Nature Reserve sights in Northern Ireland
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The Castle Espie reserve is a haven for huge flocks of geese, ducks and swans – around 30,000 light-bellied brent geese (75% of the world's population) spend the winter here – and is a paradise for fledgling ornithologists.
The new visitor centre is a showcase for sustainable development, and the landscaped grounds are dotted with hides for observing waders and waterfowl, as well as the centre's important collection of duck and goose species from all over the world. The best times to visit are in May and June, when the grounds are overrun with goslings, ducklings and cygnets, and October, when the vast flocks of brent geese begin to arrive from Arctic Canada.
Footpaths and boardwalks meander among the grassy dunes, with great views back towards the Mournes.
Home to the largest area of natural woodland in Northern Ireland, the National Trust's beautiful Crom Estate is a haven for pine martens, rare bats and many species of bird.
You can walk from the visitor centre to the ruins of old Crom Castle, with its ancient walled garden, abandoned bowling green and gnarled yew trees, and views over the reed-fringed lough to an island folly. There are rowing boats for hire (€6 per hour).
Check the National Trust website for details on bat-watching and other wildlife events.
The estate is on the eastern shore of the Upper Lough, 5km west of Newtownbutler.
At the heart of the Mournes is the beautiful Silent Valley Reservoir, where the River Kilkeel was dammed in 1933. There are scenic, waymarked walks around the grounds, a coffee shop and an interesting exhibition on the building of the dam. From the car park, a shuttle bus (adult/child return £1.40/1) will take you another 4km up the valley to the Crom Dam. It runs daily in July and August, weekends only in May, June and September.