Inch Strand – Kerry’s Ecological Gem

Inch Strand – Kerry’s Ecological Gem

Inch Strand is located halfway on the southern edge of the Dingle Peninsula in county Kerry. It boasts a 5 kilometre long beach which is flanked by an extensive sand dune system, which is ideal for the walking or hiking enthusiast. Inch’s name is derived from the Irish word Inse, the genitive case for Inis, meaning Island. From this linguistic artefact we can see that at one point back in the distant past Inch Strand started out life as an island in the middle of Castlemaine Harbour.

So how did Inch go from being an island to a sand spit?

Two processes contributed to the joining of the former island to the mainland – the deposition of sediments from the bay area and the presence of Marram grass in the island. Firstly, the sediments flowing from the River Maine into Castlemaine Harbour, upon meeting the tidal forces of the Atlantic Ocean, deposited themselves at the base of the existing island, making it grow in size. The tidal forces of the Atlantic also played its part in depositing sand from the seafloor in the area of the island. Eventually, over a long period of time, with the continual accumulation of sand and sediment, a spit of sand gradually formed between the island and the mainland of the Dingle Peninsula. And so began the early stages of Inch Strand as we know it. The second formation process in Inch’s creation was the presence of Marram grass on Inch. A coastal species, suited to the saline nature of the seashore, Marram grass is important in the formation of sand dunes. It plays a vital role in stabilising the dunes, its fibrous, matted roots binding the sand down, which helps to encourage the colonisation of other plants. The long, rigid blades of the grass also act as a sort of windbreak, catching any sand blown off the seashore and allowing the captured sand particles to settle at the grass’ base, causing the dunes to grow and spread bit by bit. In the case of Inch, the result to date is almost like a mini mountain range of undulating sand dunes running along the spine of Inch Strand, from the mainland to the tip.

Is Inch Strand made up of only sand dunes and beaches?

Marram grass has the ability to create a varied selection of ecosystems which in turn benefit a wide range of coastal species. Marram tends to be found on the newly formed dunes on the shoreline, becoming less prominent as you move further inland from the sea, before giving way entirely to other pastoral grass species. For example, Inch transitions from embryonic sand dunes, to established sand dunes to a plain of machair grassland behind said sand dunes, before ending a tidal area of mudflats and salt marshes.

Inch’s sand dunes are of significant ornithological, zoological, geomorphological and archaeological interest and have been designated a special area of conservation SAC. Inch dunes are an important habitat for the chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), the natterjack toad (Bufo calamita), Ireland’s only toad and rarest amphibian and the rare petalwort (Petalophyllum ralfsii).  Numerous rabbit warrens can be seen in the deep heart of the dunes. The machair area behind the dunes are utilised by local farmers for the rearing of sheep and cattle.

Clockwise from top left: Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), Natterjack toad (Bufo calamita), Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) and Fox (Vulpes vulpes), just a selection of the terrestrial species that inhabit Inch Strand.

Clockwise from top left: Petalwort (Petalophyllum ralfsii)a rare species of liverwort in Ireland, Sand Pansies (Viola tricolor ssp. curtisii), Sheep’s-bit- Scabious (Jasione montana) and Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor), just a selection of the flora that grow on the sand dunes and machair habitats of Inch.

 So what is on offer at Inch for the first time or regular visitor?

With respect to areas of interest to visitors, the easy gradient and vastness of space on Inch provides a safe environment for all types of water sports including Surfing, Kayaking, Windsurfing, Kite Surfing, Hangliding. The area is popular with bass anglers , with both ends of the beach yielding bass and flatfish. A number of kitchen middens, which give Inch an added archaeological interest, have been found towards the southern tip of the spit. A popular attraction for bird-watchers is the nature reserve behind the banks of sand dunes on the strand. These wetlands are important wintering grounds for many ducks and waders. It should come as no surprise that the seclusion and largely unspoilt nature of Inch’s sand dunes and beach attracts naturists from around the country and abroad. So the occasional sightings of naturists can be made while hiking along the Inch peninsula. 

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