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Coronavirus crisis allows wildlife to reclaim historic sites across Northern Ireland in absence of visitors

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Murlough Nature Reserve

Murlough Nature Reserve

Murlough Nature Reserve

Gardens and estates at historic sites across Northern Ireland have been reclaimed by wildlife as people stayed away during the lockdown.

The National Trust is urging returning visitors to take care not to disturb the new inhabitants. The conservation charity is reopening many of its gardens and parks following the easing of restrictions.

Staff say the lack of people has emboldened wildlife, with birds and mammals spotted venturing out of their usual territories, and wildflowers appearing in the unmowed lawns.

Reports from rangers and gardeners at Mount Stewart in Co Down include herons spending the day undisturbed on the lake and egrets seen at the brackish marsh where usually they would be disturbed by walkers in the early morning.

At Murlough Nature Reserve, rangers have noticed an increase in ringed plover nests on the beach shingle. Last year one nest was recorded and this year at least three nests have been sighted on the beach. Rabbit activity has increased during the day, and stoats - a rare sight ­- have been spotted.

Plants are also taking advantage of the quiet, with delicate forest floor species like bluebells and wood anemones flourishing. At the Giant's Causeway, reduced footfall on the stones has allowed the sea pink to flourish among the iconic basalt columns.

Ben McCarthy, head of nature conservation at the National Trust, said: "Wildlife seems to be enjoying the breathing space.

"With less traffic and fewer people, we've heard deafening levels of birdsong and seen famous monuments and formal gardens colonised by wildlife.

"Nature's recovery is still a long way off, but the fact that people are noticing what's around them is something to be celebrated."

He added: "As the lockdown begins to be eased, we all need to play our part to ensure that this wildlife remains undisturbed."

Belfast Telegraph