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Author: Maureen Graham
Cookstown Wildlife Trust began in 1960 with Sir Robert Staples as Chairperson and was known as ‘ The Cookstown and District Game and Wildfowl Preservation Society’ concerned with rearing of game and destruction of vermin – different from today’s objectives! The new club met at the Bacon factory. Included in the membership were Dr Small, Harry Dolling, Vernon Wright, George Crooks, Tom Coulter and Jim Warnock. Soon it became affiliated with Ulster branch of “The Game and Wildfowl Preservation Society”. Subscription was 10 shillings and a committee was elected. Speakers were selected on knowledge of shooting, pheasant rearing and pest control. In early days of the club, grey crow shoots were popular and sometimes prizes were awarded to the member with the most kills! In 1961 the club moved to ‘The Central Inn’, Cookstown and a proposal to operate a pheasant breeding pen at Lissan House was put forward. As the club also had its eye on a brand new American shotgun it was suggested that a ballot be arranged. Tickets at 6d each were sold, although whether or not they ever managed to buy the shotgun remains a mystery!. By 1962 300 pheasant eggs were bought to be hatched and reared by the club’s members and friends. Unfortunately membership fell. A topic of concern was the purchasing shooting rights around L. Neagh, which led to ill feeling within the group. To alleviate this, a ‘social’ sub-committee under chairmanship of Harry Dolling was created and outings were popular, Shoots were now rare,and pheasant eggs no longer bought. Poachers destroyed young birds before organised shoots could begin. The rearing of birds was costly so the question of economic viability was raised. By 1966 a member from the social committee called for outings to be held on Sundays and closed to females! The sub-committee rejected the proposal, stating that ladies were always welcome! At a poorly attended A.G.M, Sir Robert,in declining health, declared his intention to resign from the chair. The small attendance debated the future of the club. Another A.G.M was arranged to discuss prospects but it looked like the days of the Cookstown and District Game and Wildfowl Preservation Society were over.
At the A.G.M on 19th December 1966, Chairman, Sir Robert Staples resigned. Mr Dolling requested that his post of Vice-Chairman and Secretary be given to ‘a younger man’. The club debated prospects. Some members still wanted the club involved with game shooting and pest culling,but most felt this was not the path the club should follow. Eventually Mr S. Hamilton declared that the society would continue and the club was saved again. Mr Henderson became Chairman and Mr Hamilton Vice Chairman. Sir Robert Staples was made President. The next meeting at Wellbrook saw increased numbers. Mr McMillan, a member of the RSPB, was co-operated on to the committee - an indication of the nature of the Trust changing. In the previous year £96 was spent on dining and £5 on food for pheasants! Mr Dolling stated that the society was’ not out of pocket’.It was agreed to hold a Dinner Dance at Killymoon Golf Club and that Daintifyt be approached to donate a prize. Mr Mc Millan thought something beneficial could be done for the wildfowl of the area. Mr Hamilton and Mr Henderson offered to set aside areas at Tullylagan Manor and Wellbrook to hold duck and game. The possibility of pens at Drum Manor was mentioned. At the following meeting, Mr Hamilton outlined plans for the development of Drum (acquired from Archibald Close by Forest Service in 1964).
The club was asked to take an interest in its future and plans were discussed, as follows: Introduction of birds, butterflies and moths and provision of safe habitats by providing nest boxes, shrubs and flowering plants, sites and pens for wildfowl established. Clearing rubbish-a major objective, and creation of ponds for waterfowl. Mr Hamilton mentioned publicity and suggested visiting schools to enlist volunteers for the project. It was decided that Dr Fenton and Miss Kertland from Q.U.B. would survey flora at Drum and Mr Rutherford would draw charts and maps. Pupils from Cookstown S. S. woodwork classes, and Boys Brigade were to be invited to make nest boxes and pens. Mr Getty and Mr Thompson offered to donate birds (declined because of predators). The Chairman commented on the changing character of the club and suggested that the title be altered. Members thought that the club should develop as a Field Naturalist’s Club and after discussion ,it was proposed to adopt Mr James’s idea that the society be known as Cookstown Wildlife Trust . We were born at last..
Ladies and disputes
The first meeting with the new title was in Blackley’s Café on Thursday 30th January, 1969. Perhaps the new title appealed to ladies as suddenly they started to enrol including Miss Leeper, Miss Grey, Miss Miller, Miss Spence and Miss Staples. New objectives and rules were shaped. Membership fees stayed at 10s for adults, and 2/6 for children, Mr. McMillan said policy should be to interest young people in wildlife and conservation, he put forward the idea of an Education Officer. It was hoped Mr. Rutherford would undertake this role! and that club would continue its association with Drum Manor by rearing ducks for release at Drum. Miss Staples was appointed Press Officer. By April 1970 there were 31 members and the number of ladies had increased, with Mrs. S. McIvor, Mrs. Donaghy, Mrs. Scott and Miss Bell joining.
Author: Maureen Graham
Cookstown Wildlife Trust history is like the history of most clubs and societies . Few are straightforward-human nature being what it is. CWLT was prominent in the establishment of Drum Manor and provided ideas for ponds and gardens . The Trust emerges from "The Cookstown and District Game and Wildfowl Preservation Society" .
The Trust was involved with lakes at Drum Manor. Mallard ducks present in 2018 may well be descendants of those placed there by Cookstown Wildlife Trust circa 1970 . In 1972 C.W.T. purchased water testing kits to enable schoolchildren to carry out pollution testing. Mr. Jones(Chairman) thought it a good idea to encourage children by putting on exhibitions of local flora and fauna and suggested Drum Manor as a venue. By 1973 membership was 50 and speakers came largely from Q.U.B. Outings were well supported-but meetings in Glenavon Hotel were expensive. In 1978 Ian McNeill suggested approaching Mr. Young about a room in C.H.S.and in 1980 the club held its first meeting in Coolnafranky House.
Into the 90’s membership was around 30, programmes included talks on butterflies, whooper swans, organic farming, trees, hedgerows, deer and Ulster weather. Trips were popular. The main worry was membership. Membership numbers fell, fees rose and the education programme proved disappointing.
In 2005, Robert Stewart stepped down as Chairman after twenty years as a club stalwart. Incoming Chair-person Madeline Dargan encouraged new members and instituted a column in a local paper with a nature crossword competition and a prize for the winner. Thanks to Madeleine, we obtained a Council grant enabling the purchase of a projector screen and stand. C.W.T. moved meetings to Loughry College. Speakers continued to be interesting and outings well supported, especially Ian McNeill’s annual tour. Membership remained above 30.
Our first website was set up by Ronnie Irvine, a Facebook site has also started, surveys have been completed at Lissan House and attendance at Ripple Ballinderry Project meetings has taken place. Our (2019-) Chairman is Ernie Hunter who succeeded Michael Mullan, Michael and Ernie with an enthusiastic committee have increased attendance and involvement in recent years