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Our work at the Giant’s Causeway

Dexter cattle grazing in the parkland at Castle Ward, County Down, Northern Ireland.
Dexter cattle at the Giant's Causeway, County Antrim | © National Trust Images/Sarah Burch

Find out how cattle are improving the habitat in Portnaboe near the world-renowned Giant’s Causeway. Learn more about our work to create space for wildflowers to grow and discover how wildlife is benefitting, including extremely rare snails and flies.

Dexter cattle

Dexter cows are a traditional Irish breed and have been chosen for their small size, hardiness and agility on the bay’s rocky slopes. The cows will graze happily on the coarse vegetation found around the cliffs.

Making space in the landscape

Bracken, bramble and coarse grasses are part of their daily diet on the steep maritime slopes of Portnaboe. By grazing, the cattle make space for wildflowers to grow. Dung from the cows even attracts a variety of bats, beetles and other insects.

Close up of two people holding notebooks and crouching down examining plant heads in a field
Carrying out a bio survey at the Giant's Causeway, County Antrim | © National Trust Images/Gill Sandford

A rare insect

The rangers have discovered several rare species at the site including the first records anywhere in Northern Ireland of the UK’s gall-forming fly. The gall was found during a bio survey of the landscape by ranger, Cliff Henry.

‘It was only after trying to identify the gall on meadowsweet that I realised how rare it actually was’

– Cliff Henry, Area Ranger for the National Trust

Blemishes on plants

The rare rough meadowsweet gall uses the wild meadowsweet plant as a home during part of its life cycle. The gall creates unsightly bumps at the base of the leaves near the stem which are home to colonies of gall fly larvae.

Blemishes or outgrowths on the plant appear due to the burrowing larvae. The larvae develop from eggs laid on the plant by the tiny female fly which then burrow within the plant tissue. The gall larvae benefit from nutrients inside the plant and are also well protected from predators.

A tiny snail

A narrow-mouthed whorl snail has recently been seen in the vegetation. This is a rare mollusc that measures just 2mm in length. This micro snail has not been found anywhere else in Northern Ireland.

Continuing the work

Cattle carrying out regular conservation grazing will continue to provide a home to rare wildlife on these maritime cliffs. Rangers will continue to complete bio surveys of the area in the hope that more rare insects and flowers will be discovered in the future.

Wildflowers at Newton Point meadow, Dunstanburgh and Newton Coast
Wildflower meadow at Giant's Causeway, County Antrim | © National Trust Images / Stephen Morley

Creating wildflower meadows

The National Trust rangers at the Giant’s Causeway work continuously to maintain existing wildflower meadows. Recently the team have been creating new ones including the colourful wildflower meadow next to the Visitor Centre.

Food for insects

Wildflower meadows are support a rich variety of insect life. In turn other animals like hedgehogs, birds and bats need the insects to feed on. If one group of species is in decline it can lead to the loss of many more.

A home for pollinators

The ranger team have built a dedicated nesting bank for solitary mining bees nearby at Innisfree Farm. The team used sods of grass, local stones, sand and gravel to create the mud bank. Two bee species have been spotted trying out the new residence, the chocolate mining bee and its parasite, Marshsam’s nomad bee.

Solitary bees

Solitary bees often have a short life cycle but their young frequently us the same nesting sites each year. We hope that the numbers will increase each year as the wildflower meadows mature.

Thank you

With your ongoing support we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places

A dramatic view of Giant's Causeway from the water, with a dark sky above, waves crashing into the rocks and visitors exploring the mainland


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