May 18th - Killard National Nature reserve.

Botany Leader; Margaret Marshall

On Friday we were basking in sunshine but the dire forecast for Saturday was accurate. However as there were no bees or butterflies, members concentrated on birds and flowers. Near the coastguard cottages orangey-pink slugs were examined on Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens); this and the nearby clumps of Spanish Bluebells were probably garden escapes. Some of the native bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) in Killard Nature Reserve are showing signs of hybridisation with the Spanish plants.

On the shingly shore we identified Common Scurvy Grass (Cochlearia officinalis) with its spoon-faced leaves, presumably rich in Vitamin C and used in the past by sailors as a treatment for scurvy. Sea Sandwort (Honkenya peploides) with its thick fleshy leaves can grow in large patches on sand and shingle and its long creeping stolons help to consolidate sand and gravel on sea shores.

It has been a cold spring and the main colour in mid-May came from banks of Primroses (Primula vulgaris) and Common Dog Violets (Viola riviniana). The yellow anthers of Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and Field Wood-rush (Luzula campestris) made them conspicuous in the short grass.

Only in sheltered spots were the occasional plant of Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulnereria), Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) and the maritime Wild Pansy (Viola tricolor ssp.curtsii) coming into flower.

Normally the reserve would be awash with their yellow blooms in spring. Near the shore Sea Thrift (Armeria maritima), Sea Campion (Silene uniflora) and the antler-like leaves of Buck’s horn Plantain (Plantago coronopus) were noticed.

However Spring Squill (Scilla verna) with its star-shaped flowers was beginning to colour the headland blue. It is the county flower for Down and can be found in grassy places near the sea. We had seen occasional Orchid leaves but there was excitement when several flowering Green-winged or Green-veined Orchids (Anacamptis/Orchis morio) were discovered. The sepals, veined with green, join with the upper petals to form a hood, so botanists, bird watchers and lepidopterists were down on their knees in pouring rain with hand lenses to see the details. Killard is its only site in Northern Ireland. It had been regarded as an Orchis along with Early Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula) but molecular evidence has re-classified it as a species of Ancamptis like the Pyramidal Orchid.

In spite of the rain we had had an enjoyable and profitable morning in this special place.

Margaret Marshall


Around 24 folks from BCNI and Belfast Naturalists' Field Club met at Mill Quarter Bay car park to help re-create one of BNFC's events from its founding year in 1863. No-one was available to tell us what the weather had been like 150 years ago but it could not have been much worse than we experienced on the day. Amongst the party was 18 month old Anna Quinn, thankfully very well attired to cope with the elements.

Species of interest seen from the meeting point included 8 Brent Geese (Branta bernicla), awaiting a change in wind direction before embarking on their epic journey to Arctic Canada via Iceland. Also seen were some resplendent Eiders (Somateria mollissima), Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica), Dunlins (Calidris alpina), Ringed Plovers (Charadrius hiaticula), a Hare and Sand Martins (Riparia riparia), which breed in the sand-bank at Killard.

Unperturbed by the gloomy conditions the group made its way to Killard Point where banks of Primroses and Bluebells and the song of Skylarks (Alauda arvensis) soon lifted our spirits. Birds seen included 2 Wheatears (Oenanthe oenanthe), 5 Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) and, through increasingly misted optics, Gannets (Morus bassanus) and Black Guillemots (Cepphus grylle) off shore.

Alas, all moths and butterflies stayed well out of sight and with increasingly heavy rain prevailing, all thoughts of an afternoon venture to Sheepland were abandoned.

David Nixon (BCNI)

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Sea Sandwort (Honkenya peploides)

Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulnereria)

Common Dog Violet

(Viola riviniana)

Green-veined orchid

(Anacamptis/Orchis morio)

Spring Squill (Scilla verna)

Eider (Somateria mollissima)

Brent goose (Branta bernicla)

Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)