We are very fortunate to have a diverse range of well established bird and animal populations here on the slopes of the Little Sugarloaf mountain. Large areas of mature deciduous forest, combined with vast areas of unspoiled non-farmed mountainous commonage, provides abundant opportunities for birds and animals to survive and thrive. Much of that land which is farmed, too, is dedicated to rearing sheep, a relatively low-intensity usage, which sits comfortably alongside the needs of the indigeneous mountain wildlife. And so it is that, just 500 yards from the busy N11 motorway, we have a rich and diverse microcosm of some of natures most beautiful offerings!
Common Irish Deer.
The slopes of the Little Sugarloaf are home to a very large population of wild Irish Deer, and they forage across the Commons, following set paths, and visiting the same locations day after day. Indeed, you could almost set your watch by them! They are regular visitors to the lower fields after darkness, where they suppliment their lean mountain pickings with lush grass. Their mating (or rutting) season runs through September and October, and during that time they can be heard roaring loudly across the mountainside to attract females and to deter rival males.
The Pine Marten is a relatively recent arrival here on the slopes of the Sugar Loaf, but it has gained a firm foothold, and its numbers are increasing year on year. It is quite a startling sight in real life, with a cat like movement, and a head and neck which are reminiscent of an otter! Wild! Recent estimates suggest that the total number of Pine Marten in Ireland is just 2,700 individuals, making it Ireland’s rarest native mammal species. It is a protected species under the Wildlife Act 1976, and is included in Annex V of the EU Habitats Directive 1992, Appendix III of the Bern Convention 1979, and the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000.
The lower slopes of the Commons is home to a very successful population of rare native Lizard (Zootoca Vivipara). This little fellow is very much a rarity here in Ireland, the best known Lizard populations being found in the Burren, and on nearby Bray Head. This fascinating reptile gives birth to live young, a rarity in the reptile world, where most species lay eggs in order to reproduce. The lizard resides in areas such as bogs, and uplands, and hunts insects, spiders and snails. They emerge from hibernation in the spring and are most active in April when courtship and reproduction occurs. The young are born in September, presenting another good opportunity for lizard spotting.
The banks of the Dargle tributary are entirely undeveloped and unspoiled from the Old Post Office in Kilmacanogue, all the way to the far side of Brennanstown close to the Southern Cross. Along this riverbank, under a lush canopy of mature trees, is a habitat all of its own, and one of its most distinguished and valued members is the otter. It is inconceivable that the valley's populations of otter would survive with major roadways on both sides of them.
The slopes of the Little Sugarloaf are home to large numbers of pheasant, and their beautiful colours (male) can be seen most days on the mountainside if you are looking out for them. And we do look out for them, and have chased away many opportunistic pheasant hunter over the years.
The lower slopes are also home to a number of badger setts, and we regularly see these fascinating creatures crossing the narrow roadway at Kilfenora Lane, as they forage across the lower fields. The badger (Meles meles) is the largest terrestrial carnivore in Ireland, and is instantly recognisable by its outsise head and its conspicuous black-white striping. Again, Badgers are a protected species under the Wildlife Acts (1976 & 2000), and under Appendix III of the Berne Convention.