Wildlife and heritage tours a possibility at Kilwaughter Castle
The prospect of introducing wildlife and heritage tours at Kilwaughter Castle near Larne is being explored.
It comes as evidence of seven species of bat was found at the site, which is also home to otters, swans, badgers and foxes.
Ryan Greer, property manager at Kilwaughter Castle said a series of wildlife surveys had led to the major environmental discoveries.
"Over the past 6-8 months I have been working with senior park ranger, Nichola Smyth to carry out wildlife surveys on the estate, and we have discovered evidence of seven species of bats on the property and in the immediate vicinity," Mr Greer added.
"We also believe that the bats are using an adjoining lake as a 'swarming' site."
Species identified include the brown long-eared bat, Daubenton’s bat, soprano pipistrelle, common pipistrelle, common noctule, lesser noctule/Leisler’s bat, and the Natterer’s bat.
"These species have been registered with iRecord and CEDaR," Mr Greer said.
"Discovering so many species in one place represents a major find within Northern Ireland. The lesser noctule is not known to inhabit NI, but is known in lowland Scotland, suggesting it may be migrating at certain times of the year.
"The castle is private property and is not currently open to the public, but this discovery has inspired myself and the owners of Kilwaughter Castle to investigate the potential of taking wildlife and heritage tours on the property, so that the public can learn from and enjoy a totally unspoilt environment at the heart of East Antrim.
"In addition to these rare species of bats, the lake is home to a breeding pair of otters, a family of nesting swans, badgers and foxes. I will continue to work closely with senior park ranger, Nichola Smyth, to fully detail all the animals present in the area."
Located within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Kilwaughter Castle Estate has been largely untouched for over 200 years.
Although the estate was broken up in the 1930s, the early 19th century landscaping features and planting remain.
The habitat gives bats plenty of shelter and roosting places, with Kilwaughter Lake acting as a "food source and swarming/social space", Mr Greer said.
Last month, local residents expressed concern about the lowering of the water levels at the lake, citing the potential impact on wildlife as a significant concern.
“Daubenton’s bats, which are a protected species, rely upon a body of water for survival as they feed off the insects on the water’s surface. They also require a dense tree line for their flight path,” Mr Greer said.
Anyone who has information or advice on these rare, protected animals and their migratory patterns is welcome to get in touch, he added.
Kilwaughter Minerals Ltd, which owns one of the banks of the lake, said it had lowered the water level in accordance with recommendations from the Department for Infrastructure.
The Department said recently: “Kilwaughter Minerals Limited are the reservoir manager for Kilwaughter Pond. In common with other reservoir managers they have a responsibility to ensure the safe condition of their reservoir in line with their common law responsibilities. The company is acting in accordance with the recommendations made by a specialist reservoir engineer.”
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