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Sensory Garden set to open at Ecos Nature Park Ballymena

The new Sensory Garden is set to open on Wednesday 23 June 2021.

The amazing volunteers from the Friends of ECOS group spent yesterday (Saturday 19 June) putting the finishing touches to a brand new Sensory Garden set to be officially opened on Wednesday by the Mayor of Mid and East Antrim.

It is the latest project to be completed by the group at the local nature park in Ballymena, that has increasingly become a much valued area of peace and tranquility for the local community and visitors from further afield.

The Ecos Nature Park is an oasis of wildlife close to the heart of Ballymena town centre. Eight kilometres of mostly flat footpath gently lead visitors around 220 acres of parkland that includes maturing woodland, peaceful lake and ponds, grazed meadows and hay meadows.

In summer time the fields are adorned by, at times, hundreds of butterflies softly flitting around the meadows nectar from the wildflowers that are proliferating in the park. Your ears can be soothed by the gentle songs of meadow pipits and skylarks and many other bird species that choose to breed here. Ecos is an ideal breeding refuge for these and other farmland birds like snipe, grasshopper warbler and dunnock that are in sharp decline in other parts of Northern Ireland.

The Ecos Nature Park, Ballymena (PHOTO: UAV NI)

In winter large flocks of lapwing can be seen circling and swooping around the park, before settling down to feast on many insects in the soft soil of the meadows. If you approach the lake quietly you could feed the mallard ducks, geese and swans, or spot the many migrant ducks that dabble for food on the lake shore. Often you can hear the soft whistles of teal echoing across the water. Large flocks of chittering finches and linnets are a common sight busily feeding around the park.

Lapwing in flight at the Ecos Nature Park. (PHOTO: Mervyn Campbell)

Of particular interest at Ecos is a family of otters which are mostly very shy animals, but have been seen splashing around on the Braid River and the lake. Some unusual visitors to the park include the white-winged black terns (small terns with incredibly acrobatic flight displays rarely seen in Ireland), and a hoopoe (found most often in the Mediterranean). A particularly rare plant, the Irish Ladies Tresses Orchid appeared in 2006. This plant is only known to occur at 8 sites in Northern Ireland.

Work on the new Sensory Garden started back in 2020, but works ground to a halt with the pandemic.

However with public health restrictions now easing, the volunteers from Friends of ECOS have been eager to get stuck in to see the project completed and get back to caring for this visually beautiful and ecologically significant park in the town.

A spokesperson for the group shared an update from volunteers latest endeavours:

“With lockdown restrictions easing, the Friends of ECOS have returned to work in earnest. We had a good turnout on Saturday with the group dividing into two work parties. Chris Wood of The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) led the larger group in the Sensory Garden. A children’s fort has been constructed together with a bee and insect hotel. This project was due to be completed last year but, because of regulations on numbers who can meet outdoors, is only finishing now.

“A smaller group went to work in the Devenagh Burn which runs from ECOS Lake into the Braid River. Four shopping trollies and other large items were successfully removed from the burn together with another trolley from the Braid itself.”

Over the winter and early spring over 3,000 native species trees were planted at several locations within the park - a fantastic achievement and will be an amazing benefit to the wildlife and environment over the years ahead, to be enjoyed by generations to come.

The group, supported with equipment and their recognisable Hi-Vis branded vests from Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, have also help organise a litter picking subgroup which has made real inroads into the litter problem in the park.

Friends of ECOS meet at 11.00am to 1.00pm on the third Saturday of each month and carry out improvement work throughout the Park.

The group are always grateful for new members young and old, and no previous experience is necessary! Local Council support the work of the group with experienced team leaders who provide tools, equipment and instruction.

Just turn up in appropriate outdoor clothing and footwear and enjoy making a difference while making new friends and enjoying the beautiful outdoors.

You can keep up to date with Friends of ECOS by visiting the group‘s Facebook page:

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