Protected area type: Ramsar Sites
Feature type: 
  • Habitat
  • Species
  • Marine
County: 
  • Down
Council: Ards and North Down
Guidance and literature: Strangford Lough RAMSAR

Situated on the east coast of Northern Ireland, Strangford Lough is a large shallow sea lough with an indented shoreline and a wide variety of marine and intertidal habitats. The west shore has numerous islands typical of flooded drumlin topography. The Lough contains extensive areas of mudflat and also sandflats, saltmarsh and rocky coastline and is Northern Ireland's most important coastal site for wintering waterfowl. It is also an important site for breeding terns.

The landward boundary of the Ramsar site is entirely coincident with the landward boundary of the following five Areas of Special Scientific Interest:
Strangford Lough Part 1, Strangford Lough Part 2, Strangford Lough Part 3, Killard and Ballyquintin Point. All lands, intertidal, subtidal areas and freshwater habitats, along with the Quoile Pondage Nature Reserve are included in the Ramsar site.

The site further qualifies under Criterion 1 by virtue of supporting a variety of important wetland features. Areas of fringing saltmarsh and freshwater habitats support a diversity of wetland plant species. Strangford Lough supports one of the most extensive saltmarsh areas in Northern Ireland. The diversity of the marine habitats is internationally renowned.

The many different intertidal habitats are identifiable on the basis of substrate type and wave exposure with each one supporting a characteristic range of species. No comparable area in Northern Ireland has so wide a range of either habitats or species. A considerable number of species exhibit the 'emergence phenomenon', where typically sublittoral organisms are found living on the shore.

Strangford also qualifies under Criterion 2a by supporting an important assemblage of vulnerable and endangered wetland plants and animal species. These include a number of marine sponges, marine hydroids, marine mollusc and sea urchins which are either restricted to Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland or, in some cases unknown or very rare elsewhere in the British Isles.

The mudflats support luxuriant beds of eelgrass; Zostera noltii, Zostera angustifolia, Zostera marina and Ruppia maritima are all present, with the latter widespread but quite local in its distribution. Such extensive 'beds' are rare in the British Isles.The mammal fauna includes common seal, grey seal and otter.

Strangford Lough is the most important breeding site in Ireland for the common seal.North Boretree Rock which is located at the north of the Lough supports one of the largest colonies. Many of the low-lying rocky islands or pladdies and reefs are regularly used as haul out sites.

This site also qualifies under Criterion 3a by regularly supporting in winter over 20,000 waterfowl. Nationally important species contribute to this overall population of over-wintering waterfowl - bar-tailed godwit, black-tailed godwit , coot, curlew, dunlin, eider, gadwall, great-crested grebe, greylag goose, greenshank, goldeneye, golden plover, lapwing, mallard, mute swan, oystercatcher, pintail, red-breasted merganser, ringed plover, shelduck, shoveler, teal, turnstone and wigeon.

It qualifies under Criterion 3c by regularly supporting, in winter, internationally important numbers of Light-bellied Brent Geese, Knot and Redshank. The final qualification under Criterion 3c is that the site regularily supports internationally important breeding populations of both Sandwich Tern and Common Tern along with nationally important numbers of Arctic Tern.

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