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AN ENVIRONMENTAL GUIDE TO THE RECREATIONAL BEACHES OF THE NORTH IRISH COAST by Coleraine Borough Council

CREATING A BETTER BOROUGH THROUGH EDUCATION


INTRODUCTION Kittiwake

Add to the enjoyment of your visit to the north coast by discovering some of the hidden treasures of our beautiful sandy beaches and dunes. This unique Guide is not only designed to introduce the amateur naturalist and the curious beachcomber to the basic ecology of the beach habitat but to instil in everyone a greater appreciation for this colourful seascape. Although by no means a comprehensive description of beach habitat, ‘An Island’s Treasure’ provides public information for all of the north coast’s accessible recreational beaches and dunes between Magilligan Point and Fair Head, answers a number of frequently asked questions and offers a useful field guide to most of the native shells, birds and plants of this diverse coastline. The following beaches and dunes are featured: Downhill, Castlerock, Millstrand (Portrush), Curran Strand & Whiterocks (Portrush) and Portballintrae (Coleraine Borough Council), Benone (Limavady BC), Ballycastle and Runkerry (Moyle DC), Portstewart Strand and Whitepark Bay (National Trust). Magilligan Point is also featured. Be sure to pop this ‘treasure’ into your beach bag and impress your friends with your newly found knowledge.

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CONTENTS

Introduction

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Beach by Beach

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Map

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Some Questions Answered

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Beach Litter

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Wildlife and Safety

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What’s that Shell

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What’s that Bird

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What’s that Plant

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Treasure

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Contacts

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‘An Island’s Treasure’ was composed by Jim Allen who is part of the Environmental Services team in Coleraine Borough Council’s Technical Service’s Department and a member of the Council’s Coastal Management Committee.

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BEACH BY BEACH - MAGILLIGAN

Our excursion of the north coast’s recreational beaches begins at Magilligan Point on the Foyle estuary and ends at Ballycastle, close to Fair Head at the northern entrance to the Irish Sea. (See the centrefold map for beach locations).

Magilligan forms the western third of an 11km (7 mile) long unbroken plain of sand stretching from the mouth of Lough Foyle to the foot of Mussenden Temple. Magilligan’s beach and dune system is one of the most studied coastal landforms in the region and from Point to Temple is protected as an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Access: From Point Road (B202) and adjacent to Ferry Terminal. Much of the beach to the east of the Point is under the control of the MOD. Red flags mark off the areas of restricted access. Pedestrian only. Note: Rich diversity of shells. Abundant life beneath the surface of sand. Bathing inadvisable.

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View over Magilligan Point and Foyle estuary towards the west and Innishowen

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BENONE

Managed by Limavady Borough Council, Benone Strand is a very popular beach with a wide range of beach activities from kite flying to jet skiing. Part of the dune system to the east of the strand is an Ulster Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve (the Umbra). Access: Via Benone Tourist Complex (caravan park, outdoor pool and golf) off A2. Also under railway line at Downhill and across Umbra Burn

(care needed). Cars permitted (excluding quad bikes and scramblers). Note: The area is enhanced by the spectacular wooded cliffs to the south which form part of the ancient coastline and is now home to many wild birds. Watch out for the occasional hang glider and numerous waterfalls. The Council Beach Lifeguards and Beach Wardens (July – August). C.B.C.

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Benone beach looking west towards Magilligan Point

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DOWNHILL BEACH

Owned and managed by Coleraine Borough Council, Downhill is separated from Benone by the Umbra burn where it enters the sea (also forms part of the boundary between the two Councils). After White Park Bay, Downhill is probably one of the most photographed beaches on the north coast because of the famous Mussenden Temple and has featured in many television and film dramas. Both Downhill and Benone are popular with sea anglers who run a number of annual competitions. Access: From under railway line at Downhill and from Benone across the

Umbra burn. (difficult in high tides and heavy rainfall). Cars permitted (excluding quad bikes and scramblers). Limavady PSNI patrol both beaches during the visitor season. Note: The beach is backed by narrow and fragmented dunes and part of the Coleraine to Derry railway line which disappears into the Downhill cliffs under Mussenden Temple. Beach Guards (July-August). J.A. J.A.

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Sea Rocket


Downhill beach from Mussenden Temple looking west towards Benone and Magilligan

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CASTLEROCK The Barmouth. Lower River Bann entering the sea between Castlerock and Portstewart

Castlerock is a 1 km (0.7 mile) long stretch of beach between the sea cliffs of Downhill to the west and the Lower R. Bann estuary known as the Barmouth to the east. Managed by Coleraine Borough Council, Castlerock beach backs on to the tranquil resort of Castlerock. The dunes to the east of the entrance are home to Castlerock golf club and a private caravan park. The dunes extend back upstream of the Bann estuary to Grangemore (some of the oldest dated sand dunes in Ireland) and a National Trust bird sanctuary. Access: From Castlerock town. Cars permitted. Limited access within dunes. Walkers and anglers can walk out along the concrete pier of the Barmouth (inadvisable in high winds and breaking sea).

I.I. Oyster catchers at Bann Estuary M.H.

Note: Watch out for appearance of small harbour porpoises or seals feeding in the estuary at the Barmouth. No Beach Guards.

