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Biodiversity

Photograph of children pond-dipping

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs classify this area as part of the Larne Coast Landscape Character Area and their website outlines details relating to biodiversity, geodiversity and overall landscape.

Habitat

Woodland

The largest woodland in the Larne Coast Landscape Character area is in Carnfunnock i.e. lowland woodland pasture and parkland. Like most landed estates Carnfunnock offered prestige to its wealthy owners (see History section for full details). Over the years this land has been farmed, developed and changed in keeping with the ideals of landscape beauty and fashion of the time, resulting in mature tree lined avenues and woodlands. The parks limestone soil made it suitable for trees such as beech, ash and lime whilst species such as Sycamore and Scots/Austrian Pine were planted to provide shelter from the strong coastal winds.

The wooded areas in Carnfunnock can be divided into parts:

  • The park around former Cairncastle Lodge (located where Larne Lions Club Holiday Home formerly stood - demolished in May 2015)

    This has avenues and edge planting of mature trees - principally Beech, Elm, Ash, Austrian Pine and Sycamore but also has a wide range of other trees including Oaks (Common, Sessile and Turkey), Larch and Lime. To the west, woodland is more substantial with Beech, Oak and Elm and there is an understorey with more diverse herb and ground layers. This woodland extends northwards into the townland of Ballygally where it becomes open wood with ash standards dominant (upland mixed ashwoods). There is also some Hawthorn, Sycamore and Elder. The open areas have considerable scrubby gorse and bramble and the woodland ground layer is composed mainly of grasses and some primrose.

  • Cairndhu House (the old Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Hospital). This is now private property.

    This part of the former demesne has a great diversity of trees; additional tree species include Monterey Cypress and Wellingtonia. However, fringing woodlands are more neglected and becoming invaded by Ash and Sycamore. The northern part of the former demesne is now part of Cairndhu Golf Course in which there are several small plantations of Sycamore, Willow and Birch.

As the park's trees continue to age there is an ongoing commitment to replant and you will also find many young species of trees spread throughout the Park.

For more details on our most common trees download our tree spotting guide: Carnfunnock Spot the Tree Brochure (PDF - 2MB)

Grassland

Grassland accounts for almost 60% of the land cover within the Larne Coast Landscape Character Area with improved pasture accounting for more than four-fifths of the grassland. Comparably most fields within Carnfunnock are improved fields managed with constant grazing and the use of slurry or artificial fertilisers and herbicides. There are no arable fields within the Park. Further details on how these fields are managed can be found in our Lettings information.

Hawthorn is the most common hedgerow shrub with gorse (Whin), Blackthorn, Willows and Ash also present. Hedgerow trees are rare and mainly of Ash. Some of the most improved fields were amalgamated prior to improvement leading to loss of hedges.

Wildlife

Birds

Carnfunnock Country Park has several habitats, including coastline, woodland, open farmland and wetlands all within its boundaries. As such, our park attracts a wide variety of birds, with over 70 species of birds recorded in and around Carnfunnock.

From the shoreline in Carnfunnock Bay, gannets, fulmars and various species of gull can be seen soaring out at sea. The rocky coastline is also home to waders including oystercatcher, redshank, curlew, ringed plover and turnstone. During the summer months the bay is also a great place to watch common, Arctic and sandwich terns diving for food.

Our woodlands have many birds which are resident all year round. For example magpie; robin; song thrush, blackbird, goldcrest, blue tit, starling, woodpigeon, collared dove, chaffinch, great tit and wren can all be seen and heard by the casual observer without too much effort.

Some species only visit the park during the spring and summer to take advantage of the explosion of insect life before heading to Africa in the autumn. For example the swallow, swift, house martin, wheatear and several species of warbler.

In the same aspect, some species visit the park during the autumn and winter, including fieldfare, to take advantage of our crop of wild fruit and berries. Other winter species may include waxwing, redwing and brambling. Winter is also a good time to watch shore birds with dunlin, goldeneye and brent geese all being seen on occasions.

Many other birds frequent the park from time to time. Species including sparrowhawk, heron, buzzard and raven have all been seen flying overhead, and because of our proximity to the coast we also have species such as herring and black-headed gulls feeding in the fields along with curlew and oystercatcher.

Remember that in accordance with the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985, it is against the law in Northern Ireland to disturb nesting birds and any young birds found should be left where they are to allow their parents to feed them.

Most birds are easily spotted with the aid of a good pair of binoculars and with some knowledge of their calls and songs they can be readily identified. For more information on birds in Northern Ireland please contact RSPB Northern Ireland on T: 028 9049 1547 or visit their website.

Mammals

Carnfunnock Country Park is home to a variety of mammals. Some are nocturnal and the best time to see them is at dawn or dusk like the badger, fox, hedgehog, wood mouse and Pipistrelle bats, although hedgehogs and bats will normally hibernate during the winter.

Others may be seen all year round, more often by day like, Irish stoats, pygmy shrew, wild rabbits or squirrels although you are more likely to see the American grey squirrel than our native red. 

As these mammals are all sensitive to disturbance, signs of activity are more often seen than the animals themselves. You will need to use all your senses to find clues such as pawprints, hair on fences, claw marks on trees, droppings, remains of meals, used bedding materials, sounds and even strange smells, which are used as territory markers.

Please remember that all the mammals in Carnfunnock Country Park are protected and should not be disturbed. No shooting is permitted anywhere within the Park and if you see poachers or anyone acting suspiciously take their car number, do not disturb them and call the police (T: 999 or T: 101).