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.
Bay - a wildlife extravaganza in store|
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.
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
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.
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.
butterfly was once pretty common but it is now only found in a handful of areas.
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.
at the ready
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.
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.
Orchid image copyright and courtesy of Natural England and Peter Wakely.