A wildlife oasis in the heart of Belfast's Harbour Estate is to get a £460,000 makeover.
Belfast Harbour Reserve is a haven for wildlife in the middle of a busy industrial estate – and home to internationally important species such as common and Arctic terns, black-tailed godwits and lapwings.
For years visitors have been able to take a break from the daily grind and watch the waders going about their business.
Now the RSPB, which cares for the reserve, has announced major redevelopment plans that will see it transformed into Belfast's own 'Window on Wildlife'.
The £460,000 project features an extension to the existing visitor centre, a new community room, sand martin bank and two new outdoor hides with state-of-the-art interpretation.
The aim is to appeal to a wider audience in Belfast and beyond, particularly focusing on families and young people.
Chris Sturgeon, site manager at Belfast Harbour Reserve, said: "Just as Belfast Harbour welcomes people into Northern Ireland from all over the world, the reserve welcomes wildlife from places as far away as West Africa and more.
"It is a special place – a home for nature in the heart of Belfast – and with the support of this funding the RSPB will be able to connect even more people with nature. We're very excited about the improvements to the site and we're confident that we can attract more people to come and experience nature on their doorstep."
Funding for the project has come from the European Regional Development Fund administered by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Belfast Harbour Commission and the Alpha Programme administered by Groundwork NI.
This investment will see the reserve become a place where people can get up close to nature from the comfort of a specially built visitor centre with panoramic views of the reserve and Belfast Lough.
Sandra Adair, case officer from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, said: "We are delighted to support the Window on Wildlife project which aims to deliver an authentic visitor experience of local culture and heritage through nature.
"Centred in the birthplace of the Titanic, this initiative provides a great opportunity not only to create a unique gateway on wildlife tourism in the heart of Belfast, but also showcase how nature and industry can coexist and deliver benefits for visitors, wildlife and the economy." Construction on the project will begin in the autumn and it is hoped that work will be completed by April 2014.
Angela Lavin, from Heritage Lottery Fund, added: "The reserve is a hidden gem and this exciting new project will ensure that many more people will come along and get involved in exploring and learning about the natural heritage on their doorstep."
Joe O'Neill, from Belfast Harbour Commissioners, remarked: "We are sure that the extension to the visitor centre and surrounding site improvements will add greatly to the breath of facilities and people's enjoyment of the site."
To keep up to date with the improvements visit www.rspb.org.uk/belfastlough.