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Cold water at Castlerock Beach

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PORTSTEWART

“Portstewart Strand is a magnificent 3 km (1.5 mile) long, gently shelving sandy beach and dune system owned and managed by the National Trust since 1981. The beach is bordered to the west and south by the Lower R. Bann, and to the east by Portstewart itself. The Strand attracts up to 180,000 visitors per year. All activities including water sports, are zoned. In 2000, the 200 acre dune system at Portstewart was included in the Bann Estuary ASSI, for the rare and fragile habitats/wildlife that it supports. In particular many species of butterflies and orchids including M.H.

the rare bee orchid have been recorded, and can be viewed from the waymarked trails”. Barry Crawford, Property Manager National Trust. Access: Cars and pedestrians from Strand Head Road past Golf Club. Pedestrians only from Port Path from Town. Charge for cars in a zoned section March-October. Part of the dunes are owned by Portstewart Golf Club and access is restricted. Walkers and anglers can walk out along the concrete pier of the Barmouth (inadvisable in high winds and breaking sea).

Note: With the introduction of sea buckthorn to the dunes 150 years ago, the ecology was altered dramatically. The thorny shrub threatened to overrun the dunes but proactive conservation management has helped prevent this. In the past few years other plants are competing with the buckthorn to open up the dense thicket to badgers (remember they and their setts are protected). Watch out for the occasional fox hunting for rabbits and small birds. National Trust staff present (May – October).

Wave riders at Portstewart

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Portstewart Strand looking south featuring golf links - Bann estuary on horizon N. McD

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WEST BAY (MILLSTRAND) PORTRUSH

Millstrand, also known as the West Bay, is the smaller of Portrush’s two beaches and popular with surfers and bathers alike. It’s also perhaps the least natural of all the north coast beaches, with a large concrete promenade encircling the bay separating the beach from its dunes. West Bay is a geological ASSI, because of buried peat deposits and ancient sands beneath the present beach which provides information

Limpet on kelp

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on the landscape evolution of this coastline.

Access: Access all along the promenade and for pedestrians only.

Venue for the famous Portrush Raft Race, the beach is made all the more popular because of its easy access to and from the resort and to the large and busy Portrush harbour. During summer months a Council Beach Guard is stationed at the Harbour/north end of the beach.

Note: Watch how the waves behave around the middle of the beach at Castle Erin. A large part of Portrush is built upon a massive dune field which connects West Bay with the larger east strand and Whiterocks. Council Beach Guards (July-August). Stationed at harbour/north end of beach. C.B.C..


View from Castle Erin, looking north towards Portrush Harbour and Ramore Head

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EAST STRAND (CURRAN STRAND) PORTRUSH

Stretching out from the east side of the Portrush peninsula towards the Whiterocks and the famous Causeway Coast, is the beautiful 4km (2mile) long Curran Strand. Bathing is perhaps more popular and safer at the town end of the beach due to shelving sand and sand bars around Curran Point (midway along). Curran Point is a seaward build up of sand resulting from the shelter afforded by the chain of the Skerry Islands Burnet Moth M.H.

(meaning sea rocks). The oncoming waves wrap themselves around the Skerries and approach the shore from the east and west at enough of an angle to drive the sand towards the centre of the beach and into a point. The seaward dunes are a little fragmented and eroded but most of the 360 acre dune system is home to both Rathmore and Royal Portrush Golf Clubs. Access: Again backed for part of the way by a concrete promenade the beach is easily accessible. No vehicles permitted on beach. Nearby free parking (with height barrier). Access to dunes is restricted.

Elliptical trough shell

Note: A visit to the nearby Arcadia complex provides a worthy view of the strand. Council Beach Guard (July & August). Stationed at the town/west end of the beach.

Whiterocks beach looking west towards Portrush and Curran Point C.B.C.

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Curran Strand looking seaward towards the Skerries

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WHITEROCKS

Hidden from Portrush town by Curran Point, the Whiterocks beach forms the eastern end of the larger Curran/East Strand but because of its beautiful chalk cliffs (geological ASSI), it takes on a very different character from others along the coast. The waves at the Whiterocks tend to be larger and stronger making it very popular with board, body and kayak surfers. Much care is needed in bathing in this area due to strong rips and shelving sand (see Council’s beach safety leaflet). The various small caves and arches in the chalk cliffs are worth exploring but only at low tide (if in doubt, do not take risks).

C.B.C. Stranded Risso’s Dolphin ‘North Coast’

Access: From Curran Strand and small free car park (with height barriers) off the A2 Dunluce Road. No vehicles permitted on beach. Note: Watch out for harbour porpoises occasionally seen close to the beach. The very hard and shiny flint rock embedded in the chalk cliffs

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was mined by Mesolithic people (Middle Stone Age hunter-gatherers) between 6,000 – 9,000 years ago regarded at the first settlers in Ireland. Council Beach Guards (July & August).

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View towards the west over Whiterocks beach, Royal Portrush golf links and Portrush Town

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PORTBALLINTRAE BAY

The landing place (port) at the town (baile/bally) on the strand (tra/trae) is an apt description of beautiful PortBallintrae Bay. The little horse shoe shaped embayment with its harbour is surrounded by the small village of Portballintrae. The beach has a history of sediment loss and much of what we see today has been imported by Coleraine Borough Council who also constructed a series of wooden groynes to help entrap sand.

Access: Steps central to the bay opposite Bayview Hotel. Pedestrian only. Note: Part of the bay to the east is a geological ASSI. Good for shell collecting No Beach Guards.

