Last week, we were very fortunate to be joined by 13 visitors on a National Trust Working Holiday. Most of these individuals had never been to Northern Ireland before, so Strangford Lough was certainly a good place to explore first. Staying at the Castleward Bunkhouse, the group joined the Strangford Lough Wardens and regular volunteers each day, to help with a variety of practical conservation projects around the lough.
The first day, saw us collect all the litter from the beach between Portaferry and Ballyhenry Island.
This can be one of the worst stretches of shore within the lough. We managed to collect about 40 bags of litter, in addition to the odd car tyre, wooden pallet and plastic drums.
We returned to the Portaferry area in day two to continue our work in Nugent’s Wood (see the article in this blog, published on 7/2/13).
The group quickly finished the gathering up of the remainder of the cut rhododendron and carried out some improvements to the path.
But working holidays are not all about hard work. We made sure to take the next day off to celebrate St Patrick’s Day and enjoy some of the local culture and hospitality in Strangford’s pubs.
Our next working day started early to take advantage of a low tide so we could walk out to Chapel Island, near Greyabbey. Chapel Island is an Area of Special Scientific Interest and its grassland has been classified as a species-rich habitat. To maintain this, it requires regular grazing to stop the grass from getting too long and rank and preventing the wild flowers from growing. In the past, some sheep have escaped and wandered off across the sand at low tide, so our task for the day was to repair the fences.
Getting fencing materials to an island isn’t always easy. But when you have so many enthusiastic volunteers equipped with wellingtons and determination, it made the problem seem like a walk in the park.
The following day we took the National Trust boat to Darragh Island (see the article posted on 16/2/13). This was another cold and windy day but everyone wrapped up warm and got stuck in.
Before long, we had a number of roaring fires going and had gathered up all of the remaining blackthorn and gorse that we had cut during February. Another good job done and another site which will greatly benefit from the reduced amount of scrub.
On the final day of the holiday, we went to Ballyquintin farm, at the southern tip of the Ards Peninsula. There were a whole lot of different jobs to be done here, including a bit more burning, some tree planting, the removal of a couple of old stiles, some path levelling, repairing an old dry-stone wall and the painting of some barn doors.
We finished the day with a walk round the farm and visited the Konik ponies (see article published on 26/01/2013 for more about the Konik Ponies).
Although the weather was unseasonably cold and windy this week, the participants on the working holiday seemed determined to enjoy themselves. Everybody worked really hard but there was also plenty of laughs and good banter.
The Strangford Lough team are very grateful to them all, for their enthusiasm and good company and would like to thank them for everything they achieved. We hope they enjoyed their time at Strangford Lough and would welcome seeing them again if they are ever visiting Northern Ireland in the future.
If anyone is interested in National Trust Working Holidays, you can find out more at: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/holidays/working-holidays/