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18 June 2014
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Waterways | Strangford Lough

Rich marine and bird life

Cormorant c/o RSPB

Folklore has it that there are 365 islands in Strangford Lough, one for every day of the year. The Lough is huge - almost like an inland sea. It's the largest sea Lough in the British Isles, covering 150 sq km. It is also a great place for marine life.

Cormorant haven. Photo: RSPB

Three hundred and fifty million litres of water flow in and out of Strangford Lough twice daily so it's perhaps no surprise that it's one of the richest marine environments in Europe.

Two thousand marine animals and plants have been recorded in and around the Lough - that's almost three quarters of all the species recorded around the Northern Ireland coast.

Because Strangford Lough is so big, there's a wealth of wildlife from seals and basking sharks to tens of thousands of birds that make remarkable journeys halfway across the world to get here.

This beautiful, wild and rugged landscape is just 13 miles from Belfast city centre!

Bird watchers' paradise

LoughThe islands are drowned drumlins or small hills - a legacy of the Ice Age... some are low lying, others are rounded like hogs backs.

Cormorants are one of the birds at the top of the food chain feeding on fish that are attracted here in their tens of thousands by the plankton in the water.

You are likely to see Oystercatchers, Shelduck, Terns and Ringed Plovers.

In the Autumn Strangford Lough comes into its own. Up to 20,000 light bellied Brent Geese - that's three quarters of the world population - arrive in Northern Ireland after making a remarkable 3,000 mile journey from the Arctic Circle.

During the UK summer, these geese are in the Canadian tundra rearing chicks and bulking up for one of the toughest of all bird journeys.

It's one that takes them via the ice caps of Greenland and the frozen wastes of Iceland before literally dropping out of the skies on the point of exhaustion in late August and September.

Shelduck c/o RSPBNature watching

One of the highlights of any trip to Strangford Lough is Bird Island which visitors can see from a boat trip.

Four hundred pairs of Cormorants live on the island, making this one of the biggest communities of these birds in Europe.

Although you can't land on the island, the boat trip affords good views of the birds feeding and raising their young.

Strangford Lough has recently been declared a Marine Nature Reserve by the Department of the Environment.

The Lough has a massive tidal flow, enabling it to carry vast quantities of plankton and other nutrients, providing food for a huge range of marine creatures.

Strangford Lough has more than 2,000 species of marine animals, making it one of Europe's most diverse marine life resources.

Strong tidal currents in the Narrows expose bedrock covered by filter feeding animals such as the elephant's ear sponge, hydroids, sea-anemones, sea-squirts and soft corals. Dense forests of kelp seaweed also grow here.

Strangford Lough is also home to the largest colony of Common Seals in Ireland as well as Pilot Whales and Porpoises.

Vetch flowers c/o English NatureFlower carpet

The southern tip of Strangford Lough is blessed with fantastic displays of flowers during the Spring especially at Killard Point Nature Reserve.

Highlights of this amazing natural flower show are the bright yellow Kidney Vetch and the unusual looking Frog Orchid, which resembles the amphibian after which it is named.



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