there are patches of deep peat and turf pools; here the varied vegetation structures create micro-habitats for many insects including water-beetles and dragonflies.
In the extreme west and southwest of the LCA, peat becomes thinner and intermixed with humic ranker soils. Here there are poor quality pastures and acid grasslands, but also patches of Upland Heathland dominated by common heather. This habitat has been declining in Northern Ireland, partly through reclamation to pastures, but also through overgrazing and resultant loss of heather. Although not very diverse in species, these heaths form part of a mosaic of habitats which adds to the diversity of the LCA and which support some of the Northern Ireland Priority Species, including red grouse.
Wetlands and Lakes
Lough Fea is the largest lake in the LCA, but there are several small lakes scattered through the peatland, including Teal Lough ASSI. All are characteristic of peatland, they have a low pH, low base status, water stained by peat, and are generally unproductive.
The Ballymully, Blackwater and Moyola Rivers are crowfoot rivers, a Northern Ireland Priority Habitat. The otter is recorded along many of the streams and loughs.
General actions for UK and NI Priority Habitats and Priority Species are detailed in the Habitat Action Plans and Species Action Plans.
Issue: coniferous woodlands of low biodiversity value, but also the NI Priority Habitats wet woodlands, upland oakwood and upland mixed ashwoods
- enhance the biodiversity value of broadleaved and mixed woodlands by discouraging felling; by preventing loss; by retention of fallen and veteran trees (particularly for bryophytes, ferns, fungi and fauna); by controlling grazing to foster herb layer and regeneration; encourage replanting of canopy species
- further study of the history and ecology of broadleaved and mixed woodlands within the LCA, particularly any ancient and long-established, as a key to future management
- encourage planting of broadleaved and mixed woodlands through appropriate grant schemes rather than conifer plantations and shelterbelts that are of poor biodiversity and landscape value; ensure that hazel scrub is not cleared
- ensure conservation of wet woodlands - that they are not lost through drainage, reclamation, landfill or dumping/tipping
GRASSLAND AND ARABLE
Issue: poor biodiversity of improved pastures as a result of relatively intensive management but also areas of damp grassland supporting NI Priority Species Irish Hare and curlew
- maintain and improve field boundaries, especially hedgerows where they occur through adoption of correct cutting cycles; hedge laying and replanting where necessary; leave saplings uncut to develop into hedgerow trees; avoidance of spraying with fertilisers, slurry, herbicides; provision of wildlife strips and conservation headlands around fields; and limitation of field amalgamation
- encourage (through participation in Environmental Schemes adoption/continuance of less intensive management of pastures to allow reversion to/continuance of more species-rich grassland and protect unsown areas of grassland including dry, calcareous grassland
- maintain and enhance damp grassland habitats for breeding waders by where, possible, restricting field or arterial drainage to protect this
- leave stubble over winter, rather than autumn ploughing to increase food resources for farmland birds; spring-sown cereals are beneficial to farmland birds
HEATHS AND BOGS
Issue: the NI Priority Habitat blanket bog is of national and international importance and provides breeding sites for several bird species, including NI Priority Species golden plover
- maintain the integrity of existing blanket bogs by for example, preventing infilling, fly-tipping, fires, new drainage and the extension of peat extraction onto intact peat bogs - however, cut-over bogs can also provide important habitats for birds and invertebrates
- consider restoration of blanket bog habitats through appropriate water level management, removal of individual colonising trees and phasing out peat cutting - applies particularly to any areas of recent mechanical cutting; losses may be limited and in time recently cut areas may recolonise, if dialogue with local people continues to stress the biological importance of the blanket peat
- prevent new forest planting on blanket bogs; take care when existing forests are felled and replanted that the water table of adjacent bogs is not affected and that nutrient levels are not increased
Issue: NI Priority Habitats Upland Heathland and Montane Heath are in decline and support some of the NI Priority Species, including red grouse
- control grazing intensity on existing heathland to encourage development of heathland and of heather of different ages; overgrazing can be reduced if appropriate schemes (e.g. ESA practices or Moorland Schemes) are followed; where heather is undergrazed and beginning to degenerate, controlled burning or flailing may be necessary
- discourage 'reclamation' to pasture fields around heathland margins
- discourage afforestation
WETLANDS AND LAKES
Issue: Teal Lough ASSI and cSAC contains small lakes among peatland; also NI Priority Habitat crowfoot rivers in this LCA are important for NI Priority Species such as otters
- protect the water quality of rivers through nutrient management and by reducing suspended sediments; prevent the release of particles released through peat cutting or forestry operations; install sediment traps at large extraction sites
- promote and encourage existing good farming practices so that rivers are not polluted by releases from silage effluent, herbicides, pesticides, fertilisers or sheep dip
- monitor streams in relation to peat cutting (sediment load and deposition) - important for salmon that nursery and spawning beds are clear; monitor streams in relation to expansion of rural/urban housing and associated septic tanks/sewage treatment plants
- recognise that monitoring of streams in relation to forestry and other operations upstream may also be important