Alien invader at Portstewart Strand...

Portstewart Strand Dunes

Work is due to begin again to continue the removal of sea buckthorn from the sand dunes at Portstewart Strand. This important intervention was started last year, and we are continuing the process to hopefully eradicate it completely.

The site has been declared an Area of Special Scientific Interest due to the rare and fragile habitats and wildlife that it supports.  And the biggest danger this unique eco-system faces is the highly invasive shrub – sea buckthorn.  This coastal shrub is characterised by dense, thorny branches and sometimes striking orange berries.  It is a non-native shrub, a true alien invader.  If left unmanaged sea buckthorn will readily colonise the sand dunes, turning them into a dense scrub/forest mosaic and threatening the native wildlife here.  This includes rare dune plants and 18 recorded species of butterfly.  Rare plants at risk include seaside centaury, bee and frog orchids.

This buckthorn control project began in mid-November, in partnership with Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), who is funding the scheme.  The plan is to remove approximately 3.5 hectares (8.6 acres) across the dunes, incl some lands within the Golf Course.  The proposed clearance areas have been specifically selected, so as to minimise disturbance to any wintering/feeding birds.  One example was a roost site for herons, which will not be cleared.

Visitors and local walkers alike will notice contractors on site from mid-November to January doing the clearance works.  These works will involve both hand cutting and mechanical clearance, using a tracked digger with cutting head.  All cut branches will be disposed on site, by controlled burning on those freshly cleared areas, thus protecting any existing grassland sites.  We do of course ask the public for their support and cooperation during this period, in terms of avoiding any heavy machinery or active clearance zones.

Post project works, there will be follow up light chemical spraying of any root re-growth.  Also there will be young cattle on site to help graze off any rank grasses or light scrub re-growth.  These cattle are primarily on to keep the dune grassland sward closely cropped, thus allowing the specialist dune flowers, butterflies and moths to flourish.  With winter cutting works allowing for summer meadows, while all the time keeping our alien invader at bay…the highly invasive sea buckthorn shrub.

Another advantage of this work, is that it will further open more areas of the dunes for trails, and in particular very special views of the Bann Estuary, still the site’s best kept secret.