Sunday, 9 November 2014

Bringing the Jubilee Hedges back to life

The hedges around the perimeter and through the middle of the Jubilee Wood form a valuable wildlife habitat.

Before the wood was planted, the hedges marked the boundaries of the original farmer’s fields – they had been deliberately planted and, once upon a time, would have been regularly maintained. Their main purpose would have been to keep sheep and cattle contained within a specific pasture area, but hedges also provide shade and shelter – how often have you seen cattle huddling against a hedge in a storm? -  as well as providing an essential corridor for wildlife.

However, it’s been a couple of decades or more since these hedges have had any attention. The trees and shrubs that make up the hedges – mostly blackthorn and hawthorn, some ash and hazel, among others – have grown upwards (as trees will), leaving gaps at the base and losing the essential ‘hedginess’ that characterises this important landscape feature.

The traditional art of hedgelaying is a means of restoring the hedges to their former glory. It’s been practised for hundreds of years, enabling hedges to thrive and serve their original purposes without any need for barbed wire and posts.

The basic technique involves cutting nearly all the way through the base of the shrib stems and laying them over at an angle. The cut stems are then tucked tightly together and the plant regenerates new growth in the succeeding years.

As part of Carrickfergus Council’s Hedgerow Hopes project, you can help to restore the hedges of Jubilee Wood by learning this ancient craft of hedgelaying. On Saturday 15th November, between 10am & 3pm, there’ll be experts on hand in the Jubilee Wood to show you how to do it.

This is your chance to help us begin the process of bringing the Jubilee Hedges back to vibrant life, enhancing their value as a home for wrens and blackbirds, bullfinches and yellowhammers.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Turning plastic bags into apples

The government’s ‘carrier bag levy’ was started in April 2013; it meant you had to pay a 5p charge when you chose to take a shop’s plastic bag with your groceries. This has raised over £3m since then, much of which has been channelled into the NI Environment Agency’s NGO Challenge Fund, available to community and voluntary organisations for environmental projects.

Transition Town Whitehead has been one of the beneficiaries; we’ve got a grant of almost £8,500 from the fund for our ‘Edible Landscape’ project. With the ready co-operation of Carrickfergus Council, we intend to plant a sustainable and edible community orchard in the Diamond Jubilee Wood.

The grant will enable us to buy almost 200 fruit and nut trees – apples, pears, cherries, damsons, walnut, hazelnut - and a mixture of berry bushes. Within a few years, these trees will be bearing fruit, for the benefit of everyone who visits the wood and, indeed, for the bird population as well.

The planting of this community orchard will take place on the afternoon of Sunday 23rd February, starting at 1pm. We’re planning a full-on family event so, apart from the tree-planting, there’ll be guided walks, artistic endeavours and other attractions. We’ll have experts on hand to tell you the stories of the trees, show you how to forage food for free, teach you how to keep a hedge under control. We’ll help you to build your own bird-box, hang some feeders and make a leaf-print.

Our main task, however, is to plant these trees. We’ll make it easy for you by digging all the holes before you get there so that all you’ll have to do is put the tree in the hole, fill it up with compost and flatten down the soil. Then you can write your name on a label and make it ‘your’ tree.

Jim Kitchen, from Transition Town Whitehead, said, “Planting these trees this year is our investment in the future. In a few years’ time, we’ll literally be able to use the fruits of our labour by making puddings, jams and chutneys from the produce of this orchard. We hope this is the first step in what will become an edible landscape – over the next few years, we can add beehives, fruiting hedgerows and, maybe one day, a full scale community allotment scheme.

So, why don’t you come along and help us take the first steps. It’s all happening on Sunday 23rd February from 1pm to about 4pm. If it’s still raining, put on your boots and waterproofs, bring a spade if you have one, and join us for this planting party. You don’t need to know anything about planting trees; you just need a wee bit of enthusiasm.

If you need any more information, contact us at 

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

It's Tree Time

Hedge planting: Sunday 10 November, 2pm, Jubilee Wood.

November heralds the planting season for trees. It’s the perfect time to plant them; when they’re dormant, they will establish more successfully than during their active growing phase in the summer.

If you go down to the Jubilee Wood today, you’ll see 100 apple trees that weren’t there last week, planted as part of the Growing Together project.

Now, the Woodland Trust has given Transition Town Whitehead 420 little saplings of half a dozen different species suitable for making up a hedge – hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, silver birch, rowan and oak. We will use these to fill in a few of the gaps in the hedgerows of Jubilee Wood.

Hedges are vital elements in creating the rich and varied habitat we want to see in the Jubilee Wood. They provide food and shelter for many species of birds, like bullfinches and linnets, small mammals and butterflies.

Thick hedges with wide bases providing plenty of cover are best, with a mix of species that flower at different times to offer nectar over a longer period and support more insects.

The Jubilee hedgerows have been neglected for many years but now we have an opportunity to bring them back to vibrant life. This first – and extremely modest – intervention will start the ball rolling.

The next phase will be to find a few people who would be interested in learning the traditional art of hedge-laying. This valuable skill fosters the rejuvenation of existing hedgerows, improving their structure and bringing them under control. Carrickfergus Council will provide funding, under its Hedgerow Hopes scheme, for a few of us to undertake the necessary training.

But, for now, we need a team of volunteers to join us next Sunday afternoon, 10 November, at 2pm in the Jubilee Wood. The hedge we’ll be fixing is at the side of the path, between Commonwealth Avenue and the pond. Bring a spade if you can.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Who feeds Whitehead?

One of the few things that each of us really needs is food.

