Maughold Head bid for protected status

Maughold lighthouse from Lighthouses of the Isle of Man and North West England

Maughold lighthouse from Lighthouses of the Isle of Man and North West England

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THE Department of the Environment is consulting on proposals to designate Maughold Head and Brooghs an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI).

The purpose of the exercise is to formalise protection of the 132.4 acres area, which encompasses a wide range of semi-natural habitats: from species-rich coastal grassland to hard cliff and intertidal rocky shore.

A total of 35 breeding bird species have been recorded since 1999 and there are recent records of a further 47 species of possible breeders, passage or wintering birds, five of which are protected species.

Of particular interest is the colony of cliff-breeding sea birds which includes a colony of shags and the largest colony of cormorants in the Isle of Man. Other breeding seabirds include puffin, fulmar, kittiwake, guillemot, black guillemot and razorbill.

Other important cliff breeders include raven, peregrine falcon and chough. In addition to providing valuable nesting habitat, the cliffs support patches of diverse coastal grassland, cliff crevice plants and scrub.

The whole site is notable for its diversity and extent of typical coastal habitats.

The steep rocky cliffs and coastal brooghs that stretch from Port-e-Vullen to an area south of the lighthouse, stopping short of Port Mooar, are one of the largest continuous stretches of tall cliff and unimproved coastal habitat on the island.

The coast is generally composed of steep cliffs with Fucus (brown seaweed) covered rocks below and gently sloping grassy slopes above.

A number of small flushes and streams occur in the grassland and add to the botanical-interest. Bracken clothes the slopes in summer and small patches of scrub add to the habitat diversity. Heath-spotted orchid occurs in large numbers in a number of isolated patches.

Grey seals haul out and breed on the beaches and rocks at the base of the cliffs.

Viviparous lizards have been recorded on the coastal brooghs in the vicinity of the footpath at the southern end of the proposed ASSI. It is likely that they occur on other south-facing areas of the site.

Evidence of 6th to 7th century working of Maughold iron ore has been found by analysis of a smelting site near Andreas.

Iron ore was produced in some quantity during the 19th century, the heyday of mining in the Isle of Man, when annual production could reach 2,000 tons.

The most visible remains of this now defunct industry are several adit entrances along the coast near the foot of the cliffs, and there is an old mine shaft at Maughold Head.

At the summit of Maughold Head is an earthwork enclosure or fortification, probably dating to the Iron Age. The summit of the Head later served as a gathering point for medieval militia undertaking coastal lookout duties (‘Watch and Ward’).

A stone burial cist just south is probably Bronze Age and a cairn on the summit may be of similar age. On the north slope of the Head lies a spring which feeds a well named after St Maughold and associated with the early medieval monastic settlement nearby.

The designation documents, including a list of activities likely to damage the special interest site, are available on the Maughold Commissioners’ website

Comments on the proposed designation should be sent to Aline Thomas, Biodiversity Officer, at DEFA, Foxdale Road, St John’s or email by July 28.

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