Killykeegan National Nature Reserve
Killykeegan and Crossmurrin National Nature Reserves are part of the Marlbank Scenic Loop and the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. This stunning landscape is dominated by limestone hills which were laid down hundreds of millions of years ago when the landmass which now forms Fermanagh was under a tropical sea. Evidence of this can be found in the numerous crinoids, seashells and coral fossils present in these rocks.
Sandwiched between Cuilcagh Mountain and the Erne Lowlands lies the most extensive area of limestone grassland in Northern Ireland. At one time the entire area was wooded with hazel, elm and ash. With the clearances for farming since the Stone Age, only a few patches of hazel scrub now remain. The scrub shelters delicate woodland flowers including wood sorrel and primroses. The cuckoo is frequently heard in May.
Meadow pipits perch on branches but are most commonly seen rising and falling in jerky flight over the grassland. The thin soils covering the grey limestone support a rich variety of herbs and grasses. The grasses are grazed by sheep and this allows herbs like the colourful pink thyme, blue harebell and yellow bird's-foot trefoil, to flower and set seed. These herbs in turn provide food for insects such as the common blue and peacock butterflies.
In a patch of heath, bog cotton and yellow bog asphodel grow amongst ling heather. The Irish hare leaves conspicuous trails through the heath by nibbling off the heather shoots. Stoats can be observed darting along dry stone walls. These walls, which are such a feature of the landscape, are under threat as they are collected to be used in gardens.
From Florencecourt take the Blacklion road for 1.7 miles. Turn left following the brown signs for Marble Arch Caves for a further 3.2 miles. Bypass the caves entrance, which is one mile before killykeeghan carpark. The carpark is on the right opposite a small sign for the site.
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This nature reserve's limestone grassland is managed through conservation grazing and is characterized by low growing plants such as thyme and bird's foot trefoil. Bird's foot trefoil is the food plant of the caterpillars of the rare dingy skipper butterfly, which can be found here in early summer together with the common blue and another rarity, the marsh fritillary butterfly.
In places the limestone is overlain by patches of more acidic soils which, in early June are swathed with pink heath-spotted orchids. Scattered lesser butterfly orchids also occur here, their flowers mimicking white moths which are thus lured to pollinate them.
Rarities found here include field gentian and the small white mountain orchid. Hazel scrub has found a niche within the nature reserve as well. Here you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a red squirrel, pine martens or Irish stoat. Cuckoos can be heard calling as they seek out meadow pipits' nests in which to lay their eggs.
Directions from Town:
The nature reserves can be accessed from the Marlbank Scenic Loop. A signposed car park is located approximately 1 mile/1.6km from the Marble Arch Caves Visitor Centre entrance.
Crossmurrin has no public access but Killykeeghan has public access with car parking open from Easter to September.
There is a 600m circular walking path and a small exhibition of local history on the site.
Distance: 0.3 miles, circular, waymarking - interpretation panel clearly shows the walking route.
Time: less than 30 mins
Grassy track not suitable for buggies or wheelchair users or persons with limited mobility
Point of interest:
Car park at McGrath's Cottage - Interpretation centre, toilets (open daily July & Aug and weekends in May, June and Sept)
This walk is part of the UNESCO endorsed Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark