Lough Neagh & Lough Beg Ramsar Site
Lough Neagh is situated in the centre of Northern Ireland. It is the largest freshwater lake in the United Kingdom covering an area of 383 km2 with a longest length of 30.5 km and narrowest width of 12.1 km across the middle. The lake is very shallow for its size with a mean depth of 8.9 metres. At its deepest point it extends down to 34 metres. The 125 km shoreline is mostly exposed with wave-beaten rocks and stones but there are also some sheltered, sandy bays with better developed marginal vegetation including some reedbeds.
This site also contains a smaller lake, Lough Beg (1,125 ha) to the north, as well as a small satellite lake, Portmore Lough (286 ha) which is situated to the east of Lough Neagh.
Lough Beg (meaning 'little lough') is essentially a widening of the Lower Bann River just downstream from where it leaves Lough Neagh. Lough Beg is very shallow, with a mean depth of one to two metres and a surface area of five square kilometres.
About 200 hectares of the west shore is unimproved wet grassland that is largely inundated with floodwater each winter. Rivers flowing into Lough Neagh drain about 43% of Northern Ireland, plus part of County Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland.
The site qualifies under Criterion 1 of the Ramsar convention by being the largest freshwater lake in the United Kingdom.
It is a relatively shallow body of water supporting beds of submerged aquatic vegetation fringed by associated species-rich damp grassland, reedbeds, islands, fens, marginal swampy woodland and pasture. Other interesting vegetation types include those associated with pockets of cut-over bog, basalt rock outcrops and boulders, and the mobile sandy shore.
It also, under Criterion 2 of Ramsar, supports over forty rare or local vascular plants which have been recorded for the site since 1970.
The most notable are eight-stamened waterwort, marsh pea, Irish lady’s tresses orchid, alder buckthorn, narrow small-reed and holy grass.
The Lough and its margin are also home to a large number of rare or local invertebrates, including two aquatic and two terrestrial molluscs, a freshwater shrimp Mysis relicta, eight beetles, five hoverflies, seven moths and two butterflies.
Of the rare beetles recorded two, Stenus palposus and Dyschirus obscurus, have their only known Irish location around the Lough Neagh. The Lough also supports twelve species of dragonfly.
Under Criterion 3 this site regularly supports substantial numbers of individuals from particular groups of waterfowl which are indicative of wetland values, productivity and diversity.
In addition, this site is of special value for maintaining the genetic and ecological diversity of Northern Ireland because of the quality and peculiarities of its flora and fauna. A large number of plants and animal species are confined or almost confined to this area within Northern Ireland.
Lough Neagh also qualifies under Criterion 4 for supporting an important assemblage of breeding birds including, in nationally important numbers, great crested grebe, gadwall, pochard, tufted duck, snipe and redshank. Other important breeding wetland species include shelduck, teal, shoveler, lapwing and curlew .
The site qualifies under Criterion 5 by regularly supporting over 20,000 waterfowl in winter. including nationally and internationally important numbers of pochard, tufted duck, goldeneye, little grebe, great crested grebe, cormorant, mute swan, greylag goose, shelduck, wigeon, gadwall, teal, mallard, shoveler, scaup, and coot.
Under Criterion 6 it regularly supports internationally important numbers of wintering Bewick’s and whooper swans. and under Article 4.1 by regularly supporting nationally important numbers of breeding common tern.
Finally, the site qualifies under Criterion 7 by supporting a population of pollan, one of the few locations in Ireland and one of the two known locations in the UK (the other is Lower Lough Erne). The Pollan, a salmonid fish that is common in Lough Neagh, also survives in low numbers in Loughs Erne, Ree and Derg.
It is one of the most important species in Ireland in terms of faunal biodiversity since it occurs nowhere else in Europe, and the Irish populations are all well outside the typical range – the Arctic Ocean drainages of Siberia, Alaska and northwestern Canada, where it is known as the Arctic cisco.