Last week Foyle College became the latest and final school to complete the 2023 Foyle and Carlingford Ambassador Programme after a week of engagement and educational workshops across the Foyle catchment area.
On Monday, 21 students from Foyle College were welcomed to the Loughs Agency, making them the first school group invited to the Agency by the Education Team since before the Coronavirus Pandemic.
The Ambassadors were welcomed to the programme, introduced to the Loughs Agency’s role in conservation & protection, and learned about several environmental key terms they would be using throughout the week such as ecosystems, habitats, biodiversity & keystone species.
Learning about John Muir helped them understand the values of spending time outdoors as they engaged in discovery, exploration, and conservation of local waterways, all while adhering to the Leave No Trace 7 Principles.
In the afternoon, the group were given talks and demonstrations from Diego del Villar and Kieran Byrne on some of the work they do for the Agency, including Acoustic Telemetry, Marine Life Tracking and Water Quality Monitoring. Monday then finished off with some map workshops with the group on the Foyle catchment, allowing them to get more familiar with the Agency’s jurisdiction and the areas they would be visiting throughout the week.
Tuesday saw the Education Team join up with FROG Outdoor Education at a crisp but sunny Moyagh Fishery to give the Ambassadors an opportunity to try Coarse fishing and receive coaching from professional angling guides. Over 200 fish were caught, with some participants catching over 20 Roach individually. Ambassadors were taught how to safely catch and release the fish once caught, and afterwards received their Level One Cast Award. Some Ambassadors expressed an interest in taking up fishing and were subsequently given details of local angling clubs within the area.
On Wednesday, the Ambassadors made the trip from their school to Ness Woods for a day of river and woodland habitat studies. Fisheries Inspector Jason McCartney discussed his role in Loughs Agency and the work that goes on within the Conservation and Protection Directorate. After the informative discussion, Jason showed the group some native Oysters, seized nets, and key equipment, such as thermal cameras, that are used. The group of 21 pupils were then split into two groups and given different tasks in the late morning.
The first group carried out practice kick samples and macroinvertebrate identification to help indicate the overall water quality of the river. The rest of the pupils carried out key weather observations that need noted when carrying out a freshwater survey, as well as learning all about the biodiversity within the woodlands. Afterwards the group participated in a game based around the migration of the Atlantic Salmon, eventually switching tasks, and partaking in each other’s activities.
In the afternoon the two groups were brought together to carry out CSSI Macroinvertebrate surveys, giving the river an overall score of ‘Good’ water quality. The Ambassadors loved getting in the water whilst learning about the waterways and how the Loughs Agency monitor the health of the rivers.
Thursday was a coastal exploration Day on Benone Beach, with the Ambassadors getting the chance to investigate the marine biodiversity washed up along the coastline and carrying out a litter pick.
The early morning litter pick marked the start of the coastal activities, with items such as bouncy balls, baby wipes, swim shorts and fishing nets being found along the beach and in seaweeds. A coastal exploration workshop in the afternoon saw the Ambassadors find everything from shore crab carapaces, diverse ranges of seaweeds and shells, shark & ray egg cases, Welk eggs and much more.
Ambassadors then learned how to identify many of the marine species, and most importantly, how to gently and safely handle and minimise disturbance, returning anything that’s found back to its natural place.
The day was finished off with the Ambassadors creating some fantastic beach art. They loved being out in nature with their friends and working together to create some excellent artwork from the sand, shells and any other natural materials they could find.
There was a quick change of plan on Friday meaning the Ambassadors ended up on a trip to Magilligan Point.
The Ambassadors started off with a quick litter pick to clean the beach before taking a walk through the dunes to the Martello tower,where Michael talked of the importance of the structure for the defence of The River Foyle in the 1800’s.
Magilligan Point was the perfect location to talk about the Foyle system and the flows out towards the Atlantic Ocean. The group then discussed everything they had learned over the previous 5 days.
In the afternoon to mark the end of the week, several team building games took place, allowing the group some free time on the beach with some of the Ambassadors rock pooling, playing football and some even “sunbathing!”
Overall, this was a fantastic week, where Loughs Agency staff witnessed a growth in confidence, the overcoming of fears, and a new awareness and interest in local ecosystems being developed amongst the participants.
There were great conversations around environmental awareness, discussions on everyday life as a teenager, and honest revelations on prospects. For many of the Ambassadors, this was their first experience in these types of outdoor locations, further emphasising the importance of open-air environmental education. The hope is that this experience has planted many seeds for future decision making when it comes to protecting and conserving the natural world.
Finally, a huge thank you to everyone who helped in the delivery of the programme, Lough Agency staff members Diego, Kieran and Jason for their time and efforts, and especially all the Ambassadors who took part in the Foyle and Carlingford Ambassador Programme.