A walk through Sheskinmore-Magheramore dunes at any time is good for the soul; even better when nature is at its most resplendent in early summer. Add to this some guidance from the experts and your day is made.
The latest in the series of guided walks and talks at Sheskinmore Nature Reserve kicked off on a gusty and showery Saturday morning on July 2nd at McGlinchey’s House with two well-attended illustrated talks which provided a sound scientific foundation for the ramble that followed.
Dr Helene Burningham of the Coastal & Estuarine Research Unit at University College London has been involved in a long-term study of coastal erosion in this part of Donegal and gave us a fascinating account of the coastal dynamics which are apparent in places such as Dooey Strand and Ballinreavy/Tramore. Helene gave us scientific insights that make our personal observations of our ever-shifting shores more meaningful. Coastal erosion gets a bad press when someone’s house falls into the sea or a road gets washed away (that’s our fault for building them there). But not only is the process a natural – and often beneficial – one, it is basically unstoppable. The coast is in a state of constant flux and Helene explained the processes involved, citing a number of sites.
These included Falchorrib, north of Dooey strand, where the bedrock platform is being eroded to create a boulder storm beach. Here the driving force is wave energy and she showed how 3 metre waves – typical of most winter storms – can move detached boulders. At Dooey, the channel dynamics of the Gweebarra estuary and bay have caused the dunes at southern tip of the strand to advance and retreat. This movement of dune systems is also easily observable in Loughros More Bay, where we have all witnessed the channel shifts that have driven much of the erosion along Ballinreavy Strand over recent decades.
Among the diverse habitats within the dune system of Magheramore are the dune slacks (ponds) which were the subject of our second presentation by Sara Varandas Martins, a PhD student at University College London, who defined ponds as bodies of water greater in size than one square metre and less than two hectares.
As with dune systems themselves, these ponds display an ebb and flow but on a faster, seasonal basis – as regular walkers in Sheskinmore will have observed – falling to their lowest around the end of October and peaking in early spring in response to the height of the water table. Machair ponds such as these display a greater species richness than other bodies of water and in the ‘temporary’ ponds of Magheramore, which basically disappear as the water table drops, neither fully terrestrial nor fully aquatic species can survive.
As the sky thankfully lifted, a group of more than two dozen of us – guided by Sara and Helene – explored several of these ponds where Sara downloaded data for her research from ‘probes’ she has sunk into them. She sampled the pond life from the waters to enable us to examine some of the diminutive inhabitants, such as the water flea whose reproductive cycles provide them with a survival strategy as the water dries up.
As with all Sheskinmore guided walks, there was something for everyone: for the birders there was a noisy party of 27 choughs and for the budding botanists the sight of Lesser Butterfly Orchids, Twayblades and Marsh Helleborine.
As always, enormous thanks to Emer Magee for making the day happen and for ensuring that we continue to care about the treasures of nature.