A day in the life of a ranger

Flock of birds on Strangford Lough

Counting seals and cutting back scrub are all in a winter day's work for Will Hawkins, our ranger at Strangford Lough.

Describe an average winter day for a ranger

Every day is different – from working on the islands in the lough to scrub management.

Strangford Lough, near Belfast, is the biggest sea lough in the British Isles and 80,000 birds flock here in the winter.

Over autumn and winter, we spend a lot of time counting seals. At low tide the grey and common seals pull themselves out of the water, so it’s easy to count them using binoculars. This year we counted a record 116 grey seal pups on the islands and shoreline.

A common seal
A common seal at Strangford Lough

Why is winter the best time to see Strangford Lough? 

We get a lot of birds here in the winter. The most famous is the pale-bellied brent goose. 
 
Ninety percent of the world’s population of Light-bellied brent geese spend their winters at Strangford Lough. They make a 2,900-mile journey from Canada for the warmer winter.
 

What's the worst thing about winter?

Other than the rain? We spend a lot of time cutting back scrub. It’s a hard, monotonous job, and not very exciting - but it’s got to be done. 
 
The low lying bushes and brambles can provide a good habitat for birds, but they also swallow up fields and crowd out summer wildflowers like Dog violet, Yarrow and Bird’s-foot-trefoil.
 
We cut the scrub back with chainsaws, piling up branches onto smoky bonfires. Cattle will graze the site to get the grass the right height. 
 

Rangers at Strangford Lough
Rangers burning gorse at Strangford Lough

What’s the best thing about being a ranger?

We’ve always got a beautiful view. The drive into the office takes me alongside Strangford Lough. In the last few weeks I’ve seen Brent geese, Dunlin and Knot silhouetted against the crisp morning sun. 

Before becoming a ranger I was a professional musician – so as I'm driving around the area, I'm always listening to a jazz or blues soundtrack in our 4x4.  

A misty morning on Strangford lough

Watch wildlife at Strangford

Winter is the perfect time to see rare Brent Geese at Strangford. The geese arrive arrive at the Northern Irish lough from Canada.