The Natural Environment of Ballymoney
Ballymoney Borough covers approximately 161 square miles and is predominately rural in character.
The equable climate, which the Borough enjoys, is attributable to the fact, that Ireland lies in an area of mild south-westerly winds and comes under the influence of the Gulf Stream. The average air temperature in January and February (the coldest months) is between 4C – 7C and in July and August (the warmest months) is between 15C – 18C.
The town itself is straddled to the west by the River Bann and to the north by the River Bush. Other rivers within the Borough also include the Ballymoney River, a tributary of the River Bann. Many of these rivers and their tributaries have now been designated as important salmon spawning areas due to the substrate of mainly sand and gravel. The presence of fish within these rivers is a good indication of the health of the natural environment.
Part of the Borough lies within the Antrim Coast and Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. However, a number of different environments have been identified within the Borough. A view of these environments can be obtained by clicking below.
Overall the Borough of Ballymoney contains a rich and diverse landscape of great natural beauty and wildlife interest which can be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.
Lower Bann Valley
The Lower Bann Valley, located in the very southern part of the Borough, extends from Ballymoney to Castledawson. Ecological features identified in this area include peat bogs and wet woodlands comprising of birch, willow and alder. However other features of mixed woodland and conifer plantations have been identified. Dry point sites dominate the locality of settlements, however linear patterns have also been identified.
Lower Bann Floodplain
The Lower Bann Floodplain refers to the lower course of the River Bann. It is predominantly flat being drained by a number of tributaries and smaller streams such as the Macosquin River, Aghadowey River, Agivey River and the Ballymoney River. Like the Bann Valley, pockets of wet woodland have been identified. Settlement pattern can be identified as being dispersed.
The Long Mountain Ridge
The Long Mountain Ridge is along ridge of land that runs from Ballymoney in the north to Randalstown in the south. It was created by the erosion of weaker bands of basalt located on either side of the feature. Due to this action, Long Mountain now forms quite a unique feature in comparison to the surrounding landscape. The land is quite fertile due to the weathering of Antrim Lavas.
A variation in slope, especially on the sides of the feature, greatly influences the size of field. However on top of the feature where the land is much flatter, field size is much bigger. There also is a mixture of hedges, shelterbelts, moorland scrub and Craigs Wood Conifer Plantation as well as the presence of archaeological features.
Cullybackey and Cloughmills Drumlins
The Borough also contains the Cullybackey and Cloughmills Drumlins. This area is located east of Long Mountain.
Drumlins are hills with characteristic steep sides which, when you pass its summit, becomes more gentle. There has been considerable debate about the formation of these drumlins but what seems to be the most commonly accepted argument is that they formed from glaciers that became laden with eroded material. When the glacier became overladen, this slowed down its progress and as a result material or till was deposited. Apart from the deposition of material, the sheer presence of glaciers may have helped redefine the shape of the landscape. The valleys between these drumlins, all be it quite small, are poorly drained, often producing quite a marshy area with distinct rush vegetation. When looking at an Ordnance Survey map of the area, it is clear that these hills or drumlins are a common sight.
The area also contains quite a few archaeological remains including raths and mottes but also contains the remains of our industrial heritage of yesteryear in the form of Red Brick Mills and their chimneys along the River Main. The patterns of roads in this area is also reflected in the presence of these drumlins because they have to wind their way around these features.
The Moyle Moorlands and Forests
The Moyle Moorlands and Forests comprise part of the Antrim Coast and Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This designation is a major indication of the sensitivity and environmental importance of this area. The area is also rich in archaeology containing features such as chambered graves, standing stones and old-field patterns. Due to the openness and fragility of this upland landscape, it will be very sensitive to change.
The Borough also contains many areas of ecological importance mainly the Garry Bog, a raised bog, located to the north of Ballymoney town and to the west of the River Bush. Unfortunately due to the pressures of agriculture and peat extraction, many of our lowland raised bogs are disappearing. In fact in Northern Ireland, we only have approximately 10% of our raised bogs left – (for further information click on www.ipcc.ie).
Peat bogs contain some very unique plants and animals ranging from insect eating plants such as the Sundew plant to smooth newts, which are specially protected. In fact Garry Bog was found to have a rare species of moss called Sphagnum pulchrum. Peat bogs are also important breeding grounds for Damsel and Dragonflies and are an important habitat for Irish Hares and Curlews – two distinct species whose numbers have declined to dangerously low levels. However the Environment and Heritage Service have recently developed Species Action Plans to help preserve existing numbers of both species – (for further information click on www.ehsni.gov.uk)
Garry Bog has been identified as an area of ecological importance by being designated as a National Nature Reserve (NNR), Ramsar Site, Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and as an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI). These various designations again reflect the environmental importance and sensitive nature of this area. Other ASSi’s, SAC’s and NNR’s located within the Borough include Caldanagh Bog, Dunloy Bog and Breen Wood. Important animal species have also been identified such as the Hen Harrier, Badger, Otter, Atlantic Salmon, Kingfisher, Irish Hare, Lapwing and various species of bat, many of which are protected by law, principally under the European Habitats Directive and 1985 (Northern Ireland) Wildlife Order.
Agriculture is very important to the area where some 800 farms exist. The land has therefore been intensively farmed so a lot of biodiversity (i.e. the variety of life found on earth from microbes to great whales) no doubt has been lost. However, according to the Agricultural Land Classification most of the agricultural land within the Borough has been given a Grade 2 status which indicates a very good quality soil. The soil is well drained, being brown in colour, having formed on basaltic till. Grade 2 land is in fact very valuable for farming and surprisingly a very small percentage of this land exists in our province.
Some of the hedges, which are not intensively managed, that surround many of the farmsteads are quite species rich in terms of flora and fauna. Apart from hawthorn and the occasional ash tree dominating these hedges, other flora present includes bramble, dog rose, lesser celandine and common dog violet. Other more mature trees like Scots Pine, Beech and Sycamore have also been identified in the vicinity of farmyards that are important for nesting birds. Such a resource is vital for providing a source of food for birds, small mammals and invertebrates. The presence of hedges also acts as a wildlife corridor allowing animals to freely move between semi-natural areas.
Two such agricultural areas have been identified within the Borough area:
The Coleraine Farmland contains most of the spectacular sites of the North Coast. It contains a rugged coastline made up of headlands and bays where the weaker basalts of the Antrim Plateau have been eroded by the onslaught of the Atlantic Ocean. The lower reaches of the River Bann flow through this area. In fact the estuarine habitat that occurs at the point where the River Bann meets the Atlantic Ocean, is a vitally important habitat for sustaining populations of visiting winter waterfowl and waders. The area also contains the famous Portstewart Strand (ASSI/ candidate SAC), which is managed by the National Trust. The vast majority of farmsteads in this area are relatively small despite the fact that the landscape is quite open. Mature beech and conifer plantations have also been identified in this area, especially along the River Bann.
The Dervock Farmland lies just north of Ballymoney Town. This area has been identified as being a mixture of natural habitats ranging from broadleaved woodland to areas of raised bog, riverine habitats and conifer forests. Many of the farmsteads located in this area are still in keeping with the old traditional style having white painted stone farmsteads with red roofs and round stone gateposts.