5th April 2023

Celebration of Dragons in the Hills Project

A quicker-than-light flash of golden brown on an old stone wall, or a circle of ripples in a ditch, are all most people see of the native reptiles and amphibians of Ireland. However, over the last three years, the Dragons in the Hills project sought to learn more about these beautiful but poorly understood animals across The Ring of Gullion, the Mourne Mountains and the Strangford and Lecale AONBs

three lizards resting on a log, one adult and two juvenile.
Common lizard (credit Ronald Surgenor)

The 3-year project which is led by Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK, in partnership with The Herpetological Society of Ireland and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, and received £100,000 funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund is now drawing to a close. To celebrate the programme’s success, students from twelve schools and members of local community groups and businesses who took part in the project were invited to Slieve Gullion Forest Park on Thursday 30th March for a final morning exploring the “small places” of the park looking out for our three dragon species, the common frog, common lizard and smooth newt, and taking part in some fantastic environmental games and activities.  

Dr Sally Montgomery, Northern Ireland Committee Member for The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said:

“We know that nature is incredibly important to National Lottery players, and this funding for the Dragons in the Hills project means that they can play their part in preserving Northern Ireland’s significant and varied wildlife. We’re incredibly proud to be playing a role in ensuring our natural heritage is safeguarded for generations to come, but also that the projects we fund give people the chance to connect with the nature and wildlife that is on their doorsteps. “

Discovering more about our amphibians and reptiles and meeting some of the landowners and schools involved in the project was the Chairperson of Newry Mourne and Down District Council, Michael Savage.

“From creating simple habitat piles of brush and rocks to fitting specially designed amphibian ladders into traditional land drains, the Dragons in the hills project has worked with school children, landowners, businesses and community groups over a wide area,” said Councillor Savage,  

Mayor Karen Douglas continued,

“We only have three native amphibians and reptiles, and two are designated priority species based on widespread declines. But more is needed to be known about their distribution and abundance and how they are faring in today’s fast-changing world. This project has improved our knowledge of their conservation status by recording and mapping their presence and encouraging land owners to create and connect important habitat features.”

The celebration event involved Ring of Gullion students from St Mary’s Mullabawn and St Malachy’s in Camlough, meeting up with Mourne Mountain pupils from Annsborough Integrated and Bunscoil Bheanna Boirche in Castlewellan and junior dragon hunters from Strangford and Lecale represented by Legamaddy Primary in Downpatrick and St Mary’s Primary in Portaferry. Great fun was had by all spawn-spotting in the ponds and joining in with the environmental activities organised by local educators at Enspire.  

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