J.A. Kayaking off Runkerry Point

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C.B.C.

Dried Kelp Stalks

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Portballintrae Bay looking north east, featuring harbour

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RUNKERRY

Also referred to as Bushfoot strand, Runkerry is also a geological ASSI and one of the most exciting beach systems in Ireland with a combination of very strong waves, attractive scenery and natural history. Under the control of Moyle District Council, the short beach extends from the mouth of the River Bush towards Runkerry House and the famous Giants Causeway. Popular with surfers, this beach is also noted for it’s strong rip currents. Access: Across footbridge spanning R. Bush from Portballintrae car park. Also from Causeway via footpath from Station car park. No vehicular access. Note: Peaty-red colouring of water from R Bush. See the huge boulder-clay and gravel frame bed on which the dunes sit (evidence of Ireland’s glacial history).

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No Beach Guards. Strong rips and shelving. Bathing inadvisable.

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Runkerry Strand looking north east featuring River Bush Note: Lissanduff Iron Age ring fort in foreground at Portballintrae

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WHITE PARK BAY

“Owned and managed by the National Trust since 1938, Whitepark Bay is one of North Antrim’s most spectacular stretches of coastline with it’s sand dunes backing onto high sea cliffs surrounding a sandy white bay. It is also a Geological and Biological Area of Special Scientific Interest. Through a carefully monitored combination of grazing and scrub control the National Trust is helping to enhance and protect the biodiversity of the beach and dune system.

Access: Path from free National Trust car park off A2 after turn off for Port Bradden. Also by foot from Ballintoy harbour. No vehicle access.

The small car park and paths down to the bay are also maintained by the National Trust for public access.”

Shore crab M.H.

Billy Reid, Manager North Antrim National Trust.

Early purple orchid M.H.

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Note: Listen out for squeaky sand as you walk on it. Keep a keen eye for fossils in limestone and chalk. No Beach Guards. Strong rips and shelving. Bathing inadvisable.


White Park Bay looking east towards Ballintoy harbour

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BALLYCASTLE

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In the dramatic setting between the town and the towering Fair head, Ballycastle beach looks straight out across Rathlin Sound with its strong tides to Rathlin Island. Managed by Moyle District Council, the beach has a mixture of coarser sand and pebbles with narrow and fragmented dunes. Access: From town end and from minor coast road off A2 to Cushendun. No vehicles. Note: Good variety of shells and rounded pebbles. No Beach Guards. Watch for shelving and rips. Bathing with care. Marram Grass J.A.

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Ballycastle beach looking East towards Fair Head

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Magilligan

Benone

Downhill

Castlerock

Portstewart

W. Bay Millstrand

E. Strand Curran Strand

Portballintrae Bay

Runkerry

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BEACHES OF THE NORTH IRISH COAST

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Strand

White Park Bay

Ballycastle Beach


SOME QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Answers to some questions about the beach environment that you would wish somebody else would ask in case you’d appear silly but would really, really love to know. SAND GETS EVERYWHERE Although we are an island nation, much of our knowledge of the sea and the shore has been forgotten. Here are some typical questions asked by beach visitors. Q. WHAT IS SAND MADE OF? SEDIMENT Marine sand is actually classed as a coarse, very nutrient-poor soil (grain size between 0.06 mm – 2.0 mm) that J.A.

has been deposited on shore by the sea over many years in the form of huge ‘ramps’ of fine sediment that we call beaches. In its simplest form, beach sand is composed of a mixture of rock, minerals and shells which have been pummelled, rolled and ground by the powerful combination of water (including ice) and wind. FINE v. COARSE Just how fine or coarse beach sand is, is down to the amount of force being exerted upon it by the sea and wind. Exposed to the stormy and powerful North Atlantic Ocean, north coast beaches are finer than the coarser sands of the more sheltered eastern seaboard, which faces the less energetic Irish Sea. Listen to the noise the waves make on the coarse sands at Ballycastle and hear your feet squeak on the finer sands of White Park bay. ROCKS Just what elements (minerals etc) are found in sand is largely down to the geology of the region. Typically marine sands contain varying

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amounts of silica, quartz and calcium carbonate along with a range of other minerals. Much of our marine sands come from rocks that have been eroded and crushed by powerful ice sheets and glaciers that once covered up to 75% of Ireland and northern Europe thousands of years ago. When the huge ice sheets began to melt they released millions of tonnes of mixed eroded rock and minerals which were carried in great rivers of melt water. Some of this vast quantity of pulverised materials was deposited inland and around the coast while some made it to the sea only to be further broken down by the waves and finally dumped back on shore to be further rolled and ground by daily wave activity and wind. Beachcomber’s tip: Using either a magnifying glass or the lens from a 35mm camera,study a sample of sand on a white surface and see if you can separate out the various grain-types (see how small they are and try counting them). See if you can pick out bits of shells.

National Trust


SOME QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Q. WHY DOES SAND VARY IN COLOUR FROM BEACH TO BEACH? REFLECTIONS North coast sands are subtle versions of a very pale whitish-yellow, stained black in parts (see later). Usually the more quartz, the paler the sand. On sunny days there is a strong glare off the sand because it is being reflected in the trillions of tiny quartz grains. Some beaches are slightly darker simply because of differences in rock and mineral types. Rivers and loughs feed into the sea daily payloads of soil and other organic matter which is washed and sorted by the sea before being deposited on shore by the tide. MAGNETIC SAND Rocks are continually being eroded by Mineral Magnetite J.A.

