Breathtakingly Beautiful – Big Dog Forest! 

We are incredibly lucky here in Fermanagh to have huge areas of forest – ancient woodland and planted forestry. Both are great habitats (although native woodland is arguably more superior!) for birds, invertebrates, mammals, plants and fungi. I’ve been lucky enough to regularly feel the moss, soil, grass and rocks of one of my favourite forests in Co Fermanagh- ‘Big Dog Forest’!  I breathe in its cool, fresh and sometimes musty air, stand arms outstretched  on the mountain top, hunt for beetles and fungi on the forest floors and gasp at panoramic views, I also see some fantastic wildlife!

Big Dog Forest is part of Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, I talk about this a lot as so many of Fermanagh’s special places are within it. It is protected by UNESCO and it benefits our local economy so much, Fermanagh as a county relies heavily on tourism since the closure of the railways and most industrial factories. The forest is 1,000 hectares, mostly of forestation, Hawthorn and Willow; it’s managed by the Northern Ireland Forest service, who do a great job in managing our sites for wildlife. It’s one of our favourite places to go as it’s not really busy and we practically have the place to ourselves. We usually start with a picnic and see which insects want to visit us.

A hovering Hoverfly (Eristralis). I love hoverflies!! They are important pollinators so don’t swat them – they don’t buzz.



Not a bad view for a picnic!


The bird life here is high in the treetops or among the undergrowth which surround Lough Nabrickboy, sometimes I catch a Meadow Pipit though! Meadow Pipits are an amber list bird which is in decline around Europe (possibly due to habitat destruction in breeding areas). If you are in the uplands and you see a parachuting streak of brown, bobbing up and down in the air, singing its beautiful melody; it’s likely to be a beautiful Meadow Pipit.


Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) at the edge of the lake

I also managed to capture a photograph of a Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea). The wagtail like the Pipit belongs to the Motacillidae family and is a species on the RSPB Red Status list. This means that they are in decline, even though their territories have expanded. There are just 38,000 breeding pairs in UK. It is a beautiful, sometimes elusive bird and it makes a striking flash of bright yellow as it flies. This was the first time I had seen one in Fermanagh!


How gorgeous is this Grey Wagtail!


Big Dog Forest has some of the finest upland landscape scenery in Fermanagh. If you climb to the top of Little Dog, you can see panoramic views of the lakes and the purple spread of the heathland.

My sister, feeling free at the top of Little Dog and one of the stunning views, it is just spectacular and wild!! The wind at the top is breathtaking and is also a great place to pick Bilberries and have a chat on top of the sandstone!!

Me picking Bilberries and my brother and sister relaxing on top of Little Dog.

I absolutely love mythology, especially the stories of my Irish ancestors and Big Dog is not short of a story! Indeed, the two hills – Little Dog and Big Dog are said to be the result of a spell cast on the two hounds, Bran and Sceolan, of Fionn MacCumhaill  (Fin McCool). Apparently whilst the two wolfhounds were out hunting they picked up the scent of a witch and gave chase. The witch changed herself into a deer to run faster than the hounds but they were on her heels, she, seeing no means of escape cast  spell on the two hounds turning them into the rock which we see today! I completely love the idea that we are somehow connecting  with the past, but those scientific geologists bust the myth and explain the sandstone of the hills are more robust than that of the surrounding area. Hmmmmm, as a budding scientist I’d go with the geologists but really, these stories are important and our telling of them keeps the past alive, sometimes that’s a good thing!

Big Dog Forest holds a special place for me, because it is where I go to watch raptors, more specifically, the majestic Hen Harrier (anyone who has read my blog before will know how passionate I am about them!). I have seen them in a variety of spots around the forest, and never in the same place twice!

My obsession, an adult male Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus)


Big Dog Forest really is a magical place, and one of my all time favourites. There is something comforting about the familiarity and visiting the same place over and over. It’s such a great place for wildlife and we often take a net and pond dipping tray, to see what lives in the lake. We have found lots of diving beetles. pond skaters and snails. We also see the bubble of larger fish, possibly trout.

A Pond Skater (Gerris lacustris) and us (minus mum who’s taking the photo). These photos have been taken over the last few weeks, hence the various weather conditions! Everyone knows that in Fermanagh, you can experience wild and calm weather in one day! Pretty mcuh like all of the island of Ireland!

Since moving to Fermanagh (my mum is a native but left home many years ago 😉 three years ago, it is places like Big Dog that have captivated me and deepened further, my love of wildlife and wild places. This stunning landscape and peaceful tranquility will always hold a special place in my heart.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about Big Dog Forest!

Thanks for reading.


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8 Responses

  1. I used to work as a geologist and i agree with you Dara. I like mystery and magic and love the stories past down to us about the landscape. In fact i have many more celtic myth books than i do geology ones 😀

  2. Thank you, Dara, for another enchanting read. If only all youngsters could grow up learning about the world around them as you do, and learning to love it. Bless your parents!

  3. Dara. This is a wonderful informative blog. I reAlly enjoyed how you connected so much and captured the ecosystem I worked with you dad when we designated Big Dog forest as an ASSI. It is a wonderful site. Have a look at the. Conservation. Features on the web. You dad has a great knowledge of the environment and I can see where you have been inspired by him. Continue. With your good work.

    1. Diane, thank you so much for your kind words and for the work that you have done in designating these amazing places. My dad is definitely an inspiration to me, along with my mum and many ecologists and scientists. I hope to become a scientist myself and am working hard on this. I very much appreciate your comment.

      Thank you


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