A group of 16 young people came together last month for a five-day programme exploring the natural resources of the Carlingford catchment.
The Carlingford Ambassador programme aims to connect young people to the waterways in their local area through discovering, conserving and protecting native flora and fauna.
The young people, who are residents from all over the catchment, gathered on the first day and immediately gelled together after a morning of icebreakers. Through presentations and conversations, they learned about the role of Loughs Agency and its importance in the protection and conservation of local ecosystems and biodiversity.
Camlough Lake was the destination for day two. For many, it was their first time holding a fishing rod. Angling coaches provided excellent tuition and valuable tips and techniques, particularly on implementing best practices for catch and release. This was a fun and positive day with lots of fish being caught and released by all the Ambassadors - an outstanding achievement and confidence boost for many.
Day three was spent amongst the magnificent oak trees of Fairy Glen, Rostrevor, on the banks of the Kilbroney River. Fishery Inspector David Clarke and the Carlingford team demonstrated how they carry out electrofishing surveys, building awareness of the different fish species found in their local rivers. Ambassadors had the opportunity to learn about the role of a Fishery Officer, with some members of the group mentioning that this interested them as a possible career path. The remainder of the day was spent collecting and identifying invertebrate species found in local rivers and completing a citizen survey to help indicate the river's overall water quality.
On day four, the Ambassadors explored the intertidal zone of Carlingford Lough. They were amazed to discover marine life under seaweeds and rocks - from shore crabs, blennies and mussels to breadcrumb sponges, dog whelk eggs and anemones! Ambassadors also learned how to identify marine critters and, most importantly, to gently and safely handle them, minimising disturbance and always leaving seaweeds and rocks as they were found. After the rockpool explorations, they led a coastal clean-up collecting litter whilst recording what was found. Litter items consisted of aquaculture debris (rubber bands and zip ties), soft plastics, pieces of glass and much more.
On the final day, poor weather conditions meant paddle boarding had to be abandoned. Instead, the group went to SkyPark, Ireland’s largest adventure park. The Ambassadors took on the challenges, overcoming considerable fears in tackling the heights, jumps and zip lines, all while cheering each other on in what marked a brilliant way to finish the week!
Throughout the programme, the Ambassadors have embraced all the activities and challenged themselves, while also learning about their local natural environment and what they can do to help protect and conserve it.