Sea Buckthorn at Murlough

Sea buckthorn berries in winter at Murlough National Nature Reserve

We're 2 years into a 5 year project to remove much of the invasive sea buckthorn at Murlough. Partially funded by NIEA, we're on track to remove 4 hectares of the stuff over the next few years.

A slow process which involves much manual work
A ranger clears sycamore branches from Murlough National Nature Reserve
A slow process which involves much manual work

The sea buckthorn plant is known for its brightly-coloured berries, giving early winter a splash of bright orange. Used both medicinally and cosmetically, the berries are edible and reagarded as a superfood due to their rich nutritional content.

Not native to Ireland, the plant was introduced to Murlough by the Downshire family in the 1890s to help stabilise the dunes. Its fast growing root system holds the dunes in place and is often used for anti-desertification purposes. It grows voraciously, spreading quickly even in poor soil, and grows especially well in coastal environments like Murlough.

This cliff was left after a storm, as the buckthorn roots hold it fast
Sea buckthorn and sycamore create a cliff at Murlough after a storm
This cliff was left after a storm, as the buckthorn roots hold it fast

Although it has served its intended purpose, as a non-native plant it hinders the natural ebb and flow of the sand. During storms it can lead to large swathes of the dune being washed away leaving behind a sheer cliff rather than a smooth slope. It grows in a tough, thorny thicket and prevents any native plants from surviving underneath.

The only plant which survives the shady conditions at Murlough is sycamore, which in turn grows quickly and shades out the sea buckthorn. Sycamore woodland now stands where once had been sand dune.

A path to a sign carved out from the thickets of buckthorn
The Sea Buckthorn at Murlough National Nature Reserve in 2018
A path to a sign carved out from the thickets of buckthorn

Our five year project is now heading into its third year. Partially funded by NIEA and with lots of hard work by the team, we have cleared vast amounts of the plant. The work takes place mostly during the winter before bird nesting season, and any regrowth is carefully monitored throughout the year.

The buckthorn is very difficult to remove entirely
A section of Murlough National Nature Reserve cleared of sea buckthorn
The buckthorn is very difficult to remove entirely

The project has opened up new sections of the beach and we hope it will encourage the natural “yellow dune” to flourish and the return of our special native habitat to these areas.