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the elements, providing a rich bank of mineral-rich sediment. Because the rock type of the north coast is predominantly dark basalt there is a strong grey-black tone to the sand colour. As an igneous rock (volcanic in origin) basalt contains a mineral called magnetite from the earth’s core which is magnetic. Therefore part of the north coast’s sands are also magnetic (see Beachcomber’s tip). Large deposits of black magnetite mineral on the beach, especially after storms can often give the impression that it is stained with oil (see p.35). Beachcomber’s tip: Take a sample of blackened sand, place it on a piece of paper, allow it to dry in the sun and then use a magnet beneath the paper to separate out the magnetite.

Q. HOW DEEP IS THE SAND? BARS Sand depth varies from beach to beach. North coast sands can be several metres deep with some exceptions, where it is little more than a thin coating. Every winter Runkerry near PortBallintrae, appears to lose its sand leaving nothing but boulders where once there was a beach. This is due to annual storms pulling the sand seaward and dumping it just offshore in the form of one or two large sand bars. Locals can point out the waves breaking on these sand bars during winter months. The sand slowly returns to shore during springtime when the weather settles down returning the beach once again to its visitors. The famous Tunns sand bank (taken from the Irish word ‘an tuian’ meaning wave) just 1 mile off Magilligan Point famously builds up every number of years, to a point where it is exposed enough to land on. In 1994, a charity rugby match was played on it.


SOME QUESTIONS ANSWERED

ANCIENT In other cases you can see the sand perched up on top of the underlying soil. These ancient soils are glacial in origin (see Runkerry and Bann estuary at Portstewart) and so pre-date the sand. The beach at Mill Strand, Portrush lies on top of ancient peat beds including some earlier windblown sand which is some of the oldest dated in the British Isles.

and surveyed up to 10 miles offshore. Beachcomber’s tip: Be careful when wading out into the sea especially at low tides, as some beaches have severely shelving sand i.e. it suddenly dips or falls away and you can suddenly be in deep water. Check out a local maritime map/chart to see water depths around the coast.

Sand removal for any reason is forbidden.

LIFE IS TOUGH Sandy beaches may appear lifeless but a closer inspection can reveal many clues such as holes, burrows, mounds, trails and swirls that testify to a small range of specialised and complex life systems above and below the surface. Life in the sand is harsh and animals and plants have to cope with such extreme conditions as wind, sun and salt water. Part or most of the beach is subject to the daily rhythms

Beachcomber’s tip: If you do dig a hole in the sand to find out how deep it is, please do fill in the hole again to avoid injury or vehicle damage. Q. HOW FAR OUT DOES THE SAND GO BENEATH THE SEA? North coast sands have been detected

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Q. DOES ANYTHING LIVE IN THE SAND?

of tide. This relentless drying and wetting presents a tough challenge to all coastal life forms whilst contending with constant predator threat. In a world of eat or be eaten, either hide by dull colours or stand out brightly to hopefully scare. BURIED Buried in the sands awaiting the return of the tide are such bivalve molluscs as the common cockle, the banded carpet shell and the well named razor shell. Along with shells is a range of specialised worms such as the lugworm and rag worm, popular as bait for anglers. The lug worm feeds on any nutrients that it can siphon through the sand while its more aggressive cousin, the ragworm is a vicious predator (watch out, they bite).

Cockle N.McD


SOME QUESTIONS ANSWERED

RICH Beach sand is nutrient-poor and most plants and animals are especially good at making the most of what exists or in some cases creating or fixing their own. Very coarse, pebbly beaches are the least rich in life. In contrast the silty sands found near the mouths of rivers and sea loughs, are rich in organic sediments and are home to associated fauna from worms and shellfish to fish and birds. Beaches like Magilligan Point and Portballintrae Bay are noted for their shell deposits. Check out a range of insects hopping over the surface in search of damp shaded surfaces like clumps of seaweed. Beachcomber’s tip: Magilligan and Downhill are good for checking out lugworm casts (smooth piles of

spaghetti -like casts) and other marine life. Make your own shell collection (see back for ID). Take them home and paint on a little clear varnish to capture their true colours. Q. HOW ARE SAND DUNES FORMED? WINDBLOWN Beach dunes are simply piles of windblown sand which have been secured by a range of specialised plants. As beach sediments were being deposited on shore by the sea, prevailing winds blew the drying sands first into small parallel ridges and then gradually into a complex series of vegetated hills (dunes) and hollows (slacks).

EROSION The dunes and the beach are one and the same mass of sediment with a recognisable boundary between them in the form of a plant frontier (the limit of successful plant growth). At Mill Strand, Portrush and part of Curran Strand, Portrush the beach and dunes are separated by concrete promenades. This interrupts natural cycles of erosion and deposition and can lead to increased erosion and undermining. Sand is constantly on the move and dunes are prone to erosion and collapse. Equally, new dunes can form over a very short period of time (see Portstewart). The oldest sand dunes in Ireland have been recorded on the west bank of the Lower Bann estuary at Grangemore near Articlave.

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Portstewart N.McD J.A.

