If you are looking for a place to enjoy the beauty and diversity of nature in Galway, you might want to visit Derrycrag Wood Nature Reserve. This reserve is one of the few remaining fragments of the ancient woodland that once covered much of Ireland. It is home to a variety of plants and animals, some of which are rare or endangered.

Derrycrag Wood Nature Reserve is located about 1.5 km south-east of Woodford, a small village in south-east Galway. It covers an area of 110.48 hectares and is owned by the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS). It was established as a nature reserve in 1983, along with the nearby Rosturra Wood Nature Reserve, to protect and conserve the native woodland habitat.

The reserve is situated on the eastern slopes of the Slieve Aughty Mountains, overlooking Lough Derg. It is traversed by the Woodford River, which forms part of the Shannon River system. The reserve has a varied topography, with steep slopes, rocky outcrops, ravines and more. The soil is mainly acidic and poor in nutrients, but supports a rich ground flora.

The dominant tree species in the reserve are oak and ash, which form a canopy over an understorey of holly and hazel. The oak trees are mainly sessile oak (Quercus petraea), which are adapted to the wet and windy conditions of the west coast. The ash trees are mainly common ash (Fraxinus excelsior), which are more tolerant of lime-rich soils and can grow on limestone outcrops. The holly trees are mainly European holly (Ilex aquifolium), which have glossy evergreen leaves and red berries in winter. The hazel trees are mainly common hazel (Corylus avellana), which produce edible nuts in autumn.

The ground flora is diverse and colourful, especially in spring and summer. Some of the notable plants include wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa), bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella), primrose (Primula vulgaris), wild garlic (Allium ursinum), woodrush (Luzula sylvatica), wood sage (Teucrium scorodonia), wood avens (Geum urbanum) and ferns such as lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) and male fern (Dryopteris filix-mas). Some rare plants that can be found in the reserve are toothwort (Lathraea squamaria), a parasitic plant that grows on the roots of hazel and alder; herb paris (Paris quadrifolia), a plant with four leaves and a single purple flower; and bird’s-nest orchid (Neottia nidus-avis), an orchid that lacks chlorophyll and lives on decaying organic matter.

The reserve is also a haven for wildlife, especially birds and mammals. Some of the mammals that can be seen or heard in the reserve are pine marten (Martes martes), badger (Meles meles), red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), fox (Vulpes vulpes) and fallow deer (Dama dama). Pine martens are elusive members of the weasel family, with brown fur and a yellowish throat patch. They feed on small rodents, birds, eggs, fruits and nuts. Badgers are nocturnal animals with black-and-white striped faces and powerful claws. They live in underground burrows called setts and feed on earthworms, insects, roots and fruits. Red squirrels are native squirrels with reddish-brown fur and bushy tails. They feed on seeds, nuts, buds and fungi. Foxes are adaptable predators with reddish fur and bushy tails. They feed on rabbits, rodents, birds, insects and fruits. Fallow deer are introduced deer with spotted coats and palmate antlers. They feed on grasses, herbs, leaves and acorns .

Some of the birds that can be spotted or heard in the reserve are kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus), jay (Garrulus glandarius), treecreeper (Certhia familiaris), great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) and wood warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix). Kestrels are small falcons with brown and black markings and long tails. They hover in the air and dive to catch small mammals, birds and insects. Sparrowhawks are small hawks with brown and grey plumage and yellow eyes. They fly fast and low to catch small birds in the woodland. Jays are colourful members of the crow family, with pinkish-brown bodies, black-and-white wings and blue patches on the wings. They feed on acorns, nuts, seeds, fruits and insects. Treecreepers are small brown birds with curved bills and stiff tails. They climb up tree trunks and branches to find insects and spiders under the bark. Great spotted woodpeckers are black-and-white birds with red patches on the head and belly. They drum on dead wood to make holes and feed on insects, seeds and nuts. Wood warblers are small greenish-yellow birds with white eye rings and streaked breasts. They sing a high-pitched trill in the canopy and feed on insects .

The reserve is open to the public all year round and has a car park, a picnic area and a walking trail. The trail is about 2 km long and follows the river and the woodland edge. It offers scenic views of the reserve and the surrounding landscape. The trail is suitable for all ages and abilities, but some parts may be muddy or slippery after rain. The reserve is a designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the EU Habitats Directive, which means it has a high conservation value and is protected from damaging activities.

Derrycrag Wood Nature Reserve is a gem of nature in Galway, where you can experience the beauty and diversity of an ancient woodland. It is a place to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of nature, to learn about the history and ecology of the woodland, and to appreciate the importance of conserving our natural heritage.


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Derrycrag Wood Nature Reserve



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