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What is it that persuades a motley crew of volunteers to leave their comfortable beds early on a cold Sunday morning in January to travel to a site somewhere in the Ulster countryside, and spend time on physical work for no financial gain?  For the last 40 years, Grass Roots Conservation Group has been persuading people from 8-years old to 80 to do exactly that, so there must be some reward involved.

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Planting a hedge near Portadown – that has to be the muddiest day ever!

Grass Roots is one of Northern Ireland’s longest established practical Conservation Groups.  We work at a wide variety of locations, mainly in North Down and South Antrim, but with regular visits further afield.  We have worked on many well-known sites around Belfast such as Lagan Meadows and the Bog Meadows, as well as on less prominent public and private sites.  We carry out all sorts of conservation work, from tree planting to drystone walling, from ponds to beach cleans.  We’re a small group, but with a long term reputation for doing a thorough job: we take pride in what we do, and insist that it is done right.  After all, a well built drystone wall shouldn’t need repair for 100 years, and a well planted tree could last as long.

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Drystone walling at a cottage in Donegal

We’ve always had a close working relationship with The Conservation Volunteers, and we work on a number of their sites, but we are a separate, independent group. We’ve also worked many times with Lagan Valley Regional Park, which oversees a swathe of countryside running from Lisburn to Belvoir Forest Park, described by the naturalist David Bellamy, as the ‘lung of Belfast’, as it brings the countryside to the very heart of the city.  We have planted trees in McIlroy Park, stoned paths and cleared the pond at Moreland’s Meadow, and planted more trees at the Eel Weir, all sites along the Lagan.  Recently we have been working on a number of sites managed by Ulster Wildlife which has taken us further afield to their spectacular reserves at Ballynahone Bog and Slievenacloy.

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The beautiful Ballynahone Bog

 We have an annual ‘trip to the seaside’ in September for the Great British Beach Clean, organised by the Marine Conservation Society.  For the last ten years we have been going to Ballyhornan, just beside the beautiful Killard Nature Reserve.  As well as a general clean up, every piece of litter along 100m is catalogued to build-up an overall picture of the state of our coastline, used by MCS in their campaigning and lobbying.  Plastic in the sea has recently become a hot topic, of course, but by reading the trends in their longterm database, MCS has been warning about it for years, and they celebrated 25 years of Beachwatch in 2018.  Grass Roots has participated in the survey for 24 of those years, and we recently featured as Sea Champions in their regular magazine.

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On the beach at Ballyhornan

So how does Grass Roots Conservation Group work, and how can you get involved?  Everyone is welcome to come along to our working days, you don’t have to be a member to try it out, though regular volunteers can join the membership and have a voice in the running of the group.  Families are welcome, though not all our work is suitable for small children, for example drystone walling.  We can take young people on their own from age 14, and younger children if accompanied by a responsible adult (with signed parental permission for all under 18’s).  We can often give lifts to the sites for people from around Belfast, though this may depend on availability. There is no charge for any of our working days, and drivers giving lifts to other volunteers can claim a small mileage allowance.  The best place to find out more about our work, with lots more recent photos of our work, is on our Facebook page listed below.

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Two types of fungus – not common, but not rare either, we have found them quite a number of times.  They are called scarlet cup (or sometimes fairy cup) and earth stars.  I wonder how many people have seen them in Northern Ireland?

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Grass Roots is a registered charity, entirely composed of volunteers with no paid workers.  A Committee draws up a programme of work, which takes place once every two weeks, usually on a Sunday.  There’s a copy of the current Programme on our website (see below).  We aim to be at our worksite at 10 am, and leave around 3.30 pm.  Grass Roots supplies all the tools and gloves, and the land-owner provides any materials needed (trees, fence posts…).  We have our own Group Insurance, and we have policies in place on Safeguarding Children and Vulnerable Adults, which are available to view on the website.  Funding comes from grants from public bodies, small charges to landowners that we work for, and membership subscriptions and donations.

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Digging a new pond for Grove Community Garden, Belfast

Our volunteers come from all walks of life, with a common interest in nature conservation.  The rewards which get us out of bed time after time are simple.  They come from the satisfaction of knowing that we are doing something practical about the disappearance of wildlife from our local environment; essential work that would otherwise not be done.

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Lunch al fresco at Clandeboye Woods

Grass Roots was so pleased when Kelly asked us to write a piece for her Blog – her dynamic family have volunteered with us more than once and we really appreciate their efforts.  She has even featured us before on Every Treasure, so how could we say no?  2019 will be our 40th anniversary year, and we are really looking forward to a great year of conservation events, including some special celebrations!  If you are interested in trying a day with Grass Roots, take a look at the links below, then send us an email to get the details of the next day out.


For more information:



Registered charity number: NIC 102932

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