Friday 18 August 2017 09:07:02 PM

Lecale Conservation Wins Top Environmental Award
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A local  environmental group, Lecale Conservation, was one of nine community groups in Northern Ireland to be presented recently with a Water Environment Community Award by new Environment Minister Alex Attwood.

For their inspiring environmental improvement projects which include providing new nesting opportunities for terns, a type of migratory seabird, at Strand Lough, between Killough and Ardglass, the group also receives an award of £1,000.

Accepting the award Doris Noe, Chairman of Lecale Conservation, explained how people feel inspired by birds and the wonder of migration. She said, “With round trips in excess of 20,000 miles between summer and winter, theirs is one of the most amazing in the animal kingdom. These elegant birds, known as ‘sea swallows’, spend the summer on our coast.

RSPB Schools' Education Project Officer Karen Sheil with P7 pupils at St Nicholas' Primary School in Ardglass. Pictured (l-r) are Ethan Kelly, Megan Ross, Niamh Murray, Caolan Fitzsimons, Georgia O'Connor and Eagras Zabinas.

“They dive for fish in Dundrum Bay but must fly 10 miles back to nests on islands in Strangford Lough free of rats and other predators that would otherwise eat their chicks. It is hoped that the installation of a tern raft in Strand Lough will reduce daily journeys and so improve breeding success. “

Doris explained how launching the tern raft emphasises the connection between people, water and biodiversity, locally and globally. She added, “Many of Northern Ireland’s terns winter off the coast of Africa returning in spring.

“This year during May, school workshops took place in conjunction with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Activities included a tern migration game which introduces children to a global dimension in caring for our environment.

“The tern raft project, one of a number of the group’s activities aimed at highlighting the importance of a healthy environment, will act as a catalyst to focus attention on the urgent need to protect and enhance important wetlands in South Down.

“Lecale Conservation is the lead organiser, working with Down District Council’s biodiversity officer, local schools, landowners and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) to nurture a sense of place and environmental awareness of Strand Lough, a special wetland.”

The tern which can now nest more safely on Strand Lough thanks to an award winning project by Lecale Conservation.

Commenting on the recently delivered seabird workshops to two primary schools in Ardglass and Killough, Karen Sheil, RSPB Education Development Officer, said, “I have been taking the message of sustainable seas out to schools and community groups across Northern Ireland for almost three years. Our Marine Education aims to provide innovative and fun ways for young people to experience Northern Ireland’s fantastic marine environment helping them appreciate the importance of having laws to protect it.

“We are grateful to the Crown Estates’ Marine Community Fund for supporting our marine education programme and to NIEA for supporting all of our education programmes.”

Lecale Conservation is a campaign launched four years ago in Downpatrick by people concerned for the well-being of Lecale’s natural and built heritage. The group meets every two weeks on a Tuesday at The Mill, Ballygugan.

Recent and ongoing issues include campaigning for the preservation of the Lecale Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB); addressing threats to the special biodiversity of  Sheepland Coast, between Ardglass and Ballyhornan; tackling  disturbance to Minerstown’s vulnerable colony of Harbour Seals;  water quality of the Quoile river; and organising beach clean-ups.

Lecale Conservation’s annual fund-raising event will take place in Downpatrick on Tuesday 21st June at 8pm at The Mill at Ballydugan with a night of music and story-telling to celebrate the Summer Solstice.