The Ardeer Peninsula is a nationally important natural asset. A recent vegetation survey reported it to have the largest area of acid dune grassland in the UK. By far Ayrshire’s largest dune system, it also contains a wealth of other sand dune habitats, as well as one of North Ayrshire's largest and most biodiverse woodlands.
Sand dunes stretch across much of the Peninsula, with some of the tallest peaks located over a mile inland. The sheer size and diverse topography of the dune system has created a vast number of habitat niches, which in turn support a considerable diversity of dune insects.
Scotland's greatest diversity of bees and waspsThe tall dunes, conifer plantations and steep, artificial sand embankments provide almost perfect shelter from the wind. Consequently, heat-loving flying insects thrive. Over a hundred species of bee and wasp have been recorded on the Ardeer Peninsula. These include many rarities, such as the UKBAP priority species, Colletes floralis, which is present across most of the site in July. Another northern solitary bee found in the dunes is Andrena ruficrus, a rare Red Data Book species. It lives at the transition between scrubby woodland edge habitat and open sand dunes, where it can be found on Sallow blossom in April. Two more noteworthy northern bee species found on the Ardeer Peninsula are the tiny, black Andrena coitana and the larger, chunky leafcutter bee, Megachile circumcincta. The latter species doesn’t traditionally have a northern bias to its distribution, but in recent decades it has become all but extinct south of the Scottish border, retreating to large dune systems such as those at Culbin and Ardeer.
As well as supporting many species of northern bee, the Ardeer Peninsula is also the northern-most outpost for many southern species. These include the tiny white-faced bee, Hylaeus brevicornis, the stripy Colletes fodiens and the colourful red, white and black cuckoo bee, Epeolus cruciger.
The hot, calm conditions and bountiful supply of wildflowers also support a great density and diversity of butterfly species. Dune specialists such Grayling and Dark Green Fritillary are present across the site. The latter species is particularly rare in North Ayrshire, with the population in the Ardeer/Irvine dunes the only one recorded in the county. The dunes also support several rare species of sand dune moth, including Archer’s Dart and the nationally notable Coast Dart. Both of these sand dune specialists have been recorded on the Ardeer Peninsula and nowhere else in the Ayrshire vice county. Similarly, the Thyme Pug moth, which is strongly associated with sand dune systems, has been recorded from the Ardeer Peninsula and nowhere else in Ayrshire.
For further information on studying Scotland's pollinating insects, go to:
Heathland raritiesThe Ardeer Peninsula contains several large areas of dune heath, an increasingly rare habitat owing to ongoing development pressure. A rich assemblage of rare heathland insects is present at the site. At night, very local moths such as Heath Rustic and The Anomalous feed on the heather. During the day, they are replaced by solitary bees, such as the heather specialists Colletes succinctus and Andrena fuscipes, and the uncommon Heath Bumblebee (Bombus jonellus). Crawling amongst the heather are many species of heathland beetle, such as the ubiquitous Heather Beetle and the much rarer Heiroglyphic Ladybird. One of the most impressive heathland beetles present on the peninsula is the Minotaur Beetle (Typhoeus typhoeus). Essentially a species of southern heathlands, it is rare throughout northern England and only known from a handful of sites in Scotland.
One of North Ayrshire’s largest and most biodiverse woodlandsWell over a hundred hectares of woodland are present on the peninsula. The large Black Powder Wood, which sits at the north of the peninsula, is itself close to a square kilometre in size. The woodlands on the Ardeer Peninsula support the most diverse assemblage of breeding birds in the county. Early in the year, the woodland is filled with the raucous calls of breeding Grey Herons and Ravens. Later in the year, some of the more unusual breeding birds include Siskin, Long-eared Owl and Spotted Flycatcher. The extensive scrubby woodland edge habitat supports Lesser Whitethroat, Linnet, Garden Warbler and Redpoll. More unusual birds to have held territories in the wood include Tree Pipit and Wood Warbler.
Outside the breeding season, the wood is much quieter. Woodcock and flocks of Common Crossbill are regularly encountered and it is also at this time of year that the ponds are at their busiest, with large flocks of Teal and Mallard present.
The woodland and its scrubby margins abound with insect life. The Black Powder wood is the only site in Ayrshire from which the Small Yellow Wave moth has been recorded. The rare and attractive wasp-mimicking hoverfly, Chrysotoxum festivum, is regularly seen in the wood, usually around the woodland edge where young Birch saplings grow. Another rare woodland edge fly which is common at the site is the parasitic fly, Tachina ursina, a large, stripy species that can regularly be found on Sallow blossom in April.
Ayrshire’s largest estuaryThe salt marsh and mudflats that line the eastern edge of the Ardeer Peninsula are part of the most important site in Ayrshire for passage and wintering wildfowl. Cold winter weather brings in four figure numbers of ducks. As well as Teal, Wigeon, Mallard and Goldeneye, rarer ducks such as Pintail, Shoveler and Gadwall can also sometimes be found on the estuary. Indeed, the estuary and neighbouring freshwater wetland at Garnock East are the best places in Ayrshire to see Gadwall. From time to time, the estuary attracts rarities, which have included American Wigeon, Bewick’s Swan and Baird’s Sandpiper. Little Egret was once a rarity, but is now an annual visitor to the site.