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Introduction

Cuspate ForelandMagilligan Beach is located on the North West corner of Northern Ireland and stretches from Downhill to Magilligan Point, close to County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland. The beach is the foreward end of a cuspate foreland which started to develop as a result of sea and land level changes after the last ice age. Magilligan foreland is Ireland’s largest coastal accumulation feature comprising 32 square kilometres of marine and wind-blown sand deposits.

The dunes behind the beach have a variety of land uses and ownership. Close to Magilligan Point the land is used by the Ministry of Defence as a firing range and there is also a prison. The dunes also have various recreational uses including a small golf course and several caravan parks. Some areas are managed as Nature Reserves. Since the dune environment is fragile, access to those reserved sites is often limited. In other parts of the dunes there is evidence of damage by human activity, particularly that associated with recreation and tourism.

Plant successions from bare ground are known as priseres. There are four main types of priseres:

Lithoseres where the plants colonise bare rock
Hydroseres where the plants colonise water, as at a pond margin
Haloseres where plants colonise salt marshes and sea estuaries
Psammosere where plants colonise coastal sand areas

This study is of a psammosere.

Sand dunes are dynamic elements of the landscape. They grow when sand is deposited on the beach by longshore drift or shoreward movement of sediment. As the sand dries between periods of high tide, it can be blown landwards and trapped by plants to become the beginnings of a sand dune system. The interrelationship between the mineral input (the sand) and the vegetation is what defines the development of the sand dunes. Where tidal range is low and sediment size is big, such as in the south of England, sand dunes are rare. In Ireland about 20% of the coast has sand dunes.

The following link gives further information about Magilligan

Environment and Heritage Service of Northern Ireland http://www.ehsni.gov.uk/natural/country/35.shtml

Follow the links in the diagram below to explore the dunes.