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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.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Strimming, Raking, and Convolvulus Hawk Moths

Hi, Lizzie here again. It is week two for me of being a volunteer ranger at Murlough Nature Reserve.
Mondays are always used for site checks. We drive to every area that we are responsible for in the local area, and then walk or drive along the main paths, checking for broken fences and so on. We also need to pick some litter. We started along The Dundrum Coastal Path, which follows the line of the old Belfast and County Down Railway. (See photographs >>)
Here we have seen curlews, oystercatcher, redshank, and other wading birds. One of the rangers here, Pete, lives overlooking this bay, although he is less lucky with the risk of flooding at unusually high tides and storms. We moved on to the woodland walk surrounding Dundrum Castle, and Pete let us go for a wonder round the ruins, where there are towers to climb and look over the view of the whole of Dundrum Bay. Jacob and I were then sent up the Bloody Bridge mountain path, while the others did another section of coastal path. Along this path is a rocky mountain river, and there is usually a group of wet-suited individuals with helmets on getting ready to jump in plunge pools. The path continues up to the peak of Slieve Donard, but we only walked up to a bridge about fifteen minutes up. Fergus says he has heard the story of Bloody Bridge from Pete, something I am still waiting for! A name like that is sure to have a story behind it.
In the afternoon we strimmed, raked and mowed outside the house. Graham showed me how to use a hefty long-grass cutting machine, which moves by itself like a car. He made it clear how flipping dangerous it is, and I had a moment of horror when it seemed to be about to drive into Jacob and Pete. That might have earned our volunteer accommodation a new name with a story behind it.
On Tuesday, Graham showed us how to get the wood burner going in the morning. Chris and James - extra volunteers, came in, so there were a lot of different jobs going on that morning. There was the strimming, raking, piling, wheeling and dumping of grass, and the lifting, splitting and stacking of wood - and the odd bit of standing and chatting!
There was a moth discovery mid-morning. ‘The moth man’ was around, fortunately, and he was straight up the tree it was in with his ladder and net. He had it in a little pot, then out crawling over his fingers, in no time. It was really large, and mostly grey. A new find for the reserve - number 707, or something like that - a convolvulus hawk-moth.
We had a fairly early finish that afternoon after more stacking, as there was a BBQ in the evening for Miranda and Graham’s leaving do. Pete’s fire chimney, crafted with wire and a chainsaw, smouldered, then blazed away as we talked, ate and drank.
Wednesday served to test me on my strimmer training, as I had managed to avoid it since the previous Friday! I got it going okay, but when I had to replace the plastic strips which cut the grass, I put them in too far so they flew out as soon as I started the machine up. I had to walk down the drive to where the others were working and ask the long-suffering Miranda to help me put it right. I was still less than confident in my abilities, and felt only frustration when, strimming round a wooden post, I would accidentally shave wood of the post itself as well as the grass. As you might expect, I reverted to raking as soon as I could.
On Thursday, I went with Damien to fix the water trough for cattle.
The gorse bushes were scattered all over with dewy spider’s webs, silver in the sun. I explored overgrown, curling footpaths, and then chose a route to clear from the trough to the main path. I cut with secateurs, trampled, and kicked gorse tufts under the bushes. I ate blackberries - tangy sour or sweet – the uncompromisingly late summer and early autumn taste. The sun gradually burnt the mist away. My face was burnished before Damien got back from the hardware store. We picked litter from the path where someone had camped, and stopped hastily in the jeep to pick up the bottle of sun cream: it had slipped from the dashboard, straight out of the window onto the main road. We talked about dream jobs, driving over the track with sea on either side.
Paddy took me out to do visitor counters that afternoon. We dug under the sand to find the sensor pad and the box with the information stored. ‘Like a squirrel looking for nuts it has buried and forgotten where’, I said, (perhaps aggravatingly). Or a pirate digging for treasure, I thought.
If I had known I would have to remember all the processes involved in obtaining the data from the visitor counter and replacing it again, I may have paid a bit more attention. I seemed to remember okay the next Monday anyway. Jacob and I did the whole thing on our own, as Damien was putting up notices about keeping dogs on leads. What took the most time on both occasions was trying to find the box, digging about in the sand for it. After that it was just changing batteries, taking the microchip out, testing, wiping and setting the date for the new one, and putting it all back. (Site of one of the underground visitor counters! >>)
On Friday we made a start on the seemingly vast project of raking up after Damien who was using the tractor and the ‘Jungle Buster’ to remove grass and scrub, in a much larger scale version of what we were doing with strimmers on the plot of grass by the house.

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