A feature of the woods are the so-called Hiberno-lusitanian species. These plants have an unusual distribution in that they occur almost exclusively in south-west Ireland and in northern parts of Spain and Portugal. Species in this group include two species of saxifrage, St. Patricks Cabbage (Saxifraga spathularis) and Kidney-leaved Saxifrage (Saxifraga hirsuta), Irish Spurge (Euphorbia hyberna) and Large-flower Butterwort (Pinguicula grandiflora). The latter species is found in boggy areas. Perhaps one of the best known plants in this group is the Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo), whose distribution extends to the Mediterranean area. In the woods of Glengarriff it occurs on rocky outcrops, with one located near Lady Bantry’s Lookout.
A rare woodland orchid, Narrow-leaved Heleborine (Cephalanthera longifolia) occurs at one location in the woods. This species is so rare that it is listed in the Irish Red Data Book.
The woods are also notable for the presence of several rare species of Myxomycete fungus, namely Echinostelium colliculosum, Cribraria tenella, Arcyria affinis, Stemonitis nigrescens, Symphytocarpus impexus, Fuligo muscorum, Diderma deplanatum and D. lucidum.
The section on habitats refers to many of the commonly found plant species found in the woods.
At dusk you may see bats flying around the woodland clearings, along the tracks or along the rivers. Seven species of bat have been recorded in the Glengarriff area, the most notable of which is the lesser horseshoe bat. This species is listed in Annex II of the EU Habitats Directive and particularly favours woodland areas in the south-west of Ireland. There are several lesser horseshoe bat roosts in and around the nature reserve, including some winter roosts (hibernacula) that have been specially created for the bats.
Other bat species found in the reserve are Daubenton’s bat (seen along the rivers), long-eared bat , common pipistrelle, soprano pipistrelle, Leisler’s bat and Natterer’s bat.
Otters are common in the area but they are shy and secretive. Their ‘sprainting points’, where they leave their droppings to mark territories, are found along the riverbank. You might be more likely to see mink, which is a North American species which spread into the area some years ago. Similar in size to the mink, is the pine marten (‘tree cat’), distinguishable from the mink by its’ creamy yellow bib. Pine martens have been making a comeback in the Reserve in recent years.
Stoats make their homes in walls and usually have a reddish-brown coat and a black tip to their tails. Stoats are highly inquisitive and if you see one it can usually be enticed from cover by making a squeaking noise. Red squirrels are a similar size and colour but have characteristic bushy tails. The squirrels particularly like the areas of the Reserve with Scot’s pine or hazel.
Other mammals present in the Reserve include fox, badger, Sika deer, feral goats, hare, hedgehog, wood mouse and bank vole.
The woodland supports characteristic bird communities, with chaffinch, robin and tits being the most common breeding species. In spring willow warblers and chiffchaffs arrive from Africa to breed in the woods and the population of blackcaps, some of which over-winter in the south-west, is augmented by summer migrants.
Several species of the crow family occur, including the colourful and noisy jay. In autumn this bird feeds on fallen acorns. The late autumn also sees the arrival of migrants from Scandanavia such as fieldfare and redwing, which feast on the woodland berries.
Along the river you will see birds such as wagtails and the unmistakable dipper, with its white bib and bobbing habit as it perches on rocks in mid-stream. You might also be lucky to see a flash of brilliant blue as a kingfisher streaks past.
At dusk look out for the deceptively slow flight of a long-eared owl that nests in the Scot’s pine as well as woodcock, mainly a winter visitor, that emerges at nightfall to feed on open grassland. You might also see the ghostly white shape of a barn owl searching for bank voles.
Ponds and pools within the reserve swarm with frog spawn and tadpoles from early spring and the Reserve supports a healthy population of adult frogs.
Oak has more animal species associated with it than any other tree species and over 200 species of insect inhabit it. The mature oaks of Glengarriff host Ireland’s only aboreal ant species (Lasius fulginosis). The arboreal ant colonies are known to persist in association with individual trees for up to a century. Old birch trees too have their own fauna among which is the beautiful black and yellow longhorn beetle (Leptura aurulenta). Both the arboreal ant and the longhorn beetle are representatives of Ireland’s much reduced old forest fauna and, together with a species of hoverfly (Microdon analis), demonstrate the ancient origins of these woods.
The small bogs within the Reserve are the habitat for species which only occur where woodland and bog combine. These include Ireland’s largest grasshopper (Stethophyma grossa), the grey and orange horse-fly (Hybomitra muhlfeldi) and the largest western European horse-fly (Tabanus sudeticus), which is over 2.5cm long.
The aquatic habitats of the Reserve add to the faunal diversity. The rivers support freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera), a species listed in Annex II of the EU Habitats Directive. The pearl mussel can live up to 130 years old, making its Ireland’s longest living animal. The larvae of the mussels (glochidia) attach themselves to the gills of salmonid species of fish. The glochidia drop off after several months and settle within gravel beds where the mussels can develop to maturity.
The two lakes associated with the Nature Reserve support a wide range of dragonflies and demoiselles, including the downy emerald dragonfly (Cordulea aenea). Elsewhere in Ireland this species is only known from Killarney.
An invertebrate species with a distribution similar to theHiberno-lusitanian plant species is the Kerry slug (Geomalacus maculosus). This species is known only from south-western Ireland and the north-western part of the Iberian peninsula. Dark with distinctive cream spots, the slug can be found grazing on lichens on rocks or tree trunks in damp weather. Like the freshwater pearl mussel, the Kerry slug is listed in Annex II of the EU Habitats Directive.
Butterflies recorded in the Nature Reserve include silver-washed fritillary (Argynnis paphia), green hairstreak (Callophrys rubi), purple hairstreak (Quercusia quercus), large heath (Coenonympha tullia) and holly blue (Celastrina argiolus).
The rivers of the Reserve contain species such as salmon and trout. Fishing permits are available in the village.