Ian McCurley is responsible for the management of National Trust woodlands and parklands in Northern Ireland. An outdoor enthusiast and cyclist he enjoys exploring our coast and countryside which is home to a wealth of wildlife.
Asked to name Northern Ireland's five best bird watching spots, he recommends...
Britain's largest sea inlet and one of Europe's key wildlife habitats. It is the largest marine nature reserve in the UK and Northern Ireland's first Marine Conservation Zone — a unique haven for biodiversity, containing many of our rare and most threatened wildlife.
Uncover its tidal treasures and enjoy everything from delicate wild flowers and butterflies in abundance, rock pools brimming over with marine life and some of the best bird watching in the UK and Ireland. www.strangfordlough.org
The Giant's Causeway
The area is home to an extremely wide range of invertebrates, plants and birds including a number of internationally important species. Spring and early summer bring a bloom of wild flowers such as early purple orchid, sea pink and the vivid yellow gorse. Birds such as the colourful stonechats perched on gorse bushes; fulmars in their cliff nest sites, peregrine falcons and gannets are all part of daily life around the Causeway.
Murlough Natural Nature Reserve
The range and extent of habitats found at Murlough National Nature Reserve include a succession from bare sand to ancient dunes. Found within these are heathland — the best example of dune heathland in Ireland; species-rich grassland, lichen-rich hollows, gorse and bracken scrub, and woodland.
Wildflowers abound everywhere and are easily seen along the sides of paths with carpets of bird's-foot trefoil, wild pansies and wild thyme providing opportunities for wildlife including bees, butterflies and moths. Over 600 different species of butterflies and moths have been recorded including the marsh fritillary butterfly which is of European importance, as well as several rare and uncommon beetles. The Bay is an important feeding area for summer seabirds such as gannets, manx shearwaters, terns and auks.
Crom is the largest surviving area of mature broad-leaved semi-natural woodland in Northern Ireland and is also one of the most important and least spoilt freshwater habitats in the British Isles. The estate contains over 600 veteran trees with some spectacular mature oaks, many of which stand proudly within the parkland areas.
The highest mountain in Northern Ireland, Slieve Donard is part of the Eastern Mournes (above) Area of Special Scientific Interest. The mountain is a mosaic of dry and wet heathland, bog, acid grasslands, screerboulder and rock habitats, and the high altitude and extreme conditions provide niches for some rare and specialist flora and invertebrates.
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