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17 September 2014
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Coast - Murlough Bay

Coastal wonder

Murlough Bay

Murlough Bay was declared Ireland's first nature reserve almost 40 years ago and to many it remains the finest place in Ireland to see some wonderful species of wildlife.

Murlough Bay - a wildlife extravaganza in store

Marsh FritillarySituated on the County Down coastline and in the shadow of the spectacular Mourne Mountains, Murlough's ancient sand dune system is 5,000 years old.

This fragile dune system is made up of sand, heath and woodland surrounded by estuary and sea.

A former World War Two Army base, the site has a varied history, dating back to Neolithic times and containing evidence of human habitation during the Bronze Age.

Some of the highest sand dunes found anywhere in Europe provide shelter for birds in autumn and winter, but during the summer it's probably the top spot in Northern Ireland for flowering plants and around 20 species of butterflies.

Flora and fauna

Bee Orchid c/o Natural England and Peter WakelyThe Marsh Fritillary, one of the UK's most threatened butterfly species, is often found here and seems to be doing much better here than over in mainland Britain.

This butterfly was once pretty common but it is now only found in a handful of areas.

In Northern Ireland a great conservation effort has ensured there's always a safe place for them to breed.

Their caterpillars are dependent on a particular plant called devil's-bit scabious, which is found at Murlough in abundance, and the hollows and dips in the dune landscape help protect the caterpillars from the strong coastal winds.

Also found here are Bee Orchids, so named due to the resemblance in the shape of their petals and which grow in the calcium-rich sand, along with other species including the Pyramidal Orchid, Carline Thistle and various rare lichen communities.

All these plants and animal have led to Murlough being named an Area of Special Scientific Interest, which helps protect the various species found in this ideal habitat.

Binoculars at the ready

PlantGoing a bit further inland offers yet more bird-watching opportunities, and one of the main summer migrants to the area is the White Throat.

White Throats are named on account of the white bibs under their chins and are found here in large numbers thanks to the ideal coastal scrubland habitat.

There's also a fair population of about 20 to 30 Herons, as well as Willow Warblers in the heathland and also Fieldfare and Redwing Thrushes.

The grassy landscape may also provide a glimpse of two rare breeds of animal introduced by the National Trust to help maintain the reserve's natural diversity.

Dexter Cattle are a traditional Irish breed and can be identified by their long, chestnut-coloured coats, although they're mainly seen on the reserve during the winter.

Splashing about

SealFrom the dunes to the sea, Murlough is also a fantastic spot for Seal watching with between 50 and 130 common and Grey Seals regularly returning to the area for moult, rest and feed.

Summer's a great time for Seal-watching as their numbers peak during July to September.

The rising sand dunes are one of the best areas to get a great view of the Seals.

The dunes also offer a panoramic view over the coastline and the Dundrum Inner Bay estuary, which also attracts wildfowl and waders.

Photo credits

Bee Orchid image copyright and courtesy of Natural England and Peter Wakely.



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