Narrated by Armagh-born actor Colin Morgan, The Chronicles of Strangford is a new four-part documentary series from Waddell Media for BBC Northern Ireland.
Beginning on Monday (January 17) on BBC One Northern Ireland at 7.30pm, the series follows characters in and around Strangford Lough over the course of four seasons.
The story of the lough is told through the people who live and work there, preserving traditions and protecting the wildlife that shares their home.
At 150 square kilometres, Strangford Lough is the largest sea inlet in the UK. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty that starts just 10 miles east of Belfast and stretches southwards to the tip of the Ards Peninsula.
Strangford Lough is internationally recognised as an important habitat for a variety of birds, animals and marine life.
“The Chronicles of Strangford” is the fourth instalment in the critically acclaimed “Chronicles” series, which has included “The Chronicles of Mourne”, “The Chronicles of Erne”, and “Chronicles of the Glens”.
Like those series, it is filmed using a variety of techniques, including drones and time-lapse photography, which bring familiar landscapes and secret corners of the lough to life in a spectacular fashion.
The landscape and weather is as much a part of the programme as the people it follows, and their relationship with their natural surroundings and the lough’s delicate eco system is the overall theme of the series.
It is about local people working with nature and protecting their place in the world.
It offers a glimpse into a lifestyle where appreciating and preserving our surroundings takes centre stage.
Strangford Lough gets its name from the Vikings who knew it as “strong fjord”, after its powerful tides.
Four times a day 400 million gallons of water are pushed and pulled through the lough, creating whirlpools and eddies in the narrows to the south and shaping the shallow shorelines to the north.
The tidal waters flood the lough with nutrients that feed a diverse variety of marine life, some of which is still being discovered.
The lough was known in ancient Irish as Loch Cuan, which can be translated as harbour lake. It’s an apt name as its many islands offer shelter and sanctuary to a huge range of wildlife, many of whom treat it as a temporary home before they move elsewhere.
Every autumn its many islands become a giant grey seal nursery, as they swim in from the open sea to breed and raise their young.
While the tides transform the landscape four times a day, migration transforms the lough’s population every season. This feeling of constant flux and change is very much part of life on Strangford Lough.
The second episode focusses on autumn, a busy season on the lough which is marked not only by changing colours but also 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 Artic 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 Yellow Hammer.
He explains how his work has helped him overcome PTSD which he suffered after witnessing a terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge in London.
Around the lough boats are being removed from the water and repaired.
In Portaferry, former car ferry Captain 84-year-old John Murray is getting his boat the St Brendan onto the quay for the winter, with the help of four generations of the Murray family.
Moving on to winter, and National Trust ranger Hugh Thurgate is moving livestock between islands and Katy Bell from Ulster Wildlife is checking 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 yard are secure, before retreating to his shed to work on Laragh, a wooden sailing boat known as a ‘River’.
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 the tip of the Ards peninsula is Ballyquintin point. The National Trust has a farm here and Hugh Thurgate is checking whether newly installed hedging has survived a recent storm.
This is where Strangford Lough meets the open sea and Hugh recalls the story of Pat Monan, a local farmer who frequently saved the lives of sailors whose ships had run aground.
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. Fully trained and licensed, every tag provides invaluable research.
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.
Spring sees new wildlife arriving at the lough. As boat owners prepare for summer, Kieron Black says an emotional goodbye to Pavane, his father Brian’s boat.
This 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 sailing boat Laragh.
It’s 100 years since the Rivers were built, and Kenny is hoping to wrestle the series 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 wild fowl expert 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 sea bed.
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