Belfast Lough reopened and renamed

Black-tailed Godwit is present at the new Belfast WOW RSPB reserve in important numbers. Photo: Steve Young (www.birdsonfilm.com).
Black-tailed Godwit is present at the new Belfast WOW RSPB reserve in important numbers. Photo: Steve Young (www.birdsonfilm.com).
The RSPB’s Belfast Lough nature reserve has undergone an extensive refurbishment and has been re-named Belfast’s Window on Wildlife (aka WOW).

The renaming of the reserve, in the heart of the Harbour Estate of the city of Belfast, Co Antrim, may raise quite a few eyebrows, and it remains to be seen whether the name will remain effective in the long run. Visitors will be able to see for themselves in just over a week's time, when the reserve's doors open at 10 am on Wednesday, 18 February.

Belfast WOW RSPB, as the reserve will be known, is a product of the city's industrial past. When material dredged from the lough was pumped onto the site to allow larger vessels to dock, the area was quickly reclaimed by nature. Now, more than 100 species of bird have been recorded at the site.

Major construction work has seen the existing visitor centre extended to give better views of the wildlife on the reserve, with state-of-the art interpretation to really bring the visitor facilities to life. From the visitor centre, panoramic views of the lagoon can be seen, and there will be binoculars and telescopes available, along with friendly RSPB staff and volunteers on hand to help. The refurbishment includes a new community room, which is available for hire, and an events calendar that is already full.

A Sand Martin bank and swift tower have been constructed, and these will both be installed by the spring. Two new hides have been constructed from shipping containers to tie in with their surroundings, and these will offer different perspectives on the reserve and feature a members-only area, suitable for photography.

There’s lots to see at the reserve, no matter when you visit. In summer, artificial islands give Common and Arctic Terns a safe place to breed, and the reserve comes to life with the sound of many warblers arriving from Africa. In winter, the water is full of wildfowl like Eurasian Wigeon and Eurasian Teal, while Black-tailed Godwits can be seen digging in the mud for food. Resident Polish konik ponies also graze on the reserve, acting as ‘living lawnmowers’ and creating ideal conditions for ground-nesting birds like Northern Lapwing.

Belfast WOW RSPB will be open daily (except Tuesday), from 10 am to 5 pm (February-October) or 10 am to 4 pm (November-January).

The reserve is located within Belfast Harbour Estate on Airport Road West. Two main entrances lead into the estate and are signposted along the A2 (Belfast to Holywood dual carriageway). From the Dee Street entrance, the reserve car park is two miles on the left. From the Holywood Exchange entrance, it is one mile on the right. The number 26/26A bus service from City Hall to Holywood Exchange runs past the reserve on weekdays, but there is no service at weekends.
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