Lough Neagh is a haven for wildlife with many viewpoints around the shoreline. It attracts bird watchers from all over the world due to the number and variety of birds which winter and summer in its shores. Over 100,000 wintering wildfowl fly in from places as far away as Canada, Iceland, Greenland and the Russian Arctic. One of the most majestic of these birds is the whooper swan which flies in from Iceland to feed over the winter. The eels in Lough Neagh travel over 4000 miles to breed in the Sargasso Sea and the young fry return by drifting on the Gulf Stream back over the Atlantic and enter the River Bann as young elvers.
The Lough also has its own unique species of fish, such as the Dollaghan which is a huge Trout and Pollan which is a small freshwater type of Herring.The biodiversity of Lough Neagh can be viewed and enjoyed within any of the areas popular environmental sites. As a result of its rich biodiversity and ranger of priority species/habitats the LNW has a range of nature conservation designations including Ramsar Site, Special Protection Area (SPA), Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI), National Nature Reserves (NNR) and (in due course). Its worth remembering when you are in the Lough Neagh Wetlands you are already in a designated landscape of international importance. LWN designations are outlined in more detail below.
Ramsar Sites are wetland sites of international importance designated under the Wetlands Convention (also known as the Ramsar Convention). An area overlapping but somewhat larger than the Lough Neagh, Lough Beg and Portmore Lough ASSI/SPA has been designated as a Ramsar Site.
Special Protection Areas are sites designated under the Birds Directive that have internationally important populations of over-wintering, migrating or breeding birds. SPA designation brings stronger protection measures to ASSIs. Lough Neagh, Lough Beg and Portmore Lough are all part of an SPA.
Special Areas of Conservation are sites designated under the Habitats Directive for one or more of the habitats and species listed in the Directive. As for SPAs, SAC designation brings stronger protection measures to ASSIs. Montiaghs Moss, Farr’s Bay and Rea’s Wood are all candidate SACs.
Areas of Special Scientific Interest are examples of Northern Ireland’s best sites in terms of wildlife habitats such as lakes, peat bogs or wet grasslands or because they have rare species. As most ASSIs are in private ownership EHS works in partnership with farmers and landowners to protect them from damaging activities. ASSIs in the LNW include Lough Neagh, Lough Beg, Portmore Lough, Culnafay, Toome, Peatlands Park and Montiaghs Moss.
National Nature Reserves are nationally important wildlife sites managed specifically to conserve the natural heritage and, where possible, provide opportunities for public access, education and research. There are NNRs at Lough Beg, Randalstown Forest, Rea’s Wood, Oxford Island, Lough Neagh Islands, Mullenakill and Annagarriff Woods and Farr’s Bay.
Local Nature Reserves or LNRs for short, are areas that have been specially set aside for biodiversity and where people can enjoy wildlife. LNRs do not have to contain rare or threatened species or habitats – they are usually areas with good wildlife content which are accessible to people and provide them with opportunities to be close to wildlife. Hence, many LNRs lie within, or close to, urban areas. Local Nature Reserves are very much what their name suggests – sites where the principle objective is nature conservation, but where local people can have easy access and be involved, for example, in practical conservation measures taken on site.