A farmer and butcher, inspired by her granny, features in new BBC NI series

A 27-year-old farmer and butcher is just one of a number of people to feature in a new BBC series entitled The Chronicles of Strangford.

By Joanne Knox
Thursday, 6th January 2022, 3:30 pm

The series begins on Monday 17 January and will be aired on BBC One Northern Ireland at 7.30pm.

Narrated by Armagh-born actor Colin Morgan, The Chronicles of Strangford is a new four-part documentary series from Waddell Media.

The series follows characters in and around Strangford Lough over the course of four seasons.

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The story of the lough is told through the people who live and work there, preserving traditions and protecting the wildlife that shares their home.

Sharing her story is Kerry Angus, a sheep farmer who also manages the family’s traditional style butcher and farm shop in the centre of Greyabbey.

Kerry’s father, mother and sister all work there too.

On their farm, they rear pedigree Kerry Hill Sheep in a slow, non-intensive way, before they are finished and sold at the butcher shop.

John Murray, ex skipper and boat builder, who features in The Chronicles of Strangford, beginning on BBC One Northern Ireland, Monday 17 January at 7.30pm

Kerry’s life is intertwined with her experiences growing up there and she can’t imagine living or working anywhere else.

Even in the shop, she cooks cakes and pastries based on recipes passed down from her granny.

Her granny was an inspiration to Kerry and her sister growing up, inspiring her to become a farmer and take on the family farm and business.

“It’s lovely to be somewhere where you have so many memories, we were very fortunate to grow up here,” Kerry said.

Also starring in the series is Mark McCormick from the RSPB.

Life was good for Mark back in 2017 – he had moved to London and was in a steady relationship and working in a good job.

It meant a trip to Westminster on 22 March, which is when his life changed.

He was standing looking down from a window onto Westminster Bridge when a man driving an SUV drove into pedestrians.

Christine Picton, seabed and shore surveyor, who features in The Chronicles of Strangford, beginning on BBC One Northern Ireland, Monday 17 January at 7.30pm

He saw the attack as it happened, in which six people died, including the attacker.

It started to haunt him. He stopped sleeping and he lived in constant anxiety.

Mark then decided to follow his dream of working with nature, and moved back to his home town in County Down and take up a job with RSPB protecting endangered bird species.

Mark and his wife have recently had a baby boy, and Mark spends his year liaising with Strangford’s arable farmers as they work together to conserve the bird population in the area.

He has worked with a number of farms Improving habitats especially winter feeding opportunities and this has seen a return of birds like the yellowhammer to Co. Down.

“I don’t want my son to grow up not being able to hear bids like yellow hammer,” he commented.

Hugh Thurgate is a National Trust Ranger who works with farmers, wildfowlers, fishermen and land owners to manage and conserve the flora and fauna on the many islands in Strangford Lough.

Based at Mount Stewart, he has been in this role for 20 years.

His daily life is significantly influenced by the seasons, the tides and the weather. It’s an incredibly varied job but one of his great pleasures is comparing season to season from one year to the next.

He has been monitoring the lough’s seal and sea bird colonies for over 25 years, and his work not only provides an important barometer locally but also feeds into Europe-wide surveys.

His current ambition is to entice some of the Swan Islands Sandwich Tern population back from Larne.

“One of the great things about this job is that you are seeing the seasons, we are seeing changes of wildlife with the weather - that’s one of the things I love about Strangford Lough, the transitions between seasons,” Hugh revealed.

Strangford man Kerry Mackie is a third generation wildfowl fanatic and expert.

His grandfather did the Brent Geese count every Autumn, then his father and now Kerry.

The arrival of thousands of migrating geese every autumn is a real spectacle and the sound they make as they feed is one you never forget.

Kerry also monitors other species on the lough and is licensed to capture and ring birds so they can be monitored as they move around the world.

As a wildfowl consultant, Kerry provides independent evidence-based consultancy services in ornithology, wildlife management, habitats and conservation policy.

He has published over 10 scientific papers.

Naturalist Katy Bell studied Zoology in Edinburgh then Ecological Management and Conservation Biology at Queen’s University.

She worked as a ranger in the Scottish Highlands and, in her current role as senior conservation officer for Ulster Wildlife, she manages species-focused conservation projects; including  barn owls.

Katy works with volunteer groups and farmers across Strangford.

There are currently three nesting sites for returning barn owls and the programme follows Katy as she installs and checks nesting boxes.

But an unusually wet spring and hot July threatens the population.

After all that work will Katy have any fledgling chicks?

The Chronicles of Strangford is the fourth instalment in the critically acclaimed Chronicles series, which has included The Chronicles of Mourne, The Chronicles of Erne and Chronicles of the Glens.

Like those series, it is filmed using a variety of techniques including drones and time-lapse photography, which bring familiar landscapes and secret corners of the lough to life in a spectacular fashion.

The landscape and weather is as much a part of the programme as the people it follows, and their relationship with their natural surroundings and the lough’s delicate eco system is the overall theme of the series.

It is about local people working with nature and protecting their place in the world.

It offers a glimpse into a lifestyle where appreciating and preserving our surroundings takes centre stage.

The lough was known in ancient Irish as Loch Cuan, which can be translated as harbour lake.

It’s an apt name as its many islands offer shelter and sanctuary to a huge range of wildlife, many of whom treat it as a temporary home before they move elsewhere.

Every autumn its many islands become a giant grey seal nursery, as they swim in from the open sea to breed and raise their young.

While the tides transform the landscape four times a day, migration transforms the lough’s population every season.

This feeling of constant flux and change is very much part of life on Strangford Lough.

The programme begins on 17 January and viewers will also be able to watch it on BBC iPlayer.