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Murlough is cared for as Ireland's first nature reserve since 1967, the fragile 6000 year old sand dune system offers some lovely walks. Due to the reserves wild nature you can discover birds, flowers, butterflies and more, all overlooked by the rounded peaks of the Mourne Mountains to the south.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Scrub Burning

Over the winter we get to keep ourselves warm sawing, lopping, chopping and burning scrub.  This is fantastic exercise, everyone gets impressive muscles from dragging branches and lobbing logs left right and centre.  It's cathartic and invigorating, and moodily beautiful.

We are not wantonly destroying the nature reserve, this is the removal of invasive and non-native scrub that threatens to crowd out the more delicate dune-heath species.  The aim to is to get the heather and marram grass back to places which have gotten swamped in bramble, bracken, sea buckthorn and gorse.  There are also a plethora of small herbacious species that we want to encourage, and given that this reserve is 12% of the UK's dune heath,  its a big deal!

Of course we do leave some patches of gorse for the wildlife as it is an important part of the landscape, and we do not cut after the 1st of March, as this is the start of bird nesting season.  As an amateur coleopterist (beetle lover) I would like to recommend the gorse for its Rove beetles, many a small intrepid beastie have I found after we've cut a load of gorse down.
Burning Gorse

Getting the fire to go after a week of windy wet weather can be tricky, you'll certainly learn how to build and maintain a good fire here.  You'll also end up smelling of wood-smoke, which is a good thing. 

There are moments, struggling up a slope with a pitchfork of gorse clippings, into a hearty winter gale, the thick acrid grey gorse smoke billowing in your eyes that it all feels a bit apocalyptic.  The right kind of music on the MP3 player enhances this (I will try to leave a selection of good post-apocalyptic industrial dark electro whatnot on the shared computer drive here for future volunteers to use).

Sea Buckthorn

Incredibly spiky!  Whilst at Murlough you will get spiked by a selection of flora, which is all part of the fun and makes you more at one with nature.  Sea buckthorn is a classic, sporting the elegant long spike that gets you from any angle (and if you are cutting the butt-height clusters then you get spiked exactly there). 

It is both friend and foe to us here, it helps stabilise the dunes from erosion as well as sneakliy attempting to carpet over the reserve, so we remove it judiciously.  Recently we have also used the debris to thatch eroded areas of dune and prevent wind, wave and people running up and down the dunes accelerating the erosion.

The berries are good and can be picked in autumn; you can make jam (and probably some improvised viscous alcoholic beverage too) which is high in vitamin C and supposedly very medicinal.

European Gorse

Gorse...it's impressive stuff, very hardy and irrepressable, flowering all year with those heady coconut scented flowers and capable of regrowing after any amount of cutting or spraying. 

In the winter I'm ashamed to admit there's nothing more satisfying than cutting it and burning it! It feels good to hand-saw a really big one, lift it above your head and march it to the fire where you fling it manfully (yet carefully) on to watch it erupt into flame.  It makes me feel like a giant striding about lifting mighty trees.  When it's cold and the work is pleasantly repetitive it's easy to lapse into fantasy as you can tell.

Gorse burns easily so once we get going we have to maintain a steady stream of burnable material, its good bonding activity for the group, and much deep meaningful conversation is had.  Then we rake up and burn all the debris, to reduce the overall soil fertility as that helps encourage the regrowth of specialist dune species. 

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