Natural Heritage of Ring of Gullion AONB
Within the Ring of Gullion trees and small woods are significant landscape features and valuable wildlife habitats. In the farmed countryside small groups of trees in shelter belts or hedges provide beneficial shelter for stock and help to screen farm buildings. On the steep slopes of valleys and hillsides small semi-natural woodlands of hazel and ash with sycamore, oak, rowan and willow are notable features. Willow, birch and alder scrub is typical of cutover peatland in the valley bottoms. The most mature woods are those which have been planted in old estates notably at Killevy Castle, Hawthorn Hill and Forkhill. Forestry covering about 6% of the area, is a major land use and is of mixed coniferous species - mainly sitka spruce, lodgepole pine, japanese larch and scots pine. The variety of species planted in irregular blocks with areas of unplanted hillside and pre-existing broad-leaved trees combine in many cases to produce attractive landscape features and pleasant areas for forest recreation.
Only small fragments remain of the once extensive lowland bogs of the Ring of Gullion. These bogs were formed on water-logged sites where bog moss accumulated, building up to form thick peat deposits. The bogs so essential to rural life in the past have been much disturbed by centuries of turf-cutting, drainage and reclamation. Those that survive contain mixtures of bog mosses with drier banks of heather and bilberry often being colonized by willow or birch scrub. Some areas of abandoned cutover bog contain deep pools. The small fragments of remaining bog are valuable wildlife habitats whose conservation is clearly dependent on continuing environmentally sensitive farm practices.
The craggy hills of the Ring of Gullion with thin acidic soils overlying granitic rocks, have an extensive cover of heathland making up over 12% of the area. The purples of heather, yellows of dwarf gorse, and oranges of bracken in the autumn, create rich mosaics of colours which contrast markedly with the many greens which are the dominant hues of agricultural fields and hedges. The heaths themselves are very variable. Slieve Gullion is by far the largest area of heather moorland and consists of a fairly pure stand of ling, with scattered bilberry. Other areas around the lower hills of the ring-dyke, as at Mullach Bán Mountain, Ummeracam and Ballard, have a muchgreater diversity of habitats and plants. Drier heaths are characterised by ling heather and western gorse. Cross-leaved heath is more typical of wetter areas, forming wet heath communities with deer grass, bog asphodel and cotton grass.
Cam Lough (camloch - crooked lake)
While this meaning is at odds with its present appearance, the lake's shape was much less regular in the past before its level was raised by the embankment built in the late 19th century. Along the banks, marsh and scrub provide cover and nesting sites for many birds including mute swan, great crested grebe, moorhen, heron and warblers. The largest lough in the area, it is probably the best example of a glacial 'ribbon' lake in Northern Ireland, and supports a good coarse fishery.
Cashel Lough - upper and lower
These two loughs are important habitats for wildlife. The Upper Lough is an attractive upland- type lake with clear unpolluted water containing water plants such as common reed, water horsetail and white water lily. The Lower Lough is surrounded by an extensive fringe of reed swamp and scrub woodland with alder and willow.
The Newry Canal
The canal is a major feature on the eastern edge of the Ring of Gullion. Not only has it been a very important navigation route into Newry port and the canal network within Ulster but it has an attractive woodland fringe. It also supports a good coarse fishery.
Slieve Gullion Forest Park
Slieve Gullion Forest Park is owned and managed by Forest Service of the Depart of Agriculture and Rural development. Public facilities in the park include the Courtyard Centre, an 8 mile scenic drive, woodland trail, an ornamental walled garden and toilet facilities. There is also a waymarked trail, from the scenic drive to the summit of Slieve Gullion (1894 ft high). from here striking views of the countryside are obtained including the surrounding ring-dyke hills rising abruptly from the lowlands.