Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Darragh Island


I've spent the day on Darragh Island, a property of The National Trust, on the western side of Strangford Lough, not far from Killinchy and Whiterock, County Down.

Our boat took us from Whiterock, passing Braddock Island and Conly Island. Darragh Island is close to Conly Island.

Today we were excavating and dredging a series of ponds; and spraying bracken with a selective herbicide.

Darragh is a great example of how the correct management can produce species-rich grassland with superb displays of wild flowers and insects.

The National Trust uses a purpose-built barge to bring cattle out to this island, whenever possible.

This ensures that the grass is grazed to the optimum height to maximize biodiversity.

In the summer, the island is carpeted in colourful meadows – a rare sight in the countryside these days.

There are the remains of a kelp-house at the southern end (see photograph above).

This simple stone building was built at the end of the 18th century and similar structures would have been common on many of Strangford Lough's islands.

Back then, many local farmers supplemented their income by harvesting seaweed from the shore and burning it in stone kilns.

The residue that was left after burning (called kelp) was an important source of sodium carbonate, which was used in industrial processes such as the production of glass and soap.

It was also used as a bleaching agent in the linen industry.

The kelp was stored in the kelp-houses until it was sold and transported to the various factories and mills.

The remains of a kelp kiln is found just a short distance from the kelp-house.

There are other kelp kilns on the National Trust islands of Taggart, Chapel and South.

Interestingly, they are all built to slightly different designs.

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