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Special Areas of Conservation


Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Country Northern Ireland
Unitary Authority Extra-Regio, Northern Ireland
Centroid* J445313
Latitude 54.2111
Longitude -5.7833
SAC EU Code UK0016612
Status Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Area (ha) 11903.9
* This is the approximate central point of the SAC. In the case of large, linear or composite sites, this may not represent the location where a feature occurs within the SAC.
Location of Murlough SAC

General site character

  • Marine areas, Sea inlets (88%)
  • Tidal rivers, Estuaries, Mud flats, Sand flats, Lagoons (including saltwork basins) (7%)
  • Coastal sand dunes, Sand beaches, Machair (2%)
  • Heath, Scrub, Maquis and Garrigue, Phygrana (3%)

Download the Standard Data Form for this site as submitted to Europe (PDF <100kb)

Note When undertaking an appropriate assessment of impacts at a site, all features of European importance (both primary and non-primary) need to be considered.

Annex I habitats that are a primary reason for selection of this site

  • Murlough is one of the most diverse and natural dune systems in Northern Ireland. The site is an ancient system with acidic sands and a long history of traditional management. A complex mosaic of different communities, some of which are very species-rich, covers the ‘grey dunes’. Marram Ammophila arenaria and red fescue Festuca rubra are dominant over much of the area, while species such as common restharrow Ononis repens and wild thyme Thymus polytrichus are prevalent where the sward is shorter and more herb-rich. These grey dunes form part of a well-developed natural succession from 2110 Embryonic shifting dunes and 2120 Shifting dunes along the shoreline on the seaward side, to areas of dune heath and gorse Ulex europaeus scrub on the landward side.

  • Murlough is the largest and most important dune heath site in Northern Ireland. The site is an old dune system with acidic sands and a long history of traditional management. The vegetation is dominated by heather Calluna vulgaris and bell heather Erica cinerea, with some areas of acidic dune grassland and other areas dominated by mosses and an abundance of lichens. These areas of heath grade into 2130 Fixed dunes with herbaceous vegetation (“grey dunes”) and gorse scrub.

Annex II species that are a primary reason for selection of this site

  • 1065 Marsh fritillary butterfly Euphydryas (Eurodryas, Hypodryas) aurinia

    Murlough is an extensive coastal sand dune system, with a wide variety of habitats. The site holds one of the largest populations of marsh fritillary Euphydryas aurinia in Northern Ireland, with a number of sub-populations present. The population is long-established and well-studied.

Annex II species present as a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for site selection

Many designated sites are on private land: the listing of a site in these pages does not imply any right of public access.