Castle Espie, situated on the shores of Strangford Lough near Comber, County Down, is the newest WWT visitor centre and the Trust’s first in Ireland where it is being hailed as an international exemplar of best practice in habitat restoration, sustainable design and green tourism.
The centre’s buildings are a visitor attraction in their own right because of their history and the numerous eco-friendly features they incorporate, including reclaimed and recycled materials, a wildlife garden and energy systems fuelled by the sun and wind.
Castle Espie’s main draw, though, is its magical mix of wide estuary views, tidal lagoon, eel-grass mats, woodland walks, salt marshes and reed beds; the presence of Ireland’s largest collection of native and exotic water-birds; and the abundance of habitats for other wildlife.
A winter highlight is the arrival of many hundreds of migrant birds, among them virtually the world’s entire population of light-bellied brent geese. Other wildlife attractions include bats; otters and many species of woodland, hedgerow or song bird. Castle Espie is also home to an abundance of wild plants, such as the evocatively-named quaking grass, upright brome and fairy flax.
- Brent geese (in very substantial numbers)
- Linnet and numerous other songbirds
- Moths, including rare ones such as the autumn green clouded moth and southern wainscot moth
- Water-birds – numbering well over 100 exotic and native species
- Wildflowers (among them, rare species found only in Ireland)
The recent restoration of Castle Espie Wetland Centre was the most significant habitat improvement of its kind in Ireland and extended to saline lagoons, limestone grassland, salt marshes, reed beds and grassland for herbivorous wildfowl.
Species improvements include kingfisher banks, tern islands, otter dens, bat boxes, dragonfly and damselfly pools, wader scrapes and wader roosts.
The area has now become tidal meaning that water levels rise and fall with the lough and attract even more wildlife.
You can choose from a number of walks, from shore-side to woodland, and breathe in the tranquillity.
The buildings and habitat restoration at WWT Castle Espie were supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and by many other generous funders, including Ulster Garden Villages, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board’s Tourism Development Scheme, Ards Borough Council and the European Regional Development Fund, Biffa Award, The Crown Estate, Better Belfast, Low Carbon Buildings Programme (BERR) and NIE SMART Programme.