Walking in a wet winter wonderland
The area, which encompasses some 5% of the remaining wet grasslands in Northern Ireland, is one of the richest landscapes for wildlife we have. Recognised as a unique place for both flora and fauna, Lough Beg plays host to some of the country’s most threatened wildlife year round.
In the summer curlew and redshank nest here, while during the winter months, this wetland landscape is home to the magnificent whooper swans and other migrant waterfowl that seek refuge in the Lough Neagh basin. The water meadows sustain incredibly rare plants including the pennyroyal and Irish Lady's Tresses.
The RSPB, with funding from Biffaward, has developed a detailed conservation plan for the area. The Lough Beg Management Plan covers everything from grazing density to rush management to water levels. It is one of the largest wet grassland restoration programmes in Northern Ireland, centering on a 500-hectare area of habitat along the west and south shores of the Lough. This landscape supports breeding redshanks, snipe and curlews and, in the future it is hoped...lapwing.
The most important players in this strategy are the local landowners and community. Over the past few years, the RSPB has built up good working relationships with Lough Beg farmers who are learning to manage water levels to benefit both their farms and the wildlife they support. These farmers are discovering that it is possible to achieve food production on high quality wetlands. What’s more, these restored wetlands filter and retain water, helping to manage flood risk and store carbon.
The ultimate goal is the conservation of a unique landscape and ecosystem that will be treasured by all who live, work, or enjoy spending time in this special environment.
Farmers here are particularly supportive. Many have grazed this land for generations and thus feel extremely protective of it. The RSPB work adds a new dimension and focus to measures farmers were already taking to ensure their land management is in harmony with nature. And farmers have the assurance that economically viable agriculture and wildlife can coexist and even thrive.
The importance of this landscape is highlighted by Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney’s Foreword to the Management Plan in which he sums up the aim of the programme - to make “that country of the mind a reality once again”. The memory of the “dream land that was once a real land, a shore at evening, quiet water, wind in the grass, calls of birds”. All this is possible for Lough Beg, with the implementation of the Management Plan, something to pass on with pride to future generations.
Biffaward’s backing is also a key factor for success, exemplifying their support for projects which improve access to the countryside and foster greater awareness of the natural environment.
At Lough Beg it’s all about the balance between farming and habitat and Futurescapes will show how to get it exactly right.
To obtain a copy of the Management Plan, contact the RSPB on 02890491547.