News feature

A stunning Donegal wildlife haven developing Inch by Inch

Eamonn McFadden

Reporter:

Eamonn McFadden

A stunning Donegal wildlife haven developing Inch by Inch

Wildlife ranger Lee McDaid.

The tranquil shores of Lough Swilly and Inch Lake are home to one of Europe’s most important ecological areas for wildfowl.
Each year thousands of geese, ducks, swans and other wild birds travel to the area near Burt and Burnfoot to nest and breed at various times of the year.
Now the scenic site is more accessible than ever with work being done in recent years to add walkways, lookout huts and parking facilities. Now, at all times of the year, it is a popular visitor attraction for everyone from the keenest wildlife buffs through to weekend walkers out enjoying a relaxed stroll.
As well as the thousands of wild birds that migrate to the Inch Wildfowl Reserve, the site had over 120,000 visitors last year and the numbers are set to grow.
Wildlife ranger for the area, Lee McDaid, explained that the reserve is a wonderful place to get great access to a huge array of wildlife in just one location.
There is an 8km walk around the reserve where visitors can enjoy views over the lake and Lough Swilly for some stunning moments being so close to wild birds in their natural habitat.
Lee said the area became the Wildfowl Reserve about 16 years ago when a lease for the land and Inch Lake was secured by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Since then they have been developing the paths and making the site into what it is today.
He said some of the issues they had to deal with to make it more accessible for everyone included some antisocial behaviour problems at the site. They also worked with local sporting gun clubs in the area.
“In 2014 an Intereg project with the National Parks and Wildlife Service along with Donegal County Council and Strabane and Derry Council got involved and secured money from Europe to develop the site like it is today with the 8km of path , the bird hides and other things we have here now,” he explained.
“One of the main reasons the National Parks and Wildlife Service got involved was to control the hunting at the site. There had been unregulated hunting, some was illegal and some of it was not illegal.
“There were four gun clubs bordering the lake and they came together to form the Inch Lake Wildfowling Club. So there is one wildfowling club here now and they have a set of rules and a bag limit and it has completely transformed it. That was a huge achievement,” he added.
Lee said the gun club members are also part of the Inch Wildfowl Reserve Trust and have representation with the group to discuss any issue that arises.
In the winter time up to 13,000 birds make the watery haven of Inch their home and there are great opportunities for everyone to witness majestic sights such as flocks of geese coming in to land in what Ranger Lee calls “David Attenborough moments”.
They recently released a beautiful book: “A guide to the Bird of Inch Wildlife Reserve” that details the various species and history of the area and is available locally.
The area will also feature in a new documentary by Crossing the Line films who are filming at the location for a new programme on the changing Irish seasons, to be released next year.