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SOME QUESTIONS ANSWERED

DUNE-BUILDER A very specialised plant which gets the nickname of dune-builder is Marram grass (see Plant ID). Marram is a lonesome pioneer spreading out into loose, bare sand where it somehow finds nourishment while its roots bind the sand together. When we move inland to where the dunes are more vegetated and the whitish sand is darkened to a greyish-brown soil by decaying, organic matter, Marram is absent. Downhill J.A.

Q. HOW DO TIDES WORK? GRAVITY In a word, gravity! Tides are measurable, rhythmic and predictable twice-daily movements of our seas and oceans. It is principally the combined pulling powers of the sun and the moon on our seas that cause the tides. Our orbiting moon ‘pulls’ the water after it and as we all orbit the sun, we come under it’s immense gravitational pull too. Our own planet’s gravity and the friction of the sea bed, counters these influences to some degree. In addition, the rotation of the Earth, the great ocean currents of the world, the wind, the shape of the land above and beneath the sea and the texture of the sea bed all combine to influence the speed and direction of the tides. The difference in times between every high and low tide is roughly 12.5 hrs

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which is half the time it takes the moon to circle the Earth hence we get two high and two low tides every 24 hrs. However rather than one great progressive tide circling the earth, there are a number of local tides differing greatly in the areas they cover. All coastal and near shore life including the activity of the human beach visitor is influenced by tidal movement. SPRINGS AND NEAPS Because our orbiting patterns vary seasonally we also see seasonal trends in our tides. More noticeably, as the sun and moon occur opposite to each other (with us in the middle) we experience extremely high tides (springs) and when at right angles to each other we experience the least tidal movements (neaps). (see later for safety information on tides).


SOME QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Q. WHAT ARE THE SCUMMY BROWN BUBBLES ON THE BEACH AND WHY DOES THE SEA SOMETIMES APPEAR RED? COLOURED FROTH Suspended within and resting upon the surface of the sea is an unavoidable mixture of sediments (sand, silt, muds, peat and in some cases treated sewage). This decreases in concentration with distance from shore. With its vigorous movements (particularly in the breaking zone) the waves agitate the water and anything contained within simply gets frothed up (aerated) like a huge milkshake. The frothy foam can often be discoloured and soon gets deposited upon the shore often giving the

Curran Strand J.A.

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appearance of something unsavoury. This often coincides with periods of heavy rainfall when the rivers which flow into the sea are in spate, carrying a larger than normal payload of suspended solids (soil and urban runoff). COLOURED WAVES The waves at some beaches look reddish-brown. This is peaty-soil which has been washed into the sea by rivers which pass through and drain peat lands eg. the R. Bush at Runkerry and the R. Margy at Ballycastle. ARE THERE ANY RULES? As with any publicly accessible area managed for recreation, there are

Whiterocks J.A.

rules and guidelines to good and safe behaviour. Here are some more typical questions. Q. IS IT ILLEGAL TO REMOVE SAND FROM A BEACH Removal of sand for any reason is strictly prohibited from all public beaches on the north coast and particularly those designated as either Areas of Special Scientific Interest, Special Areas of Conservation or Special Protected Areas. In the past sand was taken from beaches for agricultural purposes by farmers using a horse drawn cart and shovel. Today removal is often large scale and insensitive using machinery, which cause a lot of damage. Scientific evidence has reported that sediment removal over a long period of time is enough to cause serious erosion and shoreline recession on some smaller beaches. Report any sand removal to the relevant Local Authority.


SOME QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Q. HOW DO I KNOW IF A BEACH IS SAFE TO SWIM ON? RESPECT In reality all beaches are dangerous (to varying degrees) and should all be treated with respect. The beach and near shore environment is an ever changing one unlike the consistency of an artificial pool. Combinations of tides, back currents (see rip currents), breaking waves, cold water, soft sands and varying water depths present a challenge to even the most competent of swimmers and every caution must be taken when bathing in the sea. BLUE FLAG Some beaches will be awarded European Blue Flag status from time to time to denote a particular level of cleanliness and safety including one or more Beach Guards during daylight hours (not necessarily a Life Guard).

A Blue Flag and/or Beach Guards do not lessen the risks of swimming in the sea and care must still be taken. Bathing is unsafe and not recommended at both White Park Bay and Runkerry Strand, although Runkerry is highly popular with board surfers. Note: A specially designed Beach Safety Leaflet has been produced by Coleraine Borough Council to accompany this Guide. Q. WHY IS A RIP CURRENT LIFE THREATENING? A rip current (rip) is a strong naturally occurring, seaward movement of water within the surf zone. Sometimes referred to as undercurrents or back currents, every beach has them to varying degrees of strength and predictability. Some are

barely perceivable, while others are very evident and potentially lifethreatening. Rips are particularly potent in large surf conditions and can also occur near river mouths, estuaries and headlands as well as around piers and other man-made structures. SMALL RIVER As the sea breaks on a sandy shore some water is absorbed by the sand and the remainder runs back towards the sea which in itself can often be enough to pull the bather off their feet. This ‘back flow’ is strongest on beaches with steep profiles. Rips form when the returning water is channelled into a concentrated flow like a small river which extends out to sea for a varying distance, thus creating a particular danger to bathers. J.A. C.B.C.

