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Sea buckthorn removal at Murlough

View of the Mourne Mountains from Murlough National Nature Reserve, County Down, Northern Ireland
Sea buckthorn growing in the dunes at Murlough National Nature Reserve, County Down | © National Trust Images/Joe Cornish

A five-year project is currently taking place to remove much of the invasive sea buckthorn at Murlough. Partially funded by NIEA, the team is on track to remove 4 hectares of it over the next few years.

What is sea buckthorn?

The sea buckthorn plant is known for its brightly coloured berries, giving early winter a splash of bright orange.

A superfood

Used both medicinally and cosmetically, the berries are edible and regarded as a superfood due to their rich nutritional content.

Sea Buckthorn at Portstewart Strand, County Londonderry
Sea buckthorn at Murlough National Nature Reserve, County Down | © National Trust Images/John Miller

A non-native plant

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. It grows especially well in coastal environments like Murlough.

Tough and armed with thorns

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.

Sea buckthorn creates shade

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.

Work in progress

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

Returning the natural habitat

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

View of the Mourne Mountains across Dundrum Bay from the beach at Murlough National Nature Reserve, County Down


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