Flora and fauna at Murlough

Small tortoiseshell butterfly resting on Devils-bit Scabious © Brian Canning

Small tortoiseshell butterfly resting on Devils-bit Scabious

Murlough is internationally important for wintering wildfowl and waders, a haul-out site for Common and Grey seals and is home to a wide range of invertebrates including rare species and communities.

The grassland at Murlough is herb-rich throughout and includes wild thyme, common cat’s-ear, eye bright and lady’s bedstraw. Plan your visit for early June to experience the carpets of wild pansy, common restharrow, and bird’s foot trefoil which occur among the short rabbit grazed sward. The heath at Murlough is similarly herb rich with woodsage, tormentil and devils bit scabious growing among the bell and ling heathers, and this is best seen in late summer.

For the botanists, some notable plants to look out for include shepherd’s cress, small cudweed, early forget-me-not, bee and pyramidal orchids, carline thistle and the brilliantly blue viper’s bugloss.

The dune flowers provide an important food source for butterflies such as small heath, common blue and meadow brown and day flying moths such as the six-spot burnet and cinnabar. One of the 22 different butterflies at Murlough, the Marsh Fritillary, is of European importance as it is endangered throughout most of its range. It is on the wing from mid May until mid to late June. If you visit in late June you will also see the common blue and dark green fritillary. There are over 300 different types of moth, several rare and uncommon beetles and the area is also noted for its tunnel burrowing solitary bees. Ireland’s only native reptile, the viviparous or common lizard, can be found basking in the sun on hot summer days.

Birds of conservation concern breeding on the property include skylark, cuckoo, song thrush, spotted flycatcher, dunnock, house sparrow, linnet and bullfinch. Dundrum Inner Bay regularly holds significant numbers of wildfowl and waders throughout the winter. The birds come to the estuary because of the relatively mild climate and abundance of food found on the mudflats. Species include oystercatcher, lapwing, redshank and curlew, and during the winter small numbers of black-tailed godwit, turnstone and ringed plover. Dundrum Outer Bay is an important feeding area for summer birds such as terns and gannets, as well as over-wintering wildfowl and waders such as common scoter and golden plover.  

The bay also hosts healthy populations of both common and grey seals, they are best seen at their ‘haul out’ sites, the most popular being Ballykinlar. Come in early autumn when the numbers are at their highest. Other mammals to look out for include badgers, foxes, stoats and of course the rabbits which seem to be everywhere.