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New Lough Erne Ferry Provides Important Cargo Transport for Cattle & Equipment

11th January 2020
The new Joe Magee ferry on Lough Erne The new Joe Magee ferry on Lough Erne Photo: Ronan McGrade

The traditional Lough Erne Cot is a vessel unique to Upper and Lower Lough Erne and used there for possibly 2000 years. It was popular for transporting goods, people and cattle around the islands in the lakes in County Fermanagh and some versions are still used today for carrying cattle.

The cot was uniquely suitable for this purpose, being flat bottomed, wide in the middle and narrow in its turned-up ends. Some were surprisingly long at 15 to 18 metres. But the latest design of the ‘cot’ commissioned by the RSPB, is a far cry from the original. It’s a 15m custom-made 14-ton vessel built by Welsh marine engineers and workboat builders Mainstay Marine Solutions.

As Afloat previously reported, not only will it transport livestock but also machinery, equipment and people and its deck space can be altered depending on the cargo. It can also be dismantled into sections for ease of road transportation.

The grazing of cattle on the islands helps ground-nesting birds by providing cover. The livestock creates a suitable structure of grass and vegetation to form an ideal habitat for breeding wading birds including curlews, lapwings, redshanks and snipe to nest and raise young.

The boat has been named the ‘Joe Magee’ after a former RSPB Fermanagh warden who had noticed the alarming decline in wading birds during his time there. The new cot was acquired through the Co-operation Across Borders for Biodiversity (CABB) project, which receives financial support from the EU’s INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). CABB is improving the habitat for breeding wading birds at several sites in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and blanket bog habitat in NI, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland.

RSPB NI has operated a cot to transport livestock between islands on Lower Lough Erne since 1991. The original was designed by Joe Magee but needed to be replaced due to wear and tear.

RSPB NI area manager Brad Robson explained: “The cot is used throughout the year. We move about 150 cattle and 60 sheep back and forth to our managed islands, as well as livestock to other privately owned islands. In its first voyages, the new vessel will be used to bring livestock off for the winter”.

Joe Magee added: “We originally used a wooden cot, which a farmer let us use, and then we built our own.  “Although at first it had no engine on it, and we had to tow it using another boat. So eventually we got an engine and that made life easier. “I knew that across the island of

Ireland curlew numbers were dropping, so it’s important that work is still being done to look after them.”

Mr Robson said the RSPB's work is essential and by using cattle to manage the grassland they can give curlews "the best possible opportunity that they can rear young successfully”.

Underlining the importance of this part of the project, Gina McIntyre - CEO of the SEUPB - said: “The curlew is one of a number of endangered priority species identified in the environmental protection measures within the EU INTERREG Programme. This new cot is a fantastic example of the tangible impact that EU INTERREG funding is having in safeguarding the natural environment and protecting endangered species, on a cross-border basis. Due to this intervention by the CABB project, curlews will have a much better future. I also want to commend Joe for his commitment to conservation.”

You can read more here

Betty Armstrong

About The Author

Betty Armstrong

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Betty Armstrong is Yachting Life's Northern Ireland Correspondent. Betty grew up racing dinghies but now sails a more sedate Dehler 36 around County Down.

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