The woods, meadows, wetlands, parks and farms along the RiverLagan are alive with wildlife.

The incredible variety includes many of the most endangered birds in the UK and Ireland. Were working to protect these birds and other wildlife to prevent further declines and make the Regional Park a safe place for them to feed and breed.

A helping hand

Laganscape engaged in a major bird conservation programme with the RSPB, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

A survey was carried out to identify the birds in the Park and find out if any of them need protection. A plan was developed for their recovery and our aim is to improve prospects for vulnerable birds by using simple methods easily put in place by the Park's partners, including homeowners, farmers and councils.

'The incredible variety includes many of the most endangered birds in the UK and Ireland.'

The recovery project ran from 2009-12 and involved selecting locations for nest boxes, choosing specialised nest boxes and tunnels for each species and organising their construction and installation.

Ongoing work includes surveys to identify future nest box locations, monitoring progress, protecting sites and relocating boxes where necessary.

Park rangers and volunteers worked with local landowners, builders and homeowners in environments ranging from woodlands to wetlands and waterfronts, old buildings and water meadows. Close to 140 nest boxes and nest tunnels were installed.

In addition, two hectares of giant bird tables' were planted.

A giant bird table?

Let us explain. They're large areas which have been sown with seed-rich plants such as oats, barley, flax and wildflowers. Instead of being harvested, they're left over the winter to create pockets of seed rich areas that birds like linnets, tree sparrows and yellowhammers can eat during the coldest months of the year when food is scarce.

Long grasses also provide food and shelter for many small animals that barn owls eat. The wildflowers attract insects which in turn feed the swallows and swifts over the summer.

We'll review the seed mix and planting methods to make sure we get the best results and continue to assess locations. You can check out our wild meadows at Laganlands East, Lagan Meadows and McIlroy Park.

Taking action

Here's a list of what we have done so far:

  • We've installed nest boxes for swifts under the eaves of the RSPB HQ Belvoir Park Forest.
  • Installed nest boxes for lots of other birds along the towpath and woodlands.
  • Planted wildflower areas.

We also found the following birds in the park. 'Species recovery action plans' have been created.

Barn owl

With heart shaped face, buff back and wings and pure white under parts, the barn owl is a distinctive and much loved countryside bird. This mainly noctural owl has suffered declines over the past fifty years as a result of the degradation of once prey-rich habitats due to intensive agriculture.

It can be seen in open country, along field edges, riverbanks and roadside verges all year round, especially at dusk when they are hunting. Barn owls eat mice and shrews.
Barn owls tend to use traditional nesting sites, holes in trees, or undisturbed buildings such as barns and outbuildings or ruins and suitable nestboxes. Breeding success depends on the availability of main prey species. Average clutch size is 4 and the young birds fly at 50-55 days. Barn Owls can live as long as 17 years.


The symbol of Lagan Valley Regional Park and one of its more shy residents. Kingfishers are small unmistakable bright blue and orange birds which fly rapidly low over water, and hunt fish from riverside perches, occasionally hovering above the water's surface. They are vulnerable to hard winters and loss of habitat through pollution or unsympathetic management of watercourses.

Kingfishers can be seen year round and are generally found by still or slow flowing water such as lakes, canals and rivers in lowland areas which are clean enough to support abundant small fish. Branches overhanging shallows make essential fishing perches. Kingfishers nest in riverbanks, excavating a nest burrow with a chamber at the end.

Kingfishers are very short-lived. Although only a quarter survive to breed the following year, this is enough to maintain the population.

House sparrow

Noisy and gregarious, these cheerful exploiters of man's rubbish and wastefulness are now struggling to survive, along with many other once common birds. They are clearly declining in gardens and the wider countryside.

House sparrows feed and breed near people and can be seen anytime of the year in towns, villages, countryside and residential areas of cities. Seeds and scraps are their regular diet.

You can spot newly independent young in large flocks where there is an abundance of seed and other suitable foods, such as areas of wasteland and hayfields rich in grass and weed seeds. Later, flocks move on to grainfields to feed on the ripening grain, where they are joined by the adults who have finished nesting.

Lack of food and nest sites, especially in the country, seem to be factors in their decline.


Harder to spot these days due to recent dramatic population decline, but look out for a grey-brown bird with an off-white breast, streaked with darker grey and a streaked forehead. Flycatchers like to perch conspicuously and watch for passing insects, flying out to snap them up, before returning to the perch.

Best looked for along woodland edges and in parks and gardens. These seasonal visitors mainly arrive in May, and leave again in July and August, with a few passing through in September.


This superb flier eats, hunts insects andeven sleeps on the wing! In flight against the sky the medium-sized brown swift appears black. Distinctive features are the long, scythe-like wings and short, forked tail. Swifts are summer visitors from Africa, arriving in April and departing again in August.

Spot them high in the sky. You might see excited screaming parties careering madly at high speed around rooftops and houses, especially towards dusk.

The birds never perch, leaving the air only to nest. Swifts pair for life, meeting up each spring at the same nest site, usually located high in the roof space under the eaves of old houses and churches where the birds are able to drop into the air from the nest entrance. The modernisation of many buildings has resulted in loss of nesting sites.

