Northern Ireland

Look out for the wildlife asks the National Trust

Crom welcomed Shetland ponies onto the estate
Crom welcomed Shetland ponies onto the estate

WILDLIFE have "colonised" famous monuments at National Trust gardens and parks in the absence of their usual visitors due to the coronovirus lockdown.

As the conservation charity reopens many of its sites following the easing of restrictions, it has appealed to everyone to take "extra care" not to disturb the birds, animals and plants which have reclaimed estates.

Trust staff have reported rare sightings and uncharacteristic behaviours from "emboldened wildlife" as creatures venture out of their usual territories and wildflowers appear in un-mowed lawns.

Rangers and gardeners at Mount Stewart in Co Down have reported herons spending the day undisturbed on the lake and egrets at the brackish marsh where they were usually disturbed by walkers in the early morning.

Otters have also been caught on camera making more early evening appearances and usually nocturnal badger families seen emerging from setts earlier in the daytime to forage for food and enjoy daylight playtime.

At Murlough Nature Reserve there has been an increase in Ringed Plover nests on the beach shingle and rabbit activity during the day, with even a rare sighting of some stoats.

Delicate forest floor species like bluebells and wood anemones have been flourishing and at the Giant's Causeway reduced footfall on the stones has allowed the Sea Pink to flourish among the iconic basalt columns.

At Crom in Fermanagh a number of species of orchids have started to appear in the grasslands which is usually mown every week.

Ben McCarthy, head of nature conservation at the National Trust, said wildlife have been "enjoying the breathing space".

"With less traffic and fewer people, we've heard deafening levels of birdsong and seen famous monuments and formal gardens colonised by wildlife."

With only essential work happening, livestock have been used to keep meadows, lawns and parkland tidy, with grazing cattle have been introduced at Divis and the Black Mountain, the Giants Causeway and Bloody Bridge at the foot of Slieve Donard to keep the scrub down and allow wildflowers to blossom.

Crom welcomed Shetland ponies onto the estate for the same purpose. The docile animals are curious of people and can be spooked by dogs and walkers have been advised to keep pets on a lead at all times.

"We would ask everyone who visits to be especially mindful of the wildlife around them," Mr McCarthy said.

"Over the last few weeks we've seen endangered birds, as well as more common wildlife, expanding their territories and nesting in places they wouldn't normally.

"As the lockdown begins to be eased, we all need to play our part to ensure that this wildlife remains undisturbed.

"By sticking to paths, keeping dogs under control, not approaching wildlife and taking any litter home, we can ensure our places benefit both people and nature."