The dunes at Murlough are the best and most extensive examples of dune heath within Ireland and represent approximately 12% of this habitat within the UK. The dune heath is of European importance and one of the primary reasons for the selection of the site as a Special Area of Conservation. There are two different types of heather at Murlough, bell heather and ling. The bell heather’s flowers are a deeper purple and generally come out first.
Throughout the year
Autumn sees the arrival of some of Murlough’s over-wintering wildfowl and waders. Dundrum bay hosts an abundance of wildlife and you are sure to see a diverse range of bird species. Bring a pair of binoculars as identifying some of the species can be challenging, even for the most ardent of birdwatchers. Highlights to look out for are the Brent goose as well as large flocks of lapwing, oystercatcher, golden plover, dunlin and godwits, to name but a few. Our north point nature trail also offers one of the best times to enjoy Murlough’s woodland soaking in the beautiful sunburst colours of the autumn leaves and the eclectic variations of fungi on display. The walk also takes you through some fabulous old hazel stands as well as some of Murlough’s older hawthorn and blackthorn stands.
Winter is a great time to visit Murlough but be sure to wrap up as it can get cold! A walk through the core area is always a highlight. It is worth looking out for the Exmoor ponies which gaze year round and help the rangers keep Murlough’s scrub in check.
As in autumn, you can always see an abundance of wildfowl and waders and you can also pick up views of flocks of wintering thrushes such as redwings and fieldfares. If you look to the neighbouring farm fields as you walk through the core area at high tide you may also be lucky enough to see large flocks of Brent geese (a small dark goose) grazing – these flocks can reach up to several hundred each.
Springtime is wonderful for both flora and fauna at Murlough. We start to see some of the rarer and specialist flowers such as the dainty early forget-me-not and the shepherd’s cress, both of which can be found on the dunes. We also begin to see some of the great displays of wild pansy and primrose which can be found in abundance if you take a spring stroll through the reserve. Taking a stroll through the wooded area can also reveal some of Murlough’s hidden secrets such as the dazzling displays from our native bluebells. Listen out for the call of the cuckoo, returning from Africa to spend the summer at Murlough. Also keep an eye out for kestrels hovering overhead looking for their next tasty meal, skylarks flittering and singing in the sky, meadow pipits darting around and the distinctive ‘chat’ call of the stonechat, not forgetting swifts, swallows and sand martins.
Summer is a great time of year to see Murlough’s rare and internationally important dune heath. Ling and bell heather come into flower around July; when in bloom, they turn the dunes to a magnificent purple. Another plant to look out for at Murlough is the devil's bit scabious, a pretty little purple flower which provides the main food source for the marsh fritillary butterfly. The marsh fritillary is a beautiful little butterfly which is a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species and can be seen on the wing at Murlough during June and July.
Summer is a great time to see many of Murlough’s mammals so keep your eyes peeled as you could catch a glimpse including rabbits, foxes and stoats. Lucky visitors may even be afforded a view of Murlough’s elusive common lizard which the keen eye may spot basking in the summer sun. If you look across the beach to Ballykinler at low tide you are almost guaranteed a view of common and grey seals hauling out and during the summer months. You may even be lucky enough to see a common seal pup.