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Disturbance is most likely to have an impact during those periods of the annual cycle when food is scarce and birds have difficulty in meeting their energy requirements. The provision of disturbance-free refuges has been shown to enhance the abundance and diversity of waterfowl wintering on such sites. Lough Neagh, a large shallow lake in Northern Ireland, hosts internationally important numbers of wintering waterfowl, the most numerous being Common Pochard Aythya ferina, Tufted Duck A. fuligula, Greater Scaup A. marila and Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula. Hunting is the predominant winter recreational activity. A small number of refuges have been provided to limit the effects of shooting disturbance on the wintering populations. The use of one of these refuges (Doss Bay) was studied during the winter of 1997/8 and compared with a non-refuge site (Brockish Bay) during the winter of 1998/9. Shooting intensity was greater at weekends than midweek, and significantly more birds used the refuge at weekends than midweek during the shooting season. In contrast, significantly fewer birds were observed in Brockish Bay at weekends. This trend ceased when the shooting season closed, suggesting that the effect was due to shooting disturbance. Furthermore, significantly fewer birds used Doss Bay after the shooting season had closed, whereas significantly more birds were observed at Brockish Bay. Shooting disturbance had the greatest impact on dabbling duck species and rails at both sites. Diving ducks moved away from shoreline disturbance to shallow areas where they could still feed. The value of shoreline refuges for waterfowl populations on lakes is discussed.