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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.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Bread Fest at Castle Ward

Murlough and Castle Ward National Trust Properties are joined. Often when Castle Ward have events the Murlough team may be asked to give them a hand setting up, preparing the site and help where needed during the event. 

The bread fest event was 3 days long, on the Saturday the event was kick off with Bread Fest, Sunday was the Van Morrison concert and Monday had the Bike show. Some of us at Murlough went down on the Friday to help set up for the weekend and prepare the seating arrangements for a Wedding also taking place on the Saturday.

We were all given different duties; some where litter picking, some where setting up chairs and some were helping out in the demonstration marquees. Thankfully it was a sunny weekend and we all had a great time helping out.

Full Moon...a true story of mystery, suspense and horror at Murlough

Full Moon
A true story of mystery and suspense at Murlough...
It is the deep dark dead of night, the lugubrious midnight hour.  The sky is a blurring oil slick of Prussian blue and indigo. Two volunteers (henceforth described in the first person for obscure reasons) sit perched on a wooden picnic bench, smoking menthol filters and gazing up at veiled wisps of cloud cloaking, uncloaking a heavy tallow moon.  Mournful howls echo through the woods at North Point in a slow sad liturgy of beautiful, endless longing. They could be wolves, given it’s a full moon, but on reflection the Beast of Murlough is supposed to be a big cat, not a canine, and no dog ever sounded so heartbroken, or distinctly maritime. 
I wonder if its owls, but She says seals.  Owls hooting cannot tug at the core of one’s very being like this (though maybe they do in Siberia?) We listen, seriously, discussing whether it is the sound of seals calling out for a mate, or calling out after a long-lost mate, or even engaged in mournful congress, and if so whether they are enjoying it or not?  I ponder this and come to the conclusion that if such things happened, David Attenborough would have told us about it by now.  Such things only remind me that I am leaving Murlough in a week, and really, really do not want to.
Suddenly, my companion starts, draws breath and goes rigid; she has seen something in the bushes.  “Rose, look...” she whispers.
Over in the small copse by the dark, imposing Christian house, two red eyes twinkle, flash, sway and blink back at us.  They are too large to be the cat, too high up for a fox, or badger.  They move with a determined intelligence.  They are not human.  A dreadful and glorious sense of horror tugs insistently at my guts; the air has become very still, very lucid; we could be characters in that film, the one they say is based on a true story...   We laugh nervously, then, uttering excited expletives in hushed voices, we scurry indoors.  From inside, lights off, pressed against the window, we continue to watch our watcher.
The eyes do not turn from us; they blink back, unhurried, unconcerned, feigning disinterest.  I am not fooled; they are pretending to hunt, scanning us from the periphery of vision, biding their time. The luminescence shifts from red to green and back again, flickering slightly like marsh-light; a will’o’the wisp, drawing us out of our brick and stone safety into the wilds.  I picture us, two intrepid, yet woefully naive, young women being lured out, across the reserve, under the mountain by some cantankerous or lusty spirit.  Does Slieve Donard have a faery hall beneath its lush green carpet?  Undoubtedly.                                  
After what seems like ages we come to an agreement, we will go out and meet this moon-eyed stalker, this crepuscular-creature that refuses to emerge from the thicket.  We don our boots and pad out across the stableyard, decelerating our pace with each metre from the warm doorway.  At the rusty wrought iron gate my companion pauses at the invisible line she cannot cross, waiting to see if I’ll go first.  She is strikingly beautiful in this moment of thrilling trepidation, her hair is soft-spun gold in the moonlight, so I take a mental picture in case one or both of us is consumed, or possessed by something supernatural in the near future.  Inching forward we approach the bushes, ready to scream, ready to run, keeping our eyes fixed on the unmoving, unearthly shining orbs...
                                                                                ...and find...
                                                                                                       ..a crisp packet in the tree.

