Concerned Locals Come Together In Spare Time To Save Bann Woods
CONCERNED locals from the Bann Valley area have raised concerns about the amount of litter and dog foulings in the Bann Woods South Forest at Gortgole, due to irresponsible dog owners and people who are using the forest for recreational activities.
Rachel Conway, a mental health support worker, is a keen environmentalist and along with colleagues Peter McAllister, a farmer, and Donna Rainey, a paedicratic nurse, has taken it upon themselves to clear the wood of litter.
Rachael Conway was horrified at the sheer volume of dog mess on the public paths of Gortgole Wood and tired of steering her twin toddlers around it, she decided to take direct action; “Everyone knows the dangers of dog dirt and toxocariasis, I cannot comprehend why people think it’s OK to cause others to stand in their dogs’ excrement and trail it back through their cars and homes. This is a fantastic wood, my kids loved coming here to walk and enjoy the wildlife, but the dog mess got so bad I had to stop bringing them.”
Rachael initially tackled the forest alone, by placing small biodegradable flags bearing messages in the piles of dirt, she hoped to make irresponsible dog owners think twice about their actions. Rachael noticed several bin bags of collected litter along the way and contacted local conservationist Donna Rainey to ask if she knew who else was looking after the wood. Meanwhile the mystery litter picker, Peter McAllister had photographed the dog foul flags and also emailed Donna with the question “Who’s doing this?” and hence the clean up team was formed.
Peter explained “We were not aware of each other until a few months ago, but since discovering our shared motivation to clean up the environment we have lifted over 80 bags of rubbish. In addition to being very unsightly, litter is damaging for wild and domestic animals, causing injury through entanglement, poisoning and ingestion.
“As a farmer I have experienced firsthand the distress of seeing livestock choking on plastic bags or caught up in discarded waste. I really wish people would consider the consequences of throwing drinks cans or polystyrene food trays out of their car window. It doesn’t get picked up by the council; it blows into hedges and waterways and has a massive impact on wildlife.”
The team reported that the majority of litter had washed down the River Bann and included tyres, animal feed buckets, plastic bags and even fridges. Plastic and glass bottles dating back to the 50s and 60s showed just how long this rubbish had been polluting the forests and riverbanks.
Pictures of the haul posted on social media resulted in a London based waste management student suggesting the rubbish be recycled and Donna contacted RiverRidge recycling who kindly agreed to collect and recycle the rubbish, with support from the Forestry Service.
RiverRidge transport manager and Ballymena native Stephen Thompson said, “Fair play to them, they have lifted an enormous amount of rubbish, they all have busy lives with other commitments, yet still found the time to improve this area for others to enjoy. We were only too happy to help out with this clean up.”
Donna an environmental campaigner who has previously been involved with Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful explained, “If we allow beautiful places to be degraded with litter and dog mess, they become places that can no longer be enjoyed. The River Bann and its forests are not only great sites for people to experience the natural world, but also precious habitats, which host an abundance of wildlife. Everybody should take responsibility for the places they use by taking home rubbish, picking up after dogs and getting involved in clean ups. We hope our story will motivate others to join together and take action in their patch.”