Extending along much of the eastern coast of County Down, Strangford Lough, one of Ireland's largest lakes, is long and shallow.
Much of the waterway is greatly affected by the tidal cycles, with large exposed sand flats that can be seen in low tide and then flood with water when the high tide comes in.
The southern entrance to the sea is called the Narrows, and the strong tidal currents are concentrated there. Two low and two high tides in every 24 hour period flow over the large rock pinnacles on its floor, creating turbulence and whirlpools.
The rest of Strangford Lough represents a diverse collection of seaside environments, from salt marshes to sandy and rocky coastlines and many islands that dot the region of the western shore. The water is generally salt, except for the areas where the Comber and Quoile Rivers enter the Lough. The high populations of algae, insects and plants in the salt marshes make the lough an ideal winter and breeding habitat for a wide variety of birds.
The changeable waters ensure a constant supply of food and mild environment for fish and marine animals as well. Many environmental studies have confirmed the importance of Lough Strangford as a centre for conservation efforts and research.
Its original name was Loch Cuan, meaning harbour lough or haven. Mesolithic settlers migrated here 9000 years ago, drawn to the mild climate and plentiful food supply. The Vikings arrived and named the lough Strang-fijord, which evolved into the current name. Other early occupants lived at Nendrum, an important monastery on Strangford Lough in the early Christian period. Archaeological finds in the area include wooden and stone fish traps from the northern coast. In the 18th and 19th century, the area was known for its seaweed harvesting. Stone structures used in this pursuit are still visible on the shores, which are also dotted with the ruins of abbeys and tower houses.
Archaeological finds in the area include wooden and stone fish traps from the northern coast. In the 18th and 19th century, the area was known for its seaweed harvesting. Stone structures used in this pursuit are still visible on the shores, which are also dotted with the ruins of abbeys and tower houses.
Strangord Lough Today
Strangford Lough is famous today for its complex and balanced web of wildlife and the ecological conditions that support it. Over 2000 species of plant and animal live undersea alone, including kelp, seaweed, sea anemones, corals, curled octopus, mussels, scallops, plankton, and a variety of fish such as herring, mackerel and cod, as well as porpoises and occasional small whales.
The diverse shoreline, made up from sand, mud, gravel and boulders provides ideal habitats for plants, birds, seals and otters. Beds of dead seaweed that accumulate along the shorelines breed sandhoppers and flies that serve as food for the native birds, badgers and rats.
A popular winter haven for geese and other birds, about 70,000 birds come to Strangford Lough each season. Some use it as a resting point on their migratory journey, others spend their entire winter season here. Turnstones, dunlins and godwits come from the arctic, and Brent Geese come from Canada to feed on the native eel grass along with the flocks of curlew, redshank, and oystercatcher that occupy the salt marshes and islands.
In spring, the islands become a breeding ground, with several types of terns frequenting the area.
Castle Espie Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre on Strangford Lough near Comber provides an opportunity for visitors to experience the natural beauty of the region through bird watching and other educational activities. There are woodland walks and waterfowl gardens filled with ducks, swans and geese. There is also a nature centre and art gallery located on the property.