Castle Coole: Area of Special Scientific Interest
Castle Coole has been designated an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency due to its rich parkland habitat and associated species. The historic Castle Coole park, which can be traced back to the 17th-century, is characterised by old, open-grown trees and shrubs with significant amounts of standing and fallen dead wood. These magnificent trees provide a specialist habitat for rare and uncommon invertebrates, lichens and fungi.
Oak is the dominant parkland tree species with beech, horse-chestnut, ash, hawthorn and sycamore also present. There is a spectacular avenue of oak trees along the main entrance. Many of the trees are veteran or ancient and some of the ancient trees have large girths, with one oak tree having a staggering 25 feet girth (7.7m).
The parkland trees and shrubs support high quality invertebrate fauna such as the larvae of the rare rhinoceros beetle which makes its home in decaying wood. Other invertebrates like barkflies are found on the lichens covering the trees and digger wasps nest in old beetle holes in tree trunks.
The parkland trees also support a variety of bracket fungi which contribute to the decaying process, part of the natural ageing process of a tree. This eventually creates hollow cavities, which in turn provide a habitat for a wider range of animals. In some grassland areas crimson waxcap fungi can be found.
Under the Trees
In places where the tree canopy is denser, a woodland flora has developed, with typical species such as wood anemone, bluebell, pignut, primrose, lords-and-ladies and the notable bird’s nest orchid.
The wetland vegetation fringing Lough Coole provides even more diversity with species such as common reed and water horsetail, and the wet grassland supports a range of plants including quaking grass, carnation sedge, devil’s-bit scabious and meadow vetchling.
Correct management is essential for special places like Castle Coole. Traditional agricultural practices put in place by the Trust will ensure the survival of the parkland habitat and its associated rich range of plants and animals. Visit Castle Coole this season and experience this wonderful biodiversity bonanza.