The Ayres, a stretch of coast fringing the lowland in the northwest, has a combination of shingle, dunes and heath very different from other coasts on the Isle of Man. The area is of great ecological importance, home to some of the Island's rarest plants. The MWT Visitor Centre has attractive displays about the ecology, geology and history of the Ayres.
The nature trail leads the visitor from the shore through the dunes to the lichen heath. Although there is no well developed dune system it is possible to see all the stages of succession from sand to heath. There are also slacks, which are similar to the slacks of true dune systems, within walking distance of the visitor centre.
As you walk from the beach inland you can see how sand can turn to land with turf on which a heath eventually develops. The soil gets progressively darker and richer with more organic material. In a few paces there is a transition from sandy soil of the foredune to the turf on the consolidated landward slope of the back dune. The turf on the landward slope of the fixed dunes merges with the main heath.
The most newly formed dunes near the beach are stabilised by marram. Growing amongst the marram is the blue-grey sea holly and the attractive pink-flowered sea bindweed. Other flowering plants include the Isle of Man cabbage, sea and Portland spurges and the pyramidal orchid. The dune slopes facing towards the heath are more sheltered and here, as well as on the heath, you will find mosses, lichens, wild thyme, common storksbill, dovesfoot cranesbill, rest harrow and birdsfoot trefoil. The heath is well known for the lichens growing amongst the heather and for the burnet roses which flower in summer. Both the native western gorse and the larger European gorse grow on the heath. Grazing by rabbits and occasional fires have prevented the last stages of succession developing with scrub and woodland.
The slacks have interesting vegetation; early marsh orchid, northern marsh orchid, adder's tongue fern, bog pimpernel, silverweed and marsh pennywort are just some of the plants you might see. The boggy ground and pools are important for invertebrates which provide food for birds and frogs.
A great variety of birds frequent the Ayres, particularly seabirds. Gannets, shags, cormorants and terns dive for fish, and wading birds such as oystercatchers, ringed plovers and curlews feed on the shore. A few species nest on the upper shore dunes and heath, particularly oystercatcher, ringed plover and little tern together with land birds such as skylark and stonechat. Pellets from short-eared owls and the blue shells of mussels devoured by the oystercatchers are common sights when walking the trail. The common lizard, the Island's only native reptile, feeds on the many grassshoppers that live amongst the marram.
Seals are often sighted out to sea and basking sharks are sometimes seen as they cruise the surface feeding on plankton.
Please take care when visiting The Ayres. Much of the vegetation is fragile and easily damaged by vehicles or fire. Nesting birds are easily disturbed. Keep dogs on a lead during the breeding season.
How to get to the Ayres Visitor Centre:
Grid ref. NX 435 038. The Visitor centre is signposted on the Ballaghennie Road west of Bride. It has a car park adjacent to it.