Take a Walk on Northern Ireland’s Wild Side – Tourism NI’S Ultimate Guide to Help You Embrace Nature This Spring

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Northern Ireland really is the ultimate haven for nature lovers with landscapes bursting with world class gardens, ancient woodland, wildlife sanctuaries and habitats all demanding to be explored this spring.

With the new season on the horizon, it’s the perfect time to visit. Winter is giving way to a time of renewal, plants are beginning to bud and our coastlines and countryside are teeming with a mixture of new life and wild birds which have migrated here to escape their own harsher climates.

US Writer, philosopher and herbalist, Stephen Harrod Buhner had a theory that the only thing we have to do to save the planet is to ensure that biophilia – the love of all living things – is fostered and encouraged.

March 3 marks World Wildlife Day, the annual celebration of wild animals and plants and the unique contribution they make to people and planet. This year’s theme is connecting people and planet: Exploring Digital Innovation in Wildlife Conservation.

Discover Northern Ireland has compiled the following list of places and experiences, many of which are less than two hours from Dublin, perfect for connecting people and planet.

Belfast Window on Wildlife (WOW), County Antrim

Offering panoramic views of Belfast Lough, as well as the birds and wildlife that call this RSPB nature reserve home, Belfast WOW certainly lives up to its name. Situated just 15 minutes from the city centre in Belfast Harbour Estate, there are hundreds of species to be observed. You’ll find Lapwings and Terns and even Konik Ponies that graze the land. Two hides, which have been specially constructed from shipping containers equipped with binoculars and telescopes, offer different perspectives on the reserve which is also set to welcome the returning Sand Martins from the start of March.

Exploris Aquarium & Seal Sanctuary, County Down

Take a diver’s view of marine life at Exploris, Northern Ireland’s only aquarium as its exciting new ‘Under the Sea’ experience invites you to get up close and personal with creatures from the ocean’s depth through an underwater glass tunnel. Colourful coral reefs play host to over 100 species while the centre is home to crocodiles. otters. penguins and Hector the Capybara as well as a dedicated Seal Sanctuary. Don’t forget to explore the outdoor area and kids’ playroom while those visiting on a Saturday evening can enjoy a fully guided tour, followed by a three-course meal in the onsite licenced Kraken Restaurant.

Castle Espie Wetland Centre, County Down

Strangford Lough hosts up to 95% of planet earth’s Brent Geese from September through to April as they migrate from the Canadian high arctic. With a magical mix of tidal lagoons, eel-grass mats, woodland walks, salt marshes and reed beds, WWT Castle Espie is home to a world of wetland wildlife waiting to be discovered. Add to that a stimulating sensory garden, Graffan gallery, woodland and shore-view walks with birdwatching mornings and you are left with an unforgettable day out. Oh, and the onsite Kingfisher Café is a sanctuary of homemade delights.

Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre, County Antrim

Just six miles off the Causeway Coast lies one of Northern Ireland’s best kept secrets Rathlin Island. Before arriving by ferry from Ballycastle, be on the lookout for gannets, gulls and dolphins and brace yourself for a welcome from the thousands of birds that raise their chicks and cling to the island’s dramatic cliff edges. Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre, which is located at Rathlin’s famous ‘upside down’ lighthouse reopens on Easter Sunday (March 31) — just in time for the highly anticipated return of the island’s Puffins. Whilst on Rathlin, make sure to enjoy a short walk to Mill Bay and see if you can spot the seals playing along the coast or for a unique perspective, join Kintra Tours on their regular boat trips.

Mount Stewart, County Down

Voted one of the top ten gardens in the world, Mount Stewart owes its artistry and inspired planting to Lady Londonderry, with her passion for bold schemes, and a climate in which rare and tender specimens thrive. Visitors can enjoy the beautifully landscaped and informal gardens surrounding the picturesque lake walk with over 10 miles of trails waiting to be explored. Overlooking the glorious Strangford Lough, highlights include themes such as the Shamrock Garden and the Sunk Garden which sit alongside sculptures and incredible flowering blooms.

Murlough National Nature Reserve, County Down

Owned by the National Trust, the 6,000 year old sand dune system that makes up Murlough National Nature Reserve is one of the most extensive examples of dune heath within Ireland and is an excellent spot for birdwatching. The site is also of international importance for wintering wildfowl and waders as well as a haul-out for common and grey seals. As you walk the Dundrum Coastal Path see if you can spot herons, egrets and oystercatchers who enjoy the rich abundance of foodstuffs on the mudflats or even the foxes or stoats that reside on the reserve.

To find out more visit www.discovernorthernireland.com

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