It’s not uncommon for people to assume nature reserves are a more exclusive park that isn’t suitable for a casual walk with friends or family. The truth though, is that they may actually be even more enjoyable! They’re specially managed pieces of land intended to preserve flora, fauna or any unique geological or physical traits. More often than not they will contain a wide range of species, communities and geology that promises the visitor more than just pleasant views.
Northern Ireland has more of them than you might expect, so let’s take a look at some of them! (Or, feel free to go explore them yourself here on OutmoreNI.com)
This is no doubt the best-known nature reserve in Northern Ireland. The Marble Arch Caves are synonymous with exciting trips into the rarely seen underworld of our planet. Home to one of Europe’s most exciting showcaves, Fermanagh’s famous Geopark allows visitors to explore a hidden landscape of rivers, waterfalls, winding passages and lofty chambers. If you’re planning a visit, we can promise you’ll not regret it!
The “midlands” of Northern Ireland has fewer nature reserves than other parts, but Lough Fea more than makes up for it. Set amidst the idyllic landscape of the Sperrins, the area covers 180 acres and is a popular destination for anglers. Walkers can enjoy a beautiful 4km walk around the Lough itself, where you can enjoy panoramic scenery and the calming waters which also happen to supply the entire area and beyond with fresh water.
Breen Oakwood is an opportunity to travel back in time, to an era where the vast majority of the north-east of Antrim was covered in oakwoods. The mature oaks create a dense canopy overhead, creating a shaded woodland walk experience. You will also find rowan, hawthorn, holly and hazel trees beneath the great oakwoods, as well as alder and willow in the damer areas beside the streams.
This nature reserve is also home to a plethora of different fauna, from red squirrels to treecreepers. As with all of these beautiful spots, please ensure to keep on the Right Side of Outside to ensure the area is protected.
Oxford Island is one of Northern Ireland’s most popular nature reserves and for good reason. Located at the southernly edge of Lough Neagh, there are an impressive 4 miles of walking trails in which to enjoy the grounds. Oxford Island is designated as a National Nature Reserve because of the diversity that exists there.
You’ll also find a visitor centre (which is fully accessible), 5 birdwatching hides, a craft shop and a café.
Co. Down is home to the majority of Northern Ireland’s nature reserves and any one of which could easily make this list. Killard National Nature Reserve however earns a special place in our hearts for the geological significance, with the last ice age on Earth having created cliffs formed from a mixture of debris deposited as the ice melted. The bedrock on Benderg beach has been worn smooth by the movement of ice sheets.
Add this to stunning views of the Mournes, as well as being the location where Strangford Lough meets the Irish Sea, the rugged coastline is a must see for anyone interested in going beyond the usual top spots of must visit lists.