Sheskinmore Nature Reserve
An Seascann Mór The Big Marsh
Sheskinmore refers to a large area of mostly State owned land that is managed for nature conservation. Sheskinmore Lough and the marsh west of it contain an interesting range of marsh loving plants and animals. To the south and west of the marsh there is some sandy grassland known as machair, which rises into extensive undulating sand dunes at Maghermore (The Big Sandy Plain). In the shallow depressions between the high dunes there are permanent and temporay dune pool. The Carrickalghagh headland and drier northern slopes at Mullyvea consist of a dense carpet of coastal heath. There is also oak and hazel woodland on the northern slopes which adds to the diverse range of habitats and species found in the area.
This area is designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) for the small flock of Greenland White-Fronted Geese that winter here. Lack of disturbance as well as suitable habitat is why these geese choose to return here each year. Wintering Waders include Curlew, Lapwing, Snipe and Golden Plover. Whooper Swans, Wigeon, Teal and Mallard are other winter visitors.
Flocks of small birds in winter usually contain Linnet, Reed Bunting and sometimes Twite. Chough are year round visitors, there are flocks in winter and family groups in summer. A brief glimpse of a Merlin or a leisurely view of a Buzzard is not uncommon.
The distinctive calls and acrobatic flight of Lapwing can be heard over the marsh in spring and summer. Lapwing breed in the vicinity of the Lough. The electric predator proof fence deters fox and mink during the Lapwing breeding season.
Rabbit, Badger and Fox are the most common mammals encountered here. The rabbit population fluctuates widely and they can cause significant damage to the sand dunes. Common Seals can be seen along Ballinreavy Strand and Otter frequent the two loughs. Woodland visitors include Red Squirrel and Pine Marten.
The protected tiny marsh snail Vertigo geyeri is found in the marsh habitat west of Sheskinmore Lough.
The rare Marsh Fritillary, Small Blue and Dingy Skipper butterflies breed here along with 17 other butterfly species. Sheskinmore Lough and its associated wetlands is the most species rich site in Donegal for Dragonflies and damselflies. Fifteen species have been recorded, the most interesting being the Black-tailed Skimmer and the Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly.
There is a succession of wildflowers throughout the summer months. The display of Orchids is particularly eye-catching. Dense-flowered Orchid Neotinea maculate is in flower from April to June. In the early summer there is a profusion of marsh and spotted orchids. They are followed by Marsh Hellebroine, Pyramidal and Fragrant Orchids. June is a good time to look for Bee, Frog and Butterfly Orchids.
Grass of Parnassas and Devils Bit Scabious are two of the many wildflowers that put on a spectacular show at Sheskimore. The latter is the food plant of the marsh fritillary butterfly. The more difficult to find plants, because of their diminutive size and rarity, are the protected Petalwort and the aquatic Slender Naiad.
Most of Sheskinmore (300 hectares) is owned and managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). BirdWatch Ireland (BWI) owns 15 hectares on the north side of the lough. In addition, there is also privately owned land here which is farmed in a wildlife friendly manner.
Grazing by Horses and Cattle plays an important role in managing the floral diversity and the breeding habitats for many of these species found here.
NPWS, BirdWatch Ireland and the private landowners work in collaboration to protect and enhance the biodiversity of this protected area.
Access and Safety
There are three signed access points. As well as the main entrance gate at Mullyvea, there are two other key access areas. They are both found on the east side at Sandfield. One is at the end of the L7763 and the other is at the end of L7743 (from the NPWS Field Studies Centre).
Walkers should be cautious of grazing animals at all times.
Dogs should be kept on a leash and well away from stock.
Some areas are surrounded by electric fencing. Visitors are advised to take care in the vicinity of these fences and to completely avoid crossing them.
Some of the land within the site is privately owned and summer grazed. Care is required to close gates, not to damage fences or walls and to use the stiles provided.
This is an expansive area. Appropriate outdoor clothing, equipment and provisions are recommended for your visit.
In the event of accidents and/or emergencies call 112 and ask for Gardaí, Mountain Rescue or the Fire Service
Further information is available at npws.ie/ reserves. The Friends of Sheskinmore website. Sheskinmore.wordpress.com and BirdWatchIreland.ie/reserves.
Contact and Further Information
For comments or suggestions please contact the NPWS offices on (076) 1002541 or (076)1002517.