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‘Exceptional’ Natural Capital of Ards and North Down recognised

The WWT Castle Espie Wetland Centre in Co. Down was selected as one of the locations to host BBC Two’s popular wildlife programme, Autumnwatch.

Ards and North Down Deputy Mayor, Councillor Robert Adair, paid tribute to the work of conservation charity the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust on a recent visit to Castle Espie.

Meeting with Autumnwatch presenter Gillian Burke and WWT Centre Manager Paul Stewart, Councillor Adair said: “After the huge success of Springwatch at Castle Espie, the programme’s return for Autumnwatch has shone the spotlight on the rich wildlife of the borough and Castle Espie as an icon of sustainable green tourism.”

In addition to hosting Autumnwatch, the visit comes as the charity is currently celebrating with a Winter Migration Festival at Castle Espie which includes a series of bespoke events for adults and children alike and runs to 13 November.

Councillor Adair continued: “The international importance of Strangford Lough and its exceptional biodiversity is a real asset to our environment. Castle Espie provides a window on the Lough with the Winter Migration Festival and filming of Autumnwatch being a fitting way to introduce people to this wonderful asset on our doorstep.”

Paul Stewart, WWT Centre Manager, said: “We have been celebrating this natural resource and the return of the brent geese with events in and around Autumnwatch aimed at connecting people with nature. From sunrise yoga, art workshops, walks and talks to nature focused activities for children, they are all aimed at connecting people to this wonderful place.”

Paul continued: “The world’s wetland habitats like those at Castle Espie actually sequester more carbon than all the world’s forests despite occupying only a fraction of the area around the globe. As well as helping to deal with the effects of climate change, wetlands are one of the most biodiverse habitats on Earth, protect us from flooding, filter pollutants and help improve our mental health.”

Gillian Burke commented: 'Wetlands are an important natural tool in tackling the climate crisis. Healthy coastal wetlands are super effective natural carbon sinks, drawing down more atmospheric carbon per unit than most other natural systems. Restore and protect these vital habitats, and nature will lead the way in restoring balance."

The WWT works around the globe, protecting wetland habitats and migratory bird flyways, and operates 10 wetland centres across the UK with Castle Espie being the only one located in Northern Ireland.

The charity recently launched a new ‘Wetlands Can!’ campaign, urging people to get behind the leading conservation charity’s call for creating 100,000 hectares of healthy wetlands in the UK to help combat the climate crisis.

Paul Stewart said: “If the Covid crisis has taught us one thing, it’s that we can’t go back to how things were before. We need to get serious now about fighting the climate emergency and, as wetlands are particularly fast and cost-effective at absorbing carbon, they need to be an essential part of that fight.”

To join WWT’s urgent pledge, visit wwt.org.uk/WetlandsCan