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SOME QUESTIONS ANSWERED

SIGNS There are sometimes obvious signs on the sand as to the presence of a rip current. The trained observer can make out a strong sinuous (snake-like) line along the boundary between the freshly wetted and the dry sand which speaks of a variable or uneven seaward flow of water. A stronger flow is occurring where the line bends towards the sea and is almost certainly a rip current. Also look out for discoloured water where the sand is stirred up by the rip, or foam on the water’s surface, debris or litter flowing out to sea or a rippled patch of water where the sea around it is calmer. Note: Pick up a free Coleraine Borough Council Beach Safety Leaflet for more details.

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Q. WHY ARE CARS ALLOWED ON SOME BEACHES AND NOT OTHERS Cars are permitted on the following north coast beaches: Benone, Downhill, Castlerock, and Portstewart. There is no access for vehicles on to any of the other beaches. The National Trust charge a levy for cars at Portstewart, part of which goes back into the management and care of the beach and dune system. In addition the cars are restricted to certain parts of Portstewart Strand leaving pedestrian and childrens’ playing areas. It is felt that cars generally have a negative impact on sandy beaches partly by compacting the sand, contributing to unnatural beach recession and loss of habitat and even sand removal (attached to car wheels). Always be careful to watch for rising tides and soft sand.

Q. IS DROPPING LITTER ON A BEACH THE SAME AS ON A STREET Litter is simply rubbish in the wrong place. It belongs in a bin and not left on the high street or the beach. Littering is an offence under the Litter (NI) Order 1994 and refers to any waste disposed of to the open air. This clearly includes beaches. Whereas littering in the street environment is equally distasteful, it is easier to facilitate for and remove than in the beach environment. Note: Similarities between jellyfish and plastic bags. Sea turtles find it hard to tell the difference until it is too late and they choke. J.A.

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SOME QUESTIONS ANSWERED

CLEANING Beach visitor litter combines with tidal flotsam (marine debris) to present a hazard to both humans and wildlife alike. Coleraine Borough Council uses a combination of mechanical and manual cleaning of beaches. Unfortunately the mechanical beach rake cannot distinguish between visitor litter and natural beach litter like seaweed etc which contributes to beach ecology. On recreational beaches with high visitor numbers, it is necessary to use mechanical means to meet the standards of cleanliness and measures are taken to reduce the

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use of the beach cleaner over the autumn and winter periods. Q. ARE DOGS ALLOWED ON BEACHES? Dog manure is a health hazard and where people come to play and relax on the sand, it is particularly unwelcome. Dogs are restricted to specific sections of Coleraine Borough Council beaches during peak season months. Responsible owners are expected to keep their dogs on a leash and to bag their dog foul and place it in a bin.

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Atlantic storm at Portstewart pier, Barmouth

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WHAT AM I LOOKING AT?

First time visitors to the north coast are always curious as to what they can see from the shore.

View North East of Mull of Kintyre over Rathlin Island J.A.

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Q. IS THAT REALLY SCOTLAND? HORIZON People are often puzzled and surprised to see distant mountains and islands on the horizon. Some believe it to be some remote part of Ireland and most are pleasantly surprised to learn that it is indeed part of the Scottish Inner Hebridean chain of islands. Visible from Portrush and north Antrim on most days is part of the southern shores of Islay and its two large headlands (The Rhinns to the west and the Mull of Oa to the east). Sometimes the two headlands are mistaken for two separate islands. Often in the background, giving the appearance that they are part of Islay are 2-3 large conical mountain peaks. They are the famous Paps of the island of Jura another large Hebridean island just north and east of Islay. On most days the large and foreboding south-west facing buttress of the equally famous Mull of Kintyre can be seen looming over the background of our own Rathlin Island. Check out

some of the interpreted viewpoints along the north Antrim coast eg. Magheracross at Dunluce and Portaneevy at Ballintoy. DONEGAL To the west and stretching north is Donegal’s beautiful Innishowen peninsula. Visible are Innishowen Head and Balbane head as well as Glengad on better days. In certain conditions you can pick up on the distant north western horizon the low lying island of Innistrahull with its blinking lighthouse just off Malin Head (Ireland’s most northerly point). Innishowen is accessible by car and passenger ferry from Magilligan Point (all year). Just off Ramore Head at Portrush is a little chain of minor islands known as the Skerries (taken from the Scottish Gaelic meaning sea rocks). Off Ballintoy are two lesser islands called Sheep Island and the famous Carrickarede Island (accessible by rope bridge (May-Sept).


WHAT AM I LOOKING AT? North Irish coast and South West Scottish Isles


BEACH LITTER A THREAT TO THE BEACH ENVIRONMENT

J.A.

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CAMPAIGN In the marine environment, such waste is hard to recover where it inflicts injury and causes the death of thousands of marine creatures every year. As well as removing rubbish from its beaches, Coleraine Borough Council has been running an anti-litter campaign for the past 15 years which includes a strong focus on the impacts of beach litter and marine debris.

BLACK MUSEUM The Council’s Environment Service, has created a black museum of recovered beach litter and marine debris that represents every aspect of human society. From the commercial fishing and tourism industries to the farming and building industries and every type of beach user. From the bizarre to the ridiculous, the gross to the dangerous. All unnecessary and definitely unwanted. FOOTPRINTS While endeavouring to remove litter from our beaches both manually and mechanically, we can never guarantee that they will ever be litter free. So we appeal to all beach visitors not only to be cautious but also to ensure that you remove any waste that you generate and use the nearby bins. Simply put, leave nothing but your FOOTPRINTS!

