Kilcoole Marshes

18. Kilcoole Marshes

Saltmarsh and shingle beach

Map reference: T3106 Nearest town: Kilcoole

An evening walk in summer along the sandy track beside the railway gives wide views as the sun sinks to the west behind the Wicklow hills. Breeding waders call from the saltmarshes and, over the stony beach, groups of little terns flit backwards and forwards with their fairy-like flight pattern.

Landscape: A flat coastal plain is bordered by a long straight barrier beach which was formed when sea-level was higher after the last Ice Age. Alternate layers of marine and freshwater sediments in the marshes show that the sea has breached the barrier several times in the past. At present the sea enters the marshes through a narrow channel beneath the railway bridge at the Breaches. The channel occasionally blocks with beach material in winter and the marshes flood extensively. Much of the original saltmarsh has been drained and claimed for agriculture

Habitats: The area holds a complex of saltmarsh, reedbed, and tidal channels which are separated from the sea by a shingle ridge, low sand hills and a wide stony beach. The top of the beach has a rich flora in summer with sea beet, sea campion and sea sandwort. The sandhills are ted by marram grass with kidney vetch, sea bindweed and sea holly on the more open areas. In mid-summer it is possible to find some scarcer plants such as pyramidal orchid and yellow horned poppy.There are some thickets of the thorny shrub sea buckthorn and another introduced plant, hottentot fig, has become established near the Breaches. Some drainage channels are filled with a dense growth of reeds while the few areas of undrained saltmarsh contain common scurvy grass, sea aster and sea lavender.

Wildlife: Rabbits are common on the sand and shingle and they are regularly hunted by fox and stoat. Skylark, meadow pipit and stonechat are common breeding birds on the sand hills in summer. The open beach near the Breaches holds nesting ringed plover and oystercatcher and a small but important colony of little terns. These graceful seabirds can be seen fishing in the shallow offshore waters and in tidal channels in the marshes. The saltmarsh has nesting redshank, shelduck and mute swan. Wintering wildfowl including whooper and Bewick's swans; greylag and brent geese are usually seen on grassland around the edge of the marshes. Ducks such as wigeon, teal, mallard and shelduck are common in winter. Pintail, shoveler, pochard, goldeneye and gadwall are occasional. Common waders on the marshes in winter include redshank, curlew and golden plover. The beach has regular small flocks of oystercatcher, ringed plover, turnstone and dunlin in autumn and winter. Kestrel and merlin are frequently seen hunting on the marshes and beach with occasional peregrine and hen harrier in winter. Look out for terns offshore in summer with occasional red-throated divers and little gulls in winter.

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