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Situated on the North Slob in County Wexford, the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve is a bird sanctuary with facilities for human as well as avian visitors. The Reserve is located in the winter feeding grounds of the Greenland white-fronted geese and these birds are visible in vast numbers, as well as hundreds of other breeds. There is a visitor centre which gives an introduction to the birds as well as providing hides and an observation tower from which to view them.
The town of Wexford is situated on the estuary of the Slaney River, which flows eastward into the Irish Sea. To the north and south of the estuary lie the areas known as the 'slobs'. Originally, these were huge areas of sand and mud which were flooded at high tide and which changed from year to year as the currents carried new mud down the river. They got their name from the Irish word slab which means soft mud, as well as a soft-fleshed person.
In the 19th Century, the slobs were reclaimed from the sea by the building of dikes and drains and by pumping the water out, in a manner similar to the polders of the Netherlands or the Fens of eastern England. The slobs are now rich farming land. They lie about two to three metres below sea level, as can be easily seen by standing on the main dike.
The slobs have always been a great abode of birds. Waterfowl including ducks, geese, waders and swans (mute, whooper and Bewick's varieties) can be seen, as well as land birds such as crows, robins and wrens. Over 240 different species of bird have been recorded on the slobs.
The most important are the geese. 10,000 Greenland White-Fronted Geese1 and 2000 Brent Geese use the North Slob as their winter quarters every year. These birds arrive in October, the white-fronted geese coming from Greenland and the brent geese from Bathurst Island, Canada, via Iceland. They complete the journey from Iceland to Wexford, a distance of about 900 miles, in one unbroken flight of 17 hours. While wintering in Wexford, each day they feed on the fields of the North Slob, then fly to the nearby 'Raven' peninsula to roost.
In 1981, it was decided to set up a nature reserve to protect the geese. A portion of the North Slob was bought by the National Parks & Wildlife Service and the Irish Wildbird Conservancy (now BirdWatch Ireland), and is reserved for the geese. It is now jointly owned and managed by Dúchas, The Heritage Service, and BirdWatch Ireland. There is an interesting visitor centre where you can see a permanent exhibition about birds in general and about the geese in particular. There is an observation tower with good views all around and three permanent hides which allow you to get a bit closer to the birds.
The best time to visit the Reserve is in the winter when the geese are there, but even in the summer there are usually a few birds hanging around. In Summer 2003, for example, there were a few Greenland white-fronted geese, Canada geese, brent geese, snow geese, barnacle geese, swans, curlews, redshanks and godwits as well as teal, mallards, coots and moorhens.
The centre is signposted from the Wexford to Castlebridge R741 road, about two miles north of Wexford Bridge. The centre is open every day except over the Christmas period. Opening hours are 9am - 6pm mid-April - September, 10am - 5pm October - mid-April. Admission is free.