Coleraine Borough Council display of litter J.A.

Gannet, victim of discarded line

SPOIL Nothing spoils a beach visit more than having to share it with someone’s rubbish. A combination of beach visitor litter and marine (tidal) debris is polluting our beaches and posing a threat to the safety of wildlife and humans alike. By no means unique to the north Irish coast, this global problem is a sad reflection of how many people today have little or no regard for quality of life.


WILDLIFE & SAFETY

WILDLIFE From time to time beach visitors get an opportunity to encounter some spectacular marine wildlife both alive and dead. This can range from seals and birds to whales and dolphins and even agricultural animals. All are intriguing and attract attention but all are a potential risk to human health as well as amenity (in the case of dead strandings). Here are a few guidelines. LIVE STRANDINGS When encountering a living animal on a north coast beach, keep a minimum distance of 1 metre and encourage others to do similar. Immediately contact Environment & Heritage Service at Portrush who are responsible for all wildlife, also report all sightings to Irish Whale & Dolphin Group (www.iwdg.ie). WARNING – seals Living seals (adults and pups) are dangerous and can cause serious injury by biting. Do not attempt to lift, 43

stroke or remove a live seal. In the absence of obvious injury, the animal may well be hauled out by choice. Simply leave in peace and admire from a distance. WELFARE – whales In the event of encountering a live stranded whale, dolphin or porpoise (cetacean), immediately contact EHS at Portrush or Coastguard. They will initiate a welfare procedure to refloat the animal. Meantime approach quietly, avoid sudden movements and crowding. If conditions are sunny keep animal’s skin wetted, taking every effort to avoid water entering the blowhole (situated on top of the head). You may be asked to volunteer assistance (subject to conditions). DEAD STRANDINGS Unfortunately we tend to encounter more dead than live animals which may simply be part of the natural mortality rate of the marine environment. Most animals will be in varying states of decay and as well as unpleasant to look at, will also pose a threat to human health. Be advised

not to touch dead animals and birds. Again call either EHS at Portrush or the relevant Council or other beach manager (eg. National Trust). JELLYFISH At certain times of the year you may encounter several hundred stranded jellyfish usually after storms. Some jellyfish sting and some don’t. Even immediately after death there may be an ability to cause injury. Just ignore and let nature take its course. Natural marine litter and flotsam can contain many interesting specimens such as egg cases of skates (mermaids purse) and whelks. Also goose barnacles (attached to debris), sea urchins, star fish and little ‘by the wind sailors’.

Dead harbour porpoise, Downhill Beach

C.B.C. Stranded Minke Whale at Portstewart 1993

J.A.


4 We have selected a sample number of bird, plant and shell fish species that can be found or seen on most of the beaches featured in this book. We have been unable to include all species and have not included fish and invertebrates but hope that you enjoy using the ID charts to discover the rich variety of wildlife that exists in this exciting habitat.

BIVALVES

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1

2

3

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13


14

15

16

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

17

WHAT’S THAT SHELL?

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26.

ARK SHELL BALTIC TELLIN BLUNT TELLIN BANDED VENUS STRIPEDVENUS VENUS SHELLS BANDED WEDGE COMMON/BLUE MUSSELL ICELANDIC MUSSELL HORSE MUSSEL COMMON COCKLE DOG COCKLE PRICKLY COCKLE POD RAZOR SWORD RAZOR RAYED ARTEMIS PULLET CARPET TROUGH SHELLS RAYED TROUGH SHELLS PORTUGESE OYSTER NATIVE OYSTER COMMON OYSTER HUNCHBACKED SCALLOP QUEEN SCALLOP VARGEGATED SCALLOP OTTER SHELL

03cm 1.5–02cm 05cm 02cm 02–03cm 3.5–04cm 02–03cm 02–06cm 10–12cm 03–12cm 02–07cm 02–06cm 04–05cm 15–18cm 10–15cm 02–03cm 05cm 02–04cm 03–06cm 11cm 05–10cm 04–10cm 03cm 05–06cm 02–04cm 09–13cm

45 Shell Photography by Nigel McDowell


27

28

29

30

31

32

33

34

35

36

37

38

39

40

41

UNIVALVES

46


42

43

44

WHAT’S THAT SHELL?

27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39.

45

40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45.

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ACORN BARNACLE ARCTIC COWRIE EUROPEAN COWRIE FLAT PERIWINKLE ROUGH PERIWINKLE EDIBLE PERIWINKLE GREY TOP SHELL PURPLE TOP SHELL PAINTED TOP SHELL RED WHELK COMMON WHELK DOG WHELK NETTED & THICK-LIPPED WHELK PELICAN’S FOOT TOWER SHELL CHINA LIMPET KEYHOLE LIMPET BLUE RAYED LIMPET 0.50–02.50cm COMMON LIMPET

01cm 0.05–01cm 0.75–01cm 0.25–02cm 0.75–01cm 0.50–03cm 01–02cm 01–02cm 02–03cm 06–09cm 03–10cm 01–03cm 01.50–03cm 04cm 02-03cm 01- -3.5cm 01.50cm

01–07cm


Barnacle

Shell Shakers and bracelets

Shell Figures

Limplight

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Shell on Shell

sssshhhhh the babies are sleeping Various Claws

Mussels with bad hair day

Maclaw Parrots


Barnacles on various

Tower Shell

Detailed flat Periwinkle

Barnacle on Scallop

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Limpet City


WHAT’S THAT BIRD?