                       True story.
For more adrenalin-fuelled adventures and daring real-life mystery come to Murlough NNR, where we are littered with intrigue!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The Big Clean-up Operation

After a couple of sunny weeks, Murlough NNR and the County Down council beach alongside it were looking a little worse for ware. Due to our litterbug culture, the clean-up operation was going to be big. That was despite the staff and volunteers at Murlough having worked tirelessly every day at litter picking both the reserve and council beach, and regularly changing the large bins we had installed for the few good weeks of summer.  It is especially important to keep the beach clean, so that we can ensure the council can keep their blue flag status.

We had a number of staff and volunteers from Castle Ward, and a group on a working holiday join us for the morning.  30 people all in all.  After a quick photo shoot for the Mourne Observer, we were away on our litter picking adventure.

It is quite incredible what people are willing to leave on the beach! As well as the usual crisp packets and drinks bottles, there are beach towles, beach mats, and even clothing and shoes...... The Murlough volunteers have over the last week gained an entire collection of beach buckets, spades and inflatables. Who needs to get paid with these kind of perks to the job!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Litter-Picking Paradise

Litter-Picking Paradise
It is hot.  “What do volunteers do when the weather is so unrelentingly clement” you might ask?

 “Ah ha! I shall tell you” (without a shred of cynicism or ridiculously fanciful description... )
We have been out enhancing visitor experience through the subtle and artful re-imagining of their physical surroundings.  This is more than the mere removal of unwanted detritus (from man and dog alike) but is an exciting work in progress, evolving as the ebb and flow of visitors washes over the reserve.  The trick is to blend, to meld almost, with the hot flustery crowds, weaving amongst them like discrete eels, casting our magic; our perpetual disappearing act.
 A Chewit paper drops...whoosh!..we catch it on the wing.  A wet-wipe flutters brown and smeared from the marram grass...gasp!...we spirit it away.  Barbequed chicken glistens oily and sluggish in the sand...expelliarmus!..we whip it out from under the innocent noses of the sunbathers and sightseers.  As they lie back, contented, demure and sober, we dart about making the dunes and sands look as untouched by human hand as if they were a newly discovered paradise; an Eden of the modern age.  There are no hidden improvised toilets in paradise, no small blackened burn-sites and singed sticky sausages, no clue to suspected nappy-origami contests under gorse bushes ...no, it’s all pristine.  Thus do we work, around the clock, around the gloriously tanned limbs of supine spectators, to remove every trace of humanity’s decadence and reliance on plastics.
On a more serious note, we attempt, and in most cases succeed, in hiding the tragic fact that most of our rabbits here are smokers and alcoholics (the evidence is there).  From the ‘tuts’ and ‘tsks’ you can tell that the  some of the more mature visitors are shocked at this state of affairs, for certainly a human would never leave the evidence of their substance use so blatantly lying around.  I personally find it strange that few youngsters seem to notice or care about this; are they not saddened, nay moved, by the flagrant littering caused by our furry friends, or has TV and video-games hardened them to such things?  Take a late night dander along the snaking paths of the reserve and the extent of the addiction is laid bare; for wherever there are cans of lager, fag ends and bottles of WkD, there are rabbit droppings. 
This is even more shocking when you consider how many young impressionable rabbits there are at this time of year.  Tsk.
Back to the details of the task.  We use state of the art tools for this job: telescopic hand-operated grabbing-extensions, equipped with a jaunty plastic handy-hook (to catch in Satsuma-netting and flayed tissue paper) and a daring futuristic alloy shaft to catch the sunlight.  We place our finds into voluminous mixed-matter flexi-sacks, crafted from spaceage unbreakable nanosheets (able to withstand BBQ wire, broken glass and disposable forks) and seal these with knots that only a Jedi could understand.  These ‘refuse sacks’ (if you will) are placed in the hover-trailer and the mechanised pilot is ordered to convey them back to the reclamation zone. 
To be part of such a slick and seamless study in the de-soiling of the sand and scrub is an honour, and I do not speak of it lightly.  It is a compulsive activity once begun, and many a volunteer has wandered off merrily litter-picking, never to be seen again (ok, that’s not really true).  Much as the lopping of bramble tendrils can utterly consume one in a peculiar blend of frustration and joy, litter-picking can dissolve the hours and days like a beautiful and memorable bath -bomb in the bathtub of life.