Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 22 November 2014

Rare bugle wildflower blooming on Rathlin Island

The rare pyramidal bugle wildflower on Rathlin Island
The rare pyramidal bugle wildflower on Rathlin Island

It's one of the UK's rarest wildflowers and wasn't even thought to exist in Northern Ireland until 1980. And if you want to see the pyramidal bugle, you'll have to get on the ferry to Rathlin Island.

The good news is that the Northern Ireland Environment Agency is running a special ramble on April 25 to see the wildflower in its native habitat in the damp meadows of west Rathlin.

NIEA principal scientist Bob Bleakley was the first to realise that the plant fragment he had found in a Rathlin meadow while carrying out a vegetation survey was the rare flower that was then thought only to grow in the Western Isles, Galway and The Burren.

"I knew the plant from The Burren. Even though it was long past flowering I recognised these scruffy little remains of a leaf. So I came back the next year and the pyramidal bugle was flowering," he said.

The flower was widespread across northern Rathlin, from near the West Lighthouse to above Church Bay, but it has never been seen elsewhere in Northern Ireland.

It hadn't been recorded before 1980 because it flowered so early that it was gone by the time the vegetation surveys took place.

"It's a pretty little plant but you could walk past it without noticing it. It's an unusual plant that you won't see anywhere else in Northern Ireland," Mr Bleakley said.

"It grows almost as a biennial rather than a perennial, so it seeds one year, grows, then flowers the next year. It grows to about 10cm and has more of a sky blue flower than the common bugle, and it has a four-sided shape.

"We found it near Kebble Lake where there is a steep basalt cliff that grades into tussocky grassland and it appears on hummocks in that grassland."

At this time of year, walkers will be able to enjoy primroses, dog violet, wheatears and Irish hares. Guillemots, razorbills and puffins are starting to return to the west cliffs.

This is the first of a series of guided walks to Rathlin's West End operating through spring and summer, when the fields will be carpeted with orchids. More information is available at 028 7035 9977 or www.discovernorthernireland.com.

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