You could be mistaken for thinking Ulster legend Finn McCool has upped sticks and moved south to Strangford Lough.
Giant footprints left on the shore at Kircubbin suggest a new neighbour has moved in — but in fact they’re the work of 16 hardworking pupils from St Mary’s Primary School.
The students scoured the shoreline for discarded litter that has swept up with the tide — and their work will help protect many of the wild neighbours that make their homes in the lough.
They teamed up with the National Trust for the 18th of the 52 clean-up events that have been organised across Northern Ireland as part of the Belfast Telegraph’s Big Spring Clean.
Some 1,643 people across Northern Ireland have now signed up to take part in our campaign, organised jointly with Tidy Northern Ireland, and we’ve won the backing of David Healy, Zoe Salmon, Professor David Bellamy, Rachel Tucker, Eamonn Holmes and all the main political parties.
Joanne McAuley, who teaches P4 and P5, said the pupils clean up the shore every year.
“We do a study of our locality — we look at the environment and do a beach clean-up as part of the Strangford Spring Clean,” she said.
“It gives them a bit of experience to see what the litter is like on the beach. They usually can’t believe how much litter they have picked up at the end of the day. They found a flare one year.”
Among the haul was a piece of fibreglass from one of the boats that ply the lough, pieces of pipe, items discarded along the shore such as a pizza box, knife, plate, plastic fork and bowl, a shoe, sock and a jumper and part of a skateboard.
National Trust warden Alan Silcock said staff are lifting rubbish all year round — and it takes away from the valuable work they do protecting wildlife and habitats, carrying out education and improving the shore for people to visit.
“We may find just general waste like this on the shore, but we are also finding fly-tipping as well in places — people cleaning out their houses and dumping household stuff,” he said.
“We are lifting hundreds of bags of rubbish every year. We do our best, but it takes events like this and help from volunteers.
“Litter affects wildlife — the leatherback turtle that died in the lough had a plastic bag in its stomach. We also find the island birds are using plastic to build their nests.
“Lifting litter takes up a lot of time which could be spent doing more habitat management, providing access to the shore, education. We could be doing a lot more survey work.”
The children teamed up with artist Angela George to create giant footprints leading into the sea and made using stones from the shore. Later this week another clean-up group across the lough will create giant footprints leading on to the shore at Ballyhornan.
“It’s about your carbon footprint and keeping the beach clean so you can walk about in your bare feet,” she said. “This will also become a habitat, with invertebrates and sea weeds making their home in these footprints. It will be quite interesting to come back next year and see what's growing in them.”
Yesterday, clean-ups were carried out by staff from McDonalds who spruced up areas of Omagh, Dundonald, Avoniel and Portadown. Members of 12th Newtownabbey Boy’s Brigade have also collected litter from Loughshore Park in Newtownabbey.
Today, students of St Colm’s High School in Draperstown will clean The Plantin’ while staff from McDonalds will tackle areas of Enniskillen, Cookstown and the tourist trail along Derry’s walls.
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