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.
The summer is a time full of biological surveys for us. These are important for us so we can monitor what is happening to the biodiversity of the reserve and seasonal patterns over time.
Butterflies Transect: The butterfly survey takes place once a week (weather permitting), and is done around the east side of the reserve. Volunteers and wardens walk along a set transect which is divided into 15 sections, identifying and counting the butterflies they see within ~2.5m either side of us, and ~5m ahead of us. At first identification of the butterflies seems to be the challenging part, and new volunteers are always in awe that anyone can tell the species apart when they're on the wing, and often disappearing into the distance. It seems though, that it is remembering the route and sections of the transect that proves the greatest challenge, and many a volunteer has gotten lost and disorientated on the walk. Do not fear though, we have retrieved all lost volunteers.
The data from these counts is passed over to UKBMS, who use this data to monitor the butterflies in Northern Ireland and across England, Wales and Scotland, and produce a report on their findings each year.
Bird Count: The bird count usually happens once a month, and is taken from 3 sites, Dundrum Inner Bay, the Murlough beach and the farm fields ajacent to the reserve. Identification can be difficult to begin with, especially the waiders which all look rather similar. However in time we've all learnt a good number of species, and Murlough has trained many volunteers into becoming budding twitchers.
All of the data we collected is put into a data sheet on the WeBS wetland bird survey webpage, along with data collected for us by Murlough's original warden Jo Whatmough at 3 other sites. This helps us to gain a better understanding of the patterns in bird species through the seasons, and how these patterns may be changing over the years.
Seal Counts: Seal counts are done once a month, twice durring breeding season, to monitor their numbers. Starting from the Ballykinlar beach, we count the number of seals all along the coast as far as Craigalea. There are 2 types of seals, the grey and the common, and the differences are rather subtle, especially given the distance we are from them. Spotting them amongst the rocks also needs a bit of practice, and many a rock has been watched carefully thinking it may move. We also take notes on any possible disturbances to the seals from people, such as shell collectors, or vehicles on the beach.
These figures, along with maps to show were the seals were seen is emailed to the NIEA, who recieve similar data from a number of people around Northern Ireland.
Sheep Counts: Though counting sheep may not sound like the most necesary task, monitoring their numbers on the Mourne mountain is important. Their numbers are counted and markings noted, so we can see which sheep are straying onto National Trust land, and so we can monitor the effects their grazing is having on the mountain habitat. For this survey identification skills are not of great importance (we know a sheep when we see one....hopefully), getting up the mountain can be a task in itself. Again, no volunteer has yet been lost or left behind.