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Our work at Strangford Lough

Sheep and drowned drumlins at Strangford Lough, County Down, Northern Ireland
Sheep and drowned drumlins at Strangford Lough | © National Trust Images/Joe Cornish

Strangford Lough is a place of international importance for nature conservation, and it is one of only three designated Marine Nature Reserves in the United Kingdom. Take a look at some of the important conservation work that takes place here every day to protect this place for everyone, for ever.

Island farming on Strangford Lough

For nearly 200 years, farmers around Strangford have transported their livestock to the rich grazing land of the islands in the Lough. From animals swimming short distances, to transporting them on makeshift rafts, cows and sheep have long benefited from the varied pasture.

The grazing plays an important role in the conservation management of the land, helping to control the growth of scrub and providing excellent habitats for local wildfowl and migrating birds to thrive.

The National Trust has been operating a livestock barge, or cot, on the Lough since 2000 – firstly, the Penelope (until 2012), and then the Cuan Brig (from 2014). The vessel has allowed for the continued farming of the islands of the Lough. Without it, there would have been land abandonment and the afforestation of the islands, either through planned planting or natural succession.

Island farming is just one example of the National Trust’s ambition to use methods of conservation farming to ensure the local environment and wildlife are allowed to flourish, while also working in harmony with farmers.

Light-bellied Brent Geese resting on Strangford Lough, County Down, Northern Ireland
Light-bellied Brent Geese resting on Strangford Lough | © Philip Magowan

Brent Geese at Strangford Lough

Each autumn upwards of 75% of the entire East Canadian High Arctic population of light-bellied Brent geese arrive in Strangford Lough at the end of a 2000-mile migration. These birds then exploit the vast eel grass beds to refuel and recuperate before the majority move on to other parts of Ireland.

The role that the National Trust plays in the management of Strangford Lough is crucial to the survival of these birds. Through careful habitat management we maintain the mud flats and protect the eel grass population from invasive species such as spartina (cord grass). If the eel grass can thrive, then the birds will continue to return and refuel on this high protein food source. We also raise public awareness of the threat to these birds from disturbance, particularly from dogs off lead.

The Trust also plays a key role in the management of the wildfowling activity in the area. We work closely with the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and the four local wildfowling clubs on a range of conservation projects. We have created refuges for the birds, issue permits and patrol the shoreline during the shooting period (Sept – Jan) to ensure wildfowlers adhere to the rules of the scheme on Strangford Lough.

A flock of brent geese flying low over Strangford Lough, County Down


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