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Chaines Wood designated a safe haven for endangered red squirrel

A small group of volunteers and officers from Mid and East Antrim Borough Council have been celebrating some ‘furry’ good news as Chaines Wood in Ballygally was officially opened as a Local Nature Reserve and a haven for the under-threat red squirrel.

The designation means the site is now protected as a home to the red squirrel and other native wildlife, and it’s hoped within the next two years, the woodland will become an established and sustainable habitat for the animals.

Mayor Cllr Peter Johnston thanked everyone who contributed to the designation of this Local Nature Reserve; namely, the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency Biodiversity Unit, DAERA, Allen & Mellon Environmental, the Ballygally Biodiversity Group, and Council staff.

Speaking at the launch, the Mayor continued: “This site demonstrates Council’s commitment to conserving and enhancing biodiversity throughout the borough and our commitment to protecting green space for the community.

“It is important for environmental education and recreational enjoyment and I hope everyone will continue to enjoy this special green space for many years to come, and that wildlife will continue to thrive here.”

Joe Dowdall, Senior Red Squirrel Ranger with the Ballygally Biodiversity Group (BBG), said: “The BBG have been working on this site for almost five years to improve it for native wildlife, most notably red squirrels.

“Our volunteers have worked to raise awareness around the issues facing red squirrels and worked alongside Belfast Zoo’s red squirrel breeding programme to reintroduce a small number of red squirrels on site, this programme was supported by Council, Cairndhu Golf Club, Belfast Zoo and Ulster Wildlife.

“It is hoped that within two years this site will become an established and sustainable site for red squirrels. I am pleased to say they are doing well with a steady population on site and evidence of feeding and mating.

“As well as red squirrels, the site is home to a wide range of wildlife including birds, bats and invertebrates. It is also well used by local people and visitors and is an important site for nature as well as local health and wellbeing initiatives.”

Dr Hilary Kirkpatrick, Chair of the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside (CNCC) added: “Members were unanimous in their view that this site warranted Local Nature Reserve status.

“Local Nature Reserves provide accessible nature on a community's doorstep, and this site is great example of this, providing opportunity for health and wellbeing and giving people an opportunity to enjoy and appreciate nature. “Chaines Wood could contribute to nature based solutions around climate change adaption and mitigation, and this should be considered in future strategic planning by Council.”