Lullybeg, County Kildare

Lullybeg in July

Lullybeg is one of the most important butterfly sites in the east of Ireland in terms of the number of species recorded and in terms of population sizes. Thirteen of the twenty-two species recorded are abundant

The site is unusual in some ways. It is really a degraded habitat. It was once an intact raised bog that has been completely cut away. It was worked over twenty years ago but the thin bare layer of peaty substrate has been colonised by various mosses, herbaceous plants, shrubs and trees and a wonderful mosaic of habitat types have developed. These include orchid rich grassland, calcareous grassland (underlain by marl), a wetland dominated by mosses and wetland wild flowers, willow scrub, birch woodland and bare patches of peat. Topographical features shelter the area. It is below the level of a raised bog remnant with a conifer plantation and tall birch trees to shelter it. Thus it enjoys a calm, sheltered microclimate. The other unusual characteristic is the large number of butterfly species recorded from this inland site. The best butterfly sites in Ireland are usually those on limestone or in coastal areas with good dune systems and machair grassland. The site is comparable with rich sites in the Burren.

At the start of the main butterfly flight season in April the site can appear dreary and uninspiring. Spring indeed seems to arrive late here. Given a sustained period of sunshine Brimstones, Orange-tips, Green-veined Whites, Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshells and Speckled Woods soon appear and the site becomes a spectacle. Brimstones seem to hug the woodland edge while Orange-tips patrol the grasslands, especially damper areas, while Green-veined Whites flutter around the clearings and more open grassland. Let the sun be obscured and everything returns to its resting place. By May vast changes are obvious and more butterflies are added to the list. Réal’s Wood Whites fly among woodland clearings and around the tussocky grasslands adjoining scrub and trees. Marsh Fritillaries appear on the grassland. Dingy Skippers buzz in and out of view. Small Coppers flash deep gold before settling on a Cuckoo Flower to feed or on bare peat to absorb sunshine. Later in the butterfly calendar, from late August, a remarkable population of Brimstone, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies appears at Lullybeg to gorge on the abundant supply of Lullybeg nectar in preparation for a long winter sleep.

The site is especially important for its Marsh Fritillary colony, which was first recorded in the 2006 but which probably existed before then. Interestingly its parasite[s], Cotesia bignelli and/or Cotesia melitaearum, are being searched for. Their presence, if confirmed, could be regarded as a sign that the butterfly has been established in the general area for some time. The parasite is seen as important to the species maintenance. There are records of Marsh Fritillary population explosions that resulted in mass starvation when the larvae had defoliated all of the Devil’s-bit Scabious. The presence of the parasite is likely to prevent this. The site has an important flora with some rare plants. These include Alder Buckthorn, Purging Buckthorn and Wintergreen. There are a large number of orchid species here, including Bee Orchid. A large number of moth species have been recorded, including the Narrow-bordered Bee Hawkmoth that breeds here. This species has become increasingly rare in Britain and Ireland and this eastern Irish site is therefore important for this moth.

Butterfly Conservation Ireland, in partnership with Bord na Móna is managing the site in order to maintain and enhance these rare and special habitats. Management plans are in place and the effects of management are being carefully monitored. The site is contains a butterfly monitoring transect with the results of weekly counts taken between April and September inclusive sent to the National Biodiversity Data Centre as part of a national analysis. This site is especially worth visiting between April and September as this is the main butterfly flight period. Caution is advised due to uneven ground and deep water.

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Directions:From Allenwood on the map, [N 760 226], take the R 414 west and cross Shee Bridge 1km on the left (drive slowly here). Continue straight on for c. 4km and you will reach the Irish Peatland Conservation Council centre, on the map, [signposted Bog of Allen Nature Centre]. Turn right at the centre and continue down the third class road until you reach a T-junction (at N 704 263). Turn left onto this rough track and continue slowly. You will pass a bend that has an industrial railway track (N 696 260). Continue until you reach a gate. Proceed down the straight track, taking care to secure the gate behind you. The end of this track takes you to a final gate. Park on the other side of this gate and take care not to cause an obstruction. The site lies about 1 km south of this point and is signposted. A sample grid reference for the site is N 6874 2563.Note: You need permission from ButterflyConservation Ireland to visit the site. See “contact us” for contact details. The still image below maps the track.