Heritage hot spots: History, nature, art, environment

Sat, Oct 6, 2012, 01:00

Wildfowl Wetlands Trust

What is it?The Wildfowl Wetlands Trust’s Castle Espie Wetlands Centre, on the shores of Strangford Lough in Co Down, is a site of ecological significance. You can watch a great variety of birds and animals from indoor and outdoor observation points.

Why visit?Castle Espie is home to Ireland’s largest collection of native and exotic waterbirds. It has a particularly exciting variety of habitats that have recently been restored for species management. These include the wide estuary and tidal lagoon, woodlands, salt marshes, reed beds and limestone grassland. There are banks where kingfishers reside, islands for terns, dens for otters, boxes for bats, and pools for dragonflies and damselflies, as well as roosts for wading birds. Visitors can avail of telescopes to view Strangford Lough from the Lime Kiln observatory. The visitor centre has a wildlife garden and energy systems fuelled by sun and wind. Children can use the natural play area in the woods, as well as the indoor soft play area and the climbing wall.

Why now?Ninety per cent of the world’s population of light- bellied brent geese has arrived in the past few weeks from Arctic Canada to overwinter on the lough. The last sighting estimated their numbers at 26,000. Members of the Castle Espie Bird Watch Club will be sharing their expert knowledge in the brent hide from tomorrow, and on October 14th and 21st, from 2pm to 4pm. Also, tomorrow at 2pm, as part of National Trails Day, there is a free hour-long guided walking tour of the reserve. Anyone on the tour has free access to the centre for the day. Advance booking is advised; email maeve.curran@wwt.org.uk. (And see nationaltrailsday.iefor the programme of heritage, woodland and biodiversity walks, canoe and mountain-bike trails, cycles and horse rides tomorrow in all counties.) From October 25th to November 2nd, Castle Espie will host haunted tours, arts and crafts, storytelling and ghoulish activities as part of the Spellbound Festival.

How do I get there?The centre is about 20km southeast of Belfast and 4km from Comber, Co Down, on the Ballydrain Road (off the A22 from Comber to Killyleagh). Access to the visitor centre, cafe and gallery is free. Admission to the reserve costs £6.27 for adults; £4.77 for students, over-65s and unemployed; and £3.09 for children aged four-16; under-fours are free; 048-91874146, wwt.org.uk/castleespie.

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