This week, our volunteer group went to Darragh Island. This National Trust owned island is on the western side of Strangford Lough, not far from Killinchy and Whiterock.
Darragh is a great example of how the correct management can produce species-rich grassland with superb displays of wild flowers and insects. The National Trust uses a purpose-built barge to bring cattle out to this island every year. This ensures that the grass is grazed to the optimum height to maximize biodiversity.
In the summer, the island is carpeted in colourful meadows – a rare sight in the countryside these days.
But the cattle still need our help to reduce the amount of unpalatable bramble, gorse and blackthorn that have taken over several areas of the island. Armed with saws and loppers, we soon left a trail of destruction in our wake.
With the scrubby species gone, the grassland should flourish.
Yet again, we managed to find the perfect setting for lunch. The sun was shimmering over the water and there were fantastic views across the lough. We sheltered out of the wind behind an old Kelp House.
This simple stone building was built at the end of the 18th century and similar structures would have been common on many of Strangford’s islands. Back then, many local farmers supplemented their income by harvesting seaweed from the shore and burning it in stone kilns. The residue that was left after burning (called Kelp) was an important source of sodium carbonate, which was used in industrial processes such as the production of glass and soap. It was also used as a bleaching agent in the linen industry. The Kelp was stored in the Kelp Houses until it was sold and transported to the various factories and mills.
The remains of a Kelp Kiln is found just a short distance from the Kelp House.
There are other Kelp Kilns on the National Trust islands of Taggart, Chapel and South Islands. Interestingly, they are all built to slightly different designs. You are welcome to visit any of these islands so why not go and explore and see if you can find them for yourself?