Sheep ferried to rich grazing islands in 200-year tradition

The vessel has allowed for the continued farming of the islands of the Lough in Northern Ireland (Photo: National Trust)
The vessel has allowed for the continued farming of the islands of the Lough in Northern Ireland (Photo: National Trust)

Tenant farmers along with National Trust rangers have undertaken a 200-year tradition after transporting 150 sheep by barge to rich grazing islands.

Rangers assisted farmers Frankie and Kevin McCullough in removing 150 grazing hoggets from Salt Island for transport to the slopes of Slieve Croob, County Down.

For nearly 200 years, farmers around Strangford have transported their livestock to the rich grazing land of the islands in the Lough.

From animals swimming short distances, to transporting them on makeshift rafts, cows and sheep have long benefited from the varied pasture.



The grazing plays an important role in the conservation management of the land, helping to control the growth of scrub and providing habitat for local wildfowl and migrating birds to thrive.

As a charity, the National Trust is responsible for the care of 20 islands on Strangford Lough – 12 of which are grazed for most, or some, of the year.



The National Trust has been operating a livestock barge, or cot, on the Lough since 2000 – firstly, the Penelope and then the Cuan Brig, from 2014.

The vessel has allowed for the continued farming of the islands of the Lough. Without it, there would have been land abandonment and the afforestation of the islands, either through planned planting or natural succession.

National Trust's head ranger Hugh Thurgate said: "Loss of grazing would also lead to a decline in suitable grazing habitat for wintering wildfowl and a loss of suitable habitat for breeding seabirds for which the Lough is internationally renowned.

"Woodland development would result in the disappearance of visible culture, history and archaeology which is currently wonderfully accessible.

The islands provide high-quality seasonal pasturage for mountain sheep (Photo: National Trust)
The islands provide high-quality seasonal pasturage for mountain sheep (Photo: National Trust)

"There are other commercial barges operating on the Lough but none of them are designed for the transportation of livestock.

"The Cuan Brig is the only vessel that farming landowners and tenants can hire for the movement of stock and is available to anybody, it’s not just for National Trust tenants.”

Rangers Hugh and Will Hawkins took the helm of the Cuan Brig to move two boatloads of hoggets off Salt Island.



These animals were offloaded at Mullagh Quay before being taken to Frankie's farm on the slopes of Slieve Croob.

The hoggets will spend their summer on the mountain before being assimilated into Frankie's flock of 450 breeding Scottish blackface ewes.