People involved in outdoor activities also want to take in the scenery, explore the incredible historic sites, encounter animals such as seals and red squirrels and be uplifted and inspired by wildlife spectacles such as carpets of coastal wildflowers in summer and tens of thousands of overwintering birds in winter.
Dramatic changes in tidal conditions, water depths and coastline provide many different opportunities for water based recreation – from beginners to the most experienced.
There are 11 sailing and boat clubs within the AONB (more than the whole of the rest of NI) and others on the adjacent outer Ards Peninsula. Ardglass Marina has 80 berths and can be used by local (55 berths) and visiting yachts (25 berths). There are pontoons at Portaferry and at Strangford. Aids to Navigation installed in Strangford Lough in 2010 have improved safety, particularly for visiting boats.
Strangford Lough has a canoe / paddling trail that meanders through scenic islands and includes the opportunity to camp or spend a night in a bothy on Salt Island.
The Lecale coast is thought by many to offer the best coasteering venue in Northern Ireland, as well as providing a dramatic coastal walk.
Diving continues to be popular for the range of challenges it offers, its marine life and many ship wrecks. Dive companies and clubs using the area have requested guidance and information to help them to use the resource sustainably and to enhance and promote
With regard to land based recreation, the aim in this strategy is to develop and promote short to medium heritage walks especially around and between settlements. This is intended to increase local use across a range of abilities and also to provide activities for visitors and to make the heritage more accessible.
Horse riding takes place mainly along green lanes and country roads. There is a toll horse ride at the Rosemount Country Estate.
The growth in cycling is evidenced by the number of regular road events held in the area. Off road cycling trails have been developed at Castle Ward. Cycling will be promoted as part of the outdoor recreation offering.
Wildfowling continues to be managed through the National Trust Wildlife Scheme. This Scheme and the work of wildfowlers in conservation will be highlighted through the Action Plan.
Two outdoor recreation companies are now based within the AONB and others use it regularly. There is also Education Board outdoor activity centres at Delamont.
Those involved in outdoor recreation can be amongst the best ambassadors for the area’s heritage and are well placed to play an active role in caring for it. The focus of the work of the AONB & Geopark team is to encourage sustainable activities and develop guidance and codes of practice to reduce any negative impact on the environment or conflict with other activities.