For some people, food is a marginal concern, merely fuel to stay alive. For others, it's an all consuming passion. Most of us are somewhere in between those two extremes. But wherever you lie on the spectrum of food interest, it's something you have to think about. We'd like to find out a bit more about how you feel about food, what you eat and where you buy it.

Transition Town Whitehead is planning some future projects on food, which may include activities to encourage more provision for growing food, such as allotments; cookery demonstrations and classes on basic cooking skills; setting up short supply systems to promote the easy availability of locally-produced food. 

We are also considering the possibility of applying for external funding. Before we do that, however, we need to find out if there is any level of support for such initiatives. We've compiled a simple survey - only 10 questions - designed to get some idea of what people in Whitehead think and to see who might be interested in helping with future food projects.

Please take a few minutes to contribute to this survey.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Free Energy-Saving Kit for Whitehead 

Thanks to Transition Town Whitehead, our Community Centre has become the latest building in town to have the benefits of solar hot water. 

Following our completion of the Big Energy Savings Challenge, we were awarded £7500 by Power NI, to be used for the benefit of our local community. We decided to fund this installation, along with new double-glazing and internal light sensors for the building - all designed to save energy and money for the Community Centre.

You may have noticed the new equipment, perfectly positioned for maximum effect on its south-facing roof, just above the main entrance. It’s a Kingspan system, designed specifically for the weather conditions we get in Northern Ireland.

Solar hot water systems work by using the sun’s radiation to heat fluid inside the vacuum tubes of the roof-mounted collector; the heated fluid gets transferred to a large insulated hot water tank. It can provide around half of the annual hot water requirements of the centre and, in the summer months, could produce all that it needs. 

There are already quite a few houses in Whitehead using these systems. They certainly represent the best application for active solar heating in our climate; in years to come they are likely to become as common in new homes as double-glazing is today.

And now for you, too

Meanwhile, Transition Town Whitehead has a supply of smaller energy-saving devices to give away to Whitehead residents. Again, thanks to Power NI, we have a range of equipment that will help you to insulate your home, save energy and reduce your heating bills. 

The following items are available now:

  • Radiator Reflectors: by fixing these sheets to the wall behind your radiators, the heat is bounced back into your room rather than heating up the wall and the street outside.
  • Door & Window Draught Excluders: these reduce the chilling effect of winter winds that leak in through loose fitting doors and windows, particularly useful for the many older properties around Whitehead.
  • Chimney Pillows: if you’ve got a fireplace that is no longer in use, these inflatable urethane balloons can be used to block the chimney to stop warm air leaving the room and preventing draughts.
  • Rundown Timer plugs: this plug will switch off an appliance after 30 minutes, perfect for irons, hair straighteners and the like, which sometimes get left on accidentally. 
  • Standby Saver Multi-Sockets: this equipment allows you to switch off your TV, DVD and the other appliances that are nowadays connected with a single remote control device.
  • Hot Water Tank Covers: insulating jackets to conserve the heat in your tank, saving energy and money.
  • Low-energy lightbulbs: a selection of bayonet and two-prong (halogen-type) bulbs.

We’ve already distributed lots of this equipment but limited numbers of all these items are still available - free to Whitehead residents. If you want any of them, please contact us at to request your chosen item. 

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Big Energy Savings Challenge Award

Six Transition Town Whitehead group members travelled to Armagh on Monday 25th June for the awards ceremony of the Big Energy Savings Challenge, hosted by Power NI, to announce the winner of the Challenge and give them £20,000.
There were six groups represented, all of whom had taken part in the Challenge over the past year by trying to reduce energy consumption in their respective communities.

We have made some excellent progress as a result of the Challenge. We used some of the initial grant to help over 200 households develop a better understanding of their energy usage and how they could reduce their bills. Over 600 people are now in contact with us and learning a bit more about energy conservation issues.
Our ‘Energy Audit’ was well received by all involved, with almost thirty households benefitting from a detailed examination of their energy use. As a result, several people have taken action to reduce their energy use and save money by installing new condensing boilers, lots of insulation and draught excluders and plenty of light bulbs. Energy monitors supplied free by Power NI have also helped householders to use their appliances to greater advantage and have saved money as a result. Two houses had completely new heating systems installed, driven by innovative new technologies, again through the support of Power NI.
The top prize in the competition was won by the small village of Annaclone but, although we missed out on the winners’ glory, we were congratulated on our efforts and came away with a creditable completion award of another £7,500 which will be used for further energy-saving initiatives in Whitehead.

Our plans include taking a stand at the Whitehead Festival Food and Folk day on 28th July and we look forward to meeting more of you there. Please come and see us; we may be able to help you reduce your fuel bills and we may be able to provide some goodies to help you on the way. We also want your input, your membership and your ideas how we can be more effective and reach more people. Whether you are single, have a family or a business we may be able to help you on the path to reduce your energy bills.

David Penpraze
28 June 2012

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Jubilee Wood Planting Photos

Around 1100 people turned out to plant the trees at Whitehead's Jubilee Wood a fortnight ago, including a few local politicians, including our local MP, Sammy Wilson. Many of them planted thirty or more saplings, so it seems reasonable to suppose that, between us, we managed to get over half of the whole woodland established in one day. Well done and thanks to everyone who came along.

With special thanks to Graham Ross, who provided all the photographs below, here are some of the participants.

There will be one further opportunity to contribute to the planting on Saturday 31st March. After that, Carrickfergus council has a couple of visits to explore the biodiversity of the area, with a Bug Hunt on 28th April and a guided birdwatching event on 6th May.