Nature flourishes during Covid lockdown
Rare sightings and uncharacteristic behaviours have been noted by staff who say the absence of visitors appeared to have emboldened wildlife, with birds and mammals spotted venturing out of their usual territories and wildflowers appearing in the un-mowed lawns.
Reports from rangers and gardeners at Mount Stewart in County Down include herons spending the day undisturbed on the lake and egrets seen at the brackish marsh where usually they would be disturbed by walkers in the early morning.
Otters have also been caught on camera making more early evening appearances around the place and badger families have been spotted emerging from their setts earlier in the daytime to forage for food or simply enjoy some playtime in daylight.
At Murlough Nature Reserve rangers have noticed an increase in Ringed Plover nests on the beach shingle, likely due to a reduction in disturbance from visitors. Last year one nest was recorded and this year at least three nests have been sighted on the beach. There has also been an increase in rabbit activity during the day and, in turn, a couple of stoats have been seen, a rare sight.
This year we also recorded the earliest sighting of an adult Marsh Fritillary ever in Northern Ireland (4th May), although this is more likely to down to the increase in their numbers and the good weather than anything linked to lockdown.
Plants too are taking advantage of the quiet, with delicate forest floor species like bluebells and wood anemones flourishing. At the Giant’s Causeway, reduced footfall on the stones has allowed the Sea Pink to flourish among the iconic basalt columns.
At Crom in Fermanagh a number of species of orchids have started to appear in the grasslands that would typically get mown on a weekly basis. The complete cessation of mowing and the lack of visitors is giving them a chance to grow.
Grazing cattle have been introduced at Divis and the Black Mountain, The Giants Causeway and Bloody Bridge at the foot of Slieve Donard to keep the scrub down and allow wildflowers to blossom. While Crom in Fermanagh welcomed Shetland ponies onto the estate for the same purpose. The grazing animals have been chosen for their docile nature but are curious of people and can be spooked by dogs, so the advice for walkers is to keep you dog on a lead at all times.
As the lockdown begins to ease, we all need to play our part to ensure that this wildlife remains undisturbed.
By sticking to paths, keeping dogs under control, not approaching wildlife and taking any litter home, we can ensure our places benefit both people and nature.