Nature Walk in the Curraghs: wallabies, orchids, and Manx herblore

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A nature walk in the curraghs on the Isle of Man. This swampy nature reserve is home to native orchids, birdlife, and a population of wild wallabies.

I’ll bet you didn’t know there were wild Wallabies living on the Isle of Man. Though not native, these relatives of kangaroos have been living in Ballaugh for about fifