The Colin Glen Forest Park is home to a wide range of flora and fauna. Species lists and survey records are available from the Head Ranger at the Forest Park Centre, but an outline of the conservation value of the Glen is outlined below.
Colin Glen Forest Park is described as a Native broadleaved Woodland that is to say that the vast majority of trees (and indeed other plants) are indigenous to this part of the world.
The types of trees found in Colin Glen Forest Park have become naturalised after thousands of years in Ireland and it is these types which the Colin Glen Trust has planted and protected over the years.
Native woodland trees and woody shrubs include oak, ash, silver birch, alder, hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, holly, elm and willow. Colin Glen Forest Park was traditionally a mature (mainly) oak-forest but the wood was clear felled for hard wood timber, particularly during the Second World War when imports were hard to come by. The National Trust acquired the upper sections of the Glen shortly after the War, the first Property they owned in Northern Ireland, to ensure no further clearing was undertaken.B
Most of the wildflowers found in the wooded areas of Colin Glen Forest are seen in springtime. This is because the plants take the opportunity of flowering when the soil temperature has increased after the cold winter, but need to flower when they can access the available sunlight – i.e. before the trees burst into leaf.
From February onwards, yellow Celandine, white Wood Anenome, pungent Wild Ransom (also known as Wild Garlic) and the much-loved Bluebells all take their turn to carpet large sections of the woodland floor. Other colourful plants such as Primrose, Orchid and Dog Violets grow amongst these, whilst Wild Daffodil has recently been planted in the areas of the Glen closest to the Forest Park Centre.
By May, there is much less colour on the woodland floor as less light can get through, but some shade loving plants such as Enchanter’s Nightshade and Herb Robert survive until late into the summer. Beneath the canopy produced by beech trees, very little light can get through, such that even shade loving plants struggle – whilst no wildflower can survive beneath the shadow cast by laurels.
The grassland and more open areas of Colin Glen Forest Park differs from the woods as there is no canopy to block out the light in summertime. Flowering for many plants therefore occurs from April onward. Coltsfoot and Horsetail on the most recently disturbed ground, are overtaken by a range of pea-like Vetches, Buttercup, Knapweed, and Plantains. 1996 saw the arrival of a previously unrecorded Orchid for the Glen – the Common Twayblade.B
The wide range of habitats found in Colin Glen Forest Park provides a variety of insects; these include flying, crawling and swimming insects, all of which form a major part of the food webs which make up the ecosystem of Colin Glen Forest Park.
Investigation of ponds, the forest floor or in the trees themselves can uncover thousands of these tiny creatures. Nets can be hired from the Forest Park Centre or insect ‘safaris’ arranged with the Education Officer staff at the Forest Park Centre.B
Within Colin Glen there are a number of rock exposures that are of geological interest. The series of rocks in Colin Glen forms a complete succession of rock types which stretches from the Triassic Period (225 million years ago) to the Tertiary Period (65 million years ago).
The rocks in Colin Glen form a succession through time and from the type of rocks and fossils found we can find clues to the nature of past environments in the Glen. The Geology within the Glen is unique in Northern Ireland as it has outcrops of all the rocks in the Belfast Hills area.
Because of the importance of the Glen’s Geology, visitors (such as the Belfast Naturalists Field Club) have been coming to the area for over 100 years, at a time when geology was still in its infancy as a science.B
Colin Glen Forest Park is a haven for a wide range of woodland inhabitants and visitors, in spite of the dense urban area that surrounds it. There is a variety of mammalian life in the Colin Glen, typical of a semi-mature woodland, but rare within a city park.
Many of the creatures had found refuge in the Upper Glen (the area owned by The National Trust and now managed locally by Colin Glen Trust). This area had not suffered the same level of environmental degradation as the Lower Glen – now known as Colin Glen Forest Park – and the creatures that survived there subsequently made their way down stream as the environmental improvements were carried out.
Mammals surveyed in the Forest Park include Badger, Fox, Rabbit, Red Squirrel, Hedgehog, Field Mice, River Otters and Bats. Some creatures, such as Badgers, probably visit the Glen only to feed and live further upstream on drier and less disturbed areas. Other creatures have, over recent years, been making their homes in increasing numbers, within the Forest Park as the habitat improves – removal of debris, protection of trees to maturity (and therefore to an age when they produce seed). Newly planted trees and shrubs have also increased the range and availability of food.B
Colin Glen Trust has a management plan, which it adheres to for the management of the Forest Park. This has been produced by the Head Ranger and his staff and the policy includes actively encouraging public access to learn and enjoy nature.
The list below outlines some of the policy pertaining to management of the trees and other plant material.
- Plant only native species in the vicinity of the Glen.
- Collect seed from the existing native species.
- Trees planted as whips, inorder to give them the best chance of survival.
- The effect of invasive tree species is kept to a minimum through the control of Beech, Norwegian Maple, Laurel and Sycamore.
- Planting of nitrogen fixing, shallow rooting and colourful shrubs along Haul Road and Eastwood’s tip to improve aesthetic value and soil fertility and avoid deep rooting plants which may effect existing buried land fill.
- Removal of sick and damaged trees through selective thinning (such as elm), and removal of dangerous or overhanging trees or branches close to paths, with any wood left as deadwood for insect habitat within the woodland.
- Manage ponds to ensure removal of reeds and other plants.
- Selective thinning of maturing trees to allow light to reach ground floor and stimulate ground flora development.
- Monitor and recording of all plant and animal life.
- Use, where possible waste plant material, such as chippings and brashings within the Forest Park.