Flora & fauna on Achill, Co Mayo, Ireland
Achill Island can boast a flora as varied as its topography, from common species such as birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), found at sea level, to rare arctic alpine species such as Juniper (Juniperus communis), found on the peaks of Slievemore and Croaghaun.
Bog / Peatlands
Achill is characterised by its large expanses of blanket bog / peatlands. Peatlands are recognised as one of the unique features of Achill's heritage. Bog or peat is largely made up of water with its solid matter consisting of partly decayed plant remains. Blanket peatlands have formed over thousands of years, only occurring in areas where there is a high annual rainfall, i.e. in excess of 125mm.
The peatlands of Achill which sweep from the mountains to the sea sustain unique communities of plant and animals.
Plants such as purple moor grass (Milinia caerulea), ling heather (Calluna vulgrais) and sphagnum moss (Sphagnum) dominate the surface of the bog. Bog cotton (Eripphorum angustifolium), bog asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum), cross-leaved heath (Erical tetralix) and bell heather (Erica cineria) provide pockets of colour with black bog rush (Schoenus nigricans) and white beak-sedge (Rhynchospora alba) are also typical. Insectivourous plants such as sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), butterwort (Pinguicula vulgrais) and bladderwort (Utricularia spp.) adapt to the nutrient-poor environment by trapping and digesting insects to gain extra nutrients. Bog myrtle (Myrica gale) is a low growing shrub with a distinctive aroma, commonly found at the lower altitudes. Irish heath (Erical hivernica) is a rare heather only occurring in north-west Mayo, Spain and Portugal. It can be seen blooming on the Curran Peninsula and at the back of Croughan in early spring. Other rare plants found in Achill include St. Patrick's cabbage (Saxifraga spathularis), dwarf willow (Salix herbacea), bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) and a species of eyebright (Oxyria digna) specific to Croughan.
Machair is the name given to coastal grassland on a sandy substrate and stems from the Irish, Machaire, which means a plain stretch of level ground. Machair is only found in north-west Ireland and north-west Scotland and is a priority habitat afforded special protection from the European Union.
Machair started to develop just after the last Ice Age due to a number of factors such as the high wind velocities and grazing. In Achill, machair is found in a number of sites, the best examples being found in Keel, Dugort and Valley. Early to mid-June find the machairs a blaze of colour, with flowers such as wild thyme (Thymus praecox), daisy (Bellis perennis), birds foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) and lady's strawbed (Carex), mosses (Sphagnum) and liverwort are also well represented in this habitat. One of the important species found in this habitat is petalwort, a rare liverwort that is listed on Annex II and Annex IV of the European Habitat Directive.
Many animals such as the Irish hare (Lepus timidus hibernicus) and fox (Vulpes vulpes) are widespread throughout Achill. The otter (Lutra lutra), Irish stoat (Mustela erminea hibernica), badger (Meles meles), pygmy shrew (Sorex minutus) and bats are commonly observed. Ireland's only lizard - Irish common lizard (lacerta viviparta) - is also present on Achill, feeding on insects found on local bogs and sand dunes. They are about 5 inches long with tail, sandy grey or brown. They often sun themselves on dry-stone walls. (View images of Irish lizard.).
One of the important animals to the local ecosystem is the common frog (Rana temporaria), which occurs on most of the habitats found in Achill. A particularly beautiful specimen is the elephant hawk moth, which breeds on Achill and which has fascinating caterpillars. We are indebted to Achill resident Mark Chaddock for the photographs below (and above, of the lizard) and his observations on Achill flora and fauna on his website River Cottage Diary. Click any image to view larger version:
Flora & Fauna continued »