Fair Head and Murlough Bay ASSI

Date published: 01 July 2015

The following relates to Fair Head and Murlough bay ASSI


Situated on the north-east coast of Northern Ireland, the tall cliffs of Fair Head and Murlough Bay ASSI stand over 200m above the sea below. The combination of local climatic factors, soil type, topography and historical management have produced a wide variety of habitats across the site. These habitats, important in their own right, provide the ideal conditions for a large number of rare plants, mosses, lichens, fungi and invertebrates. Peregrines nest in a number of locations on the cliffs and are often seen soaring overhead.

Fair Head and Murlough Bay ASSI also contains a wide range of geology over a reasonably small area. The three main classes of rocks (igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic) can all be seen within the site.

Much of the cliff top is covered in a mosaic of wet and dry heath with the typical heathland species of Heather and Bilberry. Cross-leaved Heath occurs in the wetter areas, with Bell Heather associated with the drier areas around the rock outcrops. Within this Heather landscape are two important lakes. Lough Doo and Lough na Cranagh are amongst the best examples of unpolluted lakes in Northern Ireland. The distinctive plant species found in the lakes include Shoreweed, Quillwort, Blunt-leaved Pondweed and Translucent Stonewort. The lakes also have important areas of associated fringing fen with Bogbean, Marsh Cinquefoil and Bottle Sedge.

The cliffs tower over a mosaic of grassland, woodland and scree. An area of woodland hugs the cliff base from Fair Head south towards Murlough Bay. Birch, Hazel and Ash dominate the canopy of this boulder strewn woodland. The ground is carpeted with a variety of flowering plants and ferns, including Sanicle, Wood Avens, Primrose, Hard Fern and Hay-scented Buckler-fern. This woodland and the other woodland blocks throughout the site contain a range of rare plants and invertebrates. 

At the base of the cliffs above Murlough Bay, a scarce grassland type can be found, called species-rich calcareous grassland. This area is especially herb and sedge rich, with Fairy Flax, Wild Thyme and Glaucous Sedge found throughout. In areas the ground is flushed with base-rich water and species such as Fragrant Orchid, Grass-of-Parnassus and the rare Yellow Saxifrage are found.

Site number ASSI 330
Area 251.26 ha
Declared date 17/08/2010
County Antrim


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