Beauty of lough showcased in Chronicles of Strangford

Beauty of lough showcased in Chronicles of Strangford

12 January 2022

A NEW series featuring Strangford Lough begins in BBC One Northern Ireland next week.

The Chronicles of Strangford, which is broadcast on Monday at 7.30pm, is a four-part documentary series in which the story of the lough is told through the people who live and work there.

The landscape and weather is as much a part of the programme as the people it follows, and their relationship with their natural surroundings is the overall theme of the series.

Narrated by Colin Morgan, The Chronicles of Strangford follows a year on the lough, starting in autumn, a busy season marked by the arrival of grey seals that use the lough’s sheltered islands to breed and raise their pups, before returning to the open sea a few weeks later.

National Trust ranger Hugh Thurgate counts them as they arrive, providing valuable year on year data of the population. 

Not far behind the seals are Brent geese, migrating from Arctic Canada. Strangford Lough is a vital stopping off point as thousands comes to feed on its shores at low tide. It’s an annual audio and visual spectacle that wildfowl expert Kerry Mackie never misses. 

As the woodlands burst into colour, songwriter Brigid O’Neill draws inspiration before performing a secret gig at a small converted church on the shores of the lough. 

On a farm to the south tip of the lough, RSPB ranger Mark McCormick looks for endangered species like the yellowhammer. He explains how his work has helped him overcome PTSD which he suffered after witnessing a terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge  in London. 

Around boats are being removed from the water and repaired, in Portaferry former ferry captain 84-year-old John Murray is getting his boat, the St Brendan, on to the quay for the winter, with the help of four generations of the Murray family.

In the second episode, as winter approaches Hugh Thurgate is moving livestock between islands and Katy Bell from Ulster Wildlife checks barn owl boxes at Mount Stewart. Bad weather is coming and preparations need to be made. 

As winter storms howl, Kenny Smyth makes sure the boats in his boatyard are secure, before retreating to his shed to work on Laragh, his beautiful wooden River yacht. Working on the boat reminds Kenny of his father who established the yard after the war. 

Rough winter weather also gives Heidi McIlvenny a chance to search for shark egg cases, known by some as mermaids’ purses.  Strangford Lough provides habitat for sharks and rays and Heidi’s work provides important research. 

At her farm near Greyabbey Kerry Angus looks forward to lambing and reflects how the care she provides for her flock is consistent with providing meat for the farm shop. Close by, Kerry Mackie is setting up traps for tagging oyster catchers.

At Port Loughan farm, Katy is installing barn owl nesting boxes before the spring nesting season.  It’s been a long winter, but installing the boxes is a real sign that spring is on its way.

In the third episode spring has sprung and there is new wildlife arriving at the lough. As boat owners prepare for summer, Kieron Black says an emotional goodbye to Pavane, the boat owned by his late father, Brian Black, the environmental broadcaster and journalist who died in a tragic accident in Strangford harbour in 2020.

The fourth and final episode is set in summer, a busy season as humans and birds flock to the lough to enjoy its un-spoilt beauty and unique habitats. 

 At Slievemoyle farm Mark McCormick from the RSPB is camping out for a dawn chorus survey. He is hoping he will hear the distinctive call of the endangered yellowhammer. 

Summers on Strangford lough mean long evenings stretching into glorious sunsets. In Portaferry four generations of the Murray family take the St Brendan out for an evening of fishing. 

Summer is regatta season on the Lough and a big moment for Kenny Smyth and his River class yacht. It’s 100 years since the Rivers were built, and Kenny is hoping to wrestle a race trophy from his brother, Graham. 

Away from the buzz of summer activities, Katy Bell is hoping to find healthy barn owl chicks. Wet and extremely hot weather has meant most of the sites have failed this year, but a new site may have some healthy chicks.

Out on the lough Kerry Mackie is counting greylag geese. It’s important to monitor the populations as they can cause problems for farmers. Carrying out the counts reminds him of his deep family connections to the lough and a lifetime of memories.

Kieron Black is also out snorkelling, remembering his father Brian. He would always try to fill everyday with experiences, something Kieron also tries to do, as he loses himself in the otherworldly surroundings of the lough’s seabed.