Today was scheduled as a Rest Day, but I decided to cycle the 50km to Newcastle just to keep the legs spinning but also to shorten tomorrow’s leg of the journey. The coastline here is already full of waders, but will become even more important over the next few weeks as the winter visitors arrive in force.
Newcastle sits on the southern end of the wide expanse of Dundrum Bay. Just north of the town lies Murlough Nature Reserve, which holds the distinction of being the first formally designated Nature Reserve in Ireland, when it was established in 1967. It is an old fixed dune system, extending over 280 hectares and provides the best example of dune heath in the island of Ireland. It was immediately apparent that this was different to the other younger and more mobile dune systems that I visited so far on this tour, for the vegetation was dominated by thick tall heather and dense stands of bracken. I’d say that management of the bracken was an issue as I noticed that large patches of it were recently cut, but it is hard to see how it could be kept in check. The reserve does manage a herd of Exmoor ponies to manage grazing, but I didn’t see any when I visited.
Devil’s-bit Scabious was incredibly abundant in some of the grassland pockets, giving the grassland a blue hue.
As this is the food plant of the Marsh Fritillary butterfly, it is hardly surprising then that this is an important site for this protected butterfly. Indeed, Murlough is extremely important for butterflies and moths, with a remarkable 600 species in total recorded here. But one butterfly species, the Wall Brown, a conservation priority species in Ireland, has not been recorded for a number of years. It is feared that despite the best conservation efforts it has become extinct as a breeding species at the site.
The site looks really well managed, with a large network of boardwalks running through the site. This means that people visiting the lovely long beach here can access the beach without having any impact on the vegetation of the dunes.
In fact, watching many families walking along the boardwalk I did wonder, did any of them realise that they were walking through such a precious habitat?