Black Guillemot

Guillemot

Puffin

Shag

Cormorant

Razorbill

All birds courtesy of RSPB

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WHAT’S THAT BIRD?

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Herring Gull

Fulmar

Kittiwake

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Black-headed Gull

Gannet


WHAT’S THAT BIRD?

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Redshank

Common or Artic Tern

Oyster Catcher

Sanderling

Eider Duck

Shelduck


WHAT’S THAT BIRD?

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Turnstone

Pipit

Skylark

Ringed Plover

Buzzard

Peregrine


WHAT’S THAT PLANT?

Sea Rocket

Wild Pansy

Stonecrop

Whitlow Grass

Wild Thyme

Eyebright

All plants courtesy of Ulster Museum

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WHAT’S THAT PLANT?

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Field Mouse-ear

Harebell

Sticky Stork’s Bill

Primose

Lady’s Bedstraw

Germander Speedwell


WHAT’S THAT PLANT?

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Sow Thistle

Cat’s Ear

Ragged Robin

Tormentil

Silverweed

Coltsfoot


WHAT’S THAT PLANT?

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Marsh Orchid

Early Purple Orchid

Pyramidal Orchid

Broad-leaf Plantain

Red Campion

Red Clover


WHAT’S THAT PLANT?

White Clover

Kidney Vetch

Wild Strawberry

Forget-me-not

Milkwort

Bird’s-foot Trefoil

Respect all wildlife and remember a wild flower always looks better in the ground than in your hand.

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TREASURE FOUND

J.A.

J.A.

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Face to face with an ocean, you stand bare foot on sand, stirred by the heady blend of damp salted air and endless hissing surf. In one of the most invigorating parts of the natural world, where moods and colours can change in an instant, you begin to spring the lock of every island’s treasure. It’s the beginning of every beach experience.

Eventually with a mix of regret and fulfilment you turn from the sea to pad back across the soft sand, senses charged and appetite sharpened, pondering the uniqueness of the moment. Did you feel like there is no where else you would rather be and do you ever consider how fortunate you are to be an ‘islander’.....treasure found.

Marvelling at the effortless flight plan of a hunting gannet you long to understand the language of the clouds on the horizon’s mantelpiece. Sneaking a shell to your ear, memories of a hundred beach picnics fill your heart with the speed of a spring tide and a palette of Portstewart sunsets colours your mind. Imagining you see the flash of a dark fin just beyond the surf, you dance back from the licking swash, pockets rattling with a beachcomber’s bounty of crab claws and shells. Seeing pictures of seals and dolphins in the stick of seasmooth driftwood in your hand you toss it to the waves, waiting childlike for its return as this mermaid’s purse of treasure spills open all around you.

Jim Allen J.A.


61 N.McD


CONTACTS

Coleraine Borough Council Leisure Services Tourism Development Coleraine Tourist Information Centre (All year) Portrush Tourist Information Centre (Seasonal)

7034 7034 7034 7034 7082

7034 www.colerainebc.gov.uk 7234 7044 4723 3333

Limavady Borough Council Recreation/Tourism Benone Tourist Complex

7772 2226 www.limavady.gov.uk 7776 0304 7775 0555

Moyle District Council Tourist Information Centre

207 62225 www.moyle-council.org 2076 2024

EMERGENCY SERVICES Marine and Coastguard Agency Coleraine PSNI Limavady PSNI Ballycastle PSNI

999 (Emergency only) 7034 4122 7776 6797 2076 2312

CONSERVATION Environment & Heritage Service, Portrush Environment & Heritage Service, Limavady Ulster Wildlife Trust (Umbra Nature Reserve) Magilligan Field Centre National Trust, Portstewart National Trust, Giants Causeway Irish Whale & Dolphin Group USPCA Causeway Coast & Glens Heritage Trust

7082 3600 7776 3982 4483 0282 7775 0234 7083 36396 / 7084 8728 2073 1582 7034 4083 www.iwdg.ie 9066 0479 2075 2100

Coleraine Borough Council wishes to thank the following for their co-operation in the production of this publication: Limavady Borough Council, Moyle District Council, The National Trust, the Environment and Heritage Service at Portrush, The University of Ulster and the Ulster Museum.

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SENSITIVE MANAGEMENT Lower Bann estuary, at Portstewart J.A.

Coleraine Borough Council is committed to the sensitive management of all of its recreational beaches and to playing its part in an all integrated approach to coastal management. Raising awareness and appreciation of all aspects of the natural world within the Borough, including beaches, is regarded as integral to Council’s Corporate Plan and helping create a better Borough.

Photography N.McD - Nigel McDowell MH - Mike Hartwell JA - Jim Allen NT - National Trust CBC - Coleraine Borough Council II - Ian Irvine kitecrew.com Bootlace Seaweed J.A.

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COLERAINE BOROUGH COUNCIL CREATING A BETTER BOROUGH THROUGH:EDUCATION

N.McD

This project has been assisted by Causeway Coast & Glens Heritage Trust as part of the Natural Resource Rural Tourism Initiative under the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation.

Beaches .... an islands treasure  

An environmental guide to the recreational beaches of the North Coast by Coleraine Borough Council