Amazing facts:

  • After leaving the nest, they'll keep flying non-stop for three years!
  • They eat, mate and sleep in the air - they can 'snooze' with one side of their brain at once, and then switch to the other side
  • Parent swifts gather insect snacks for their chicks, carrying as many as 1,000 at once.
  • Swifts like to live in our houses and churches - they squeeze through tiny gaps to nest inside roofs

Tree sparrows

Smaller than a house sparrow and more active, with its tail almost permanently cocked. It has a chestnut brown head and nape and white cheeks and collar with a contrasting black cheek-spot. They are shyer than house sparrows and not associated with man. Best looked for in hedgerows and woodland edges all year round.


Males are unmistakeable with a bright yellow head and underparts, brown back streaked with black, and chestnut rump. In flight it shows white outer tail feathers. Often seen perched on top of a hedge or bush, singing. Its recent population decline make it a Red List species. Look for the yellowhammer year round in open countryside with bushes and hedgerows.

Reed bunting

Sparrow-sized but slim and with a long, deeply notched tail, the male has a black head, white collar and a drooping moustache. Females and winter males have a streaked head. In flight the tail looks black with broad, white edges. This farmland and wetland bird suffered a serious population decline making it a Red List species.

Typically found in wet vegetation but has recently spread into farmland and, in winter, into gardens. When singing the male is usually perched on top of a bush, or reed.


A small, slim finch, widely distributed, and once very popular as a cage bird because of its melodious song. Males are attractively marked with crimson foreheads and breasts, females much browner. It can be flighty and has an undulating flight, usually twittering as it flies.
Look and listen for it year round on heathland, rough ground, farmland hedges, saltmarshes and in parks and gardens.


The skylark is a small brown bird, streaky brown with a small crest, which can be raised when the bird is excited or alarmed, and a white-sided tail. The wings also have a white rear edge, visible in flight. It is renowned for its display flight, vertically up in the air.

Skylarks like open countryside, from lowland farmland to upland moorland. Often inconspicuous on the ground, it is easy to see when in its distinctive song flight. Skylarks advertise their territories by a spectacular song-flight, during which the bird rises almost vertically with rapid wing-beats, hovering for several minutes and then parachuting down. Song flights of up to one hour have been recorded, and the birds can reach 1,000 feet before descending.

Skylarks are ground-nesting birds and will breed from April to early August in tall grass and cereal fields. Population declines seem to be due to the change in cereal planting toward autumn sown crops.

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)

The Red fox is dog like and predominantly a nocturnal hunter with most of the day spent in earth, cavity in ground either made by fox or another Badger or a rabbits burrow taken over. Muzzle sharp, ears erect, eyes with elliptical vertical pupil. 5 toes on forefeet, 4 on hind feet. The fur is sandy to brownish with grey-white under parts and black on front of limbs and backs of ears, tail bushy forming a brush, with a white tip. The Dog fox and vixen are similar but vixens are smaller, lacks cheek ruffs and shorter coat. The fox swims well and climbs trees, use a variety of calls especially during winter, a scream from the vixen and barking from the dog. Despite hunting, poisoning, trapping the fox has not significantly diminished in the Lagan Valley Regional Park.

Typically woodlands but highly variable, lowlands to mountains, scrub, farmland and survive well in urban areas.

Average head and body of dog fox just over 60cm (24) tail 40cm (16)
Height at shoulder 35 cm (14)
Average dog fox weighs 6.8kg (15lb)

Mice, rabbits, fruit, birds, beetles, large mammals and invertebrates


Common otter (Lutra lutra)

The otter is an amphibious mammal, usually nocturnal coming out at Sunset, during the day lies up in reed beds, burrows, drains or hollow trees. It has a long lithe body, head broad and flat, face short, eyes black small but bright. Short, rounded hairy ears do not project beyond fur and legs are short and powerful. All feet are completely webbed and have five toes. The tail is long and broad and is used in the water as a rudder. Tracks and trails such as the black tarry Spraints are the most likely ways of tracing these shy creatures in the Lagan Valley Regional Park. Breeding holt may be a hole in a bank with entrance underwater or it may be well away from water.

Lakes, rivers, streams and marshes, reed- beds and coastal waters. Can travel overland up to 12 miles in a night from pool to pool.
Some times moves up to upland areas when fish migrate up to head waters to spawn.

Total Length of about 1.2m (4ft) of which 1/3 is tail. Weight of full grown male 9-12 kg (20-25lb)

Various fish, especially eels, frogs, newts, shrimp, occasionally wilducks, moorhens.
On land, Rabbits, rats, mice, voles, slugs, earthworms, beetles.


Protected Species

Similar Species
American Mink

Common Seal

Common seals have fine spot-patterned grey or brown fur; rounded head with no ears visible; 'V' shaped nostrils. They feed at sea but regularly haul out on to rocky shores or inter-tidal sandbanks to rest, or to give birth and to suckle their pups. Young seals may travel distances of several hundred kilometres but adults appear to remain faithful to favoured haul-out areas from year to year. The particular sites used may, however, vary with the seasons. Common seals travel up to 50km from haul-out sites to feed and may remain at sea for several days. Here they spend time diving, staying underwater for up to 10 minutes and reaching depths of at least 50 metres.


Head/body length: 140-185cm including flippers of about 20cm.
Weight: 8-16kg at birth; up to 130kg in adults.

Sea, rocky shores, inter-tidal sand banks and estuaries and may be seen travelling into freshwater rivers including the Lagan

The way in which common seals hunt is poorly understood, but they are known to eat a wide variety of fish, including herring, sand eels, whiting and flatfish. Shrimps and squid are also sometimes eaten.