Wild Life on The River Slaney
The Lower end of the Slaney Valley is a wonderland for wildlife but it has one serious drawback: it is difficult to get at. I’ve walked both banks in various stages but would not recommend it as an exercise. Access for cyclist and motorist is also difficult. The train affords a good view of the valley but the ideal way to see it is from the water. Whizzing along in a power boat is a sure way of seeing nothing: the best way to travel is to poke along gently and slowly in a small boat allowing yourself plenty of time to savor the rivers wildlife.
Ferrycarrig Bridge marks the rather dramatic transition from the broad lower reaches of the estuary to the narrower and more scenic upper part. During the last ice age the river ran south westwards to Wellington bridge and discharged into Bannow Bay. The spectacular Slaney Gorge at Ferrycarrig also dates from the Ice Age and since sea level was lower then than it is now the ancient river bed is below the present day sea level and is therefore flooded at high water causing the river to be influenced by the tide as far inland as the cathedral town of Enniscorthy.
The most striking waterside plant is Ireland’s tallest wild grass, the common read, which forms extensive skirting beds. Its tough stems are used for thatching and some fine examples of this ancient craft may be seen when passing the Irish National Heritage Park immediately up River of Ferrycarrig Bridge.
Where the valley sides are steep they are wooded and the great diversity of different habitats supports a wide range of wild flowers and interesting plants. The rarest plant ever found in the Slaney Valley was the short-leafed water-starwort. It was found once near Macmine Junction by E.S. Marshall in 1897 and was never found again either growing in the river Slaney or anywhere else in Ireland.
The earliest wildlife to be seen on the water is the bird life. A glimpse of a kingfisher flashing by is always a treat. Sand martins feed over the water at Park and Killowen. Cormorants are almost always seen diving for flatfish at Ferrycarrig Bridge. They roost upriver and their droppings kill the riverside trees that they live in; Grey herons nest in the top of the tall beaches opposite Ardcandrisk.
Bare mudflats at low water are favorite feeding places for redshank and blackheaded gulls and while these are the most common species it is not unusual to see gray herons, curlews, oystercatchers, shelducks, hooded crows and herring gulls as well as Mallard and tufted duck which are regularly seen together with mute swans in the quiet stretches of water.
Footprints in the mud evidence that otters are common but the biggest mammal that occurs is the gray seal. These pass up and down the river and sometimes haul out on the riverside rocks near the Castle at Killurin.
There is always something to interest the nature lover and to ensure that future generations may also enjoy this great natural resource it is important that those using the waterways should act responsibly towards nature at all times, should kill nothing but time and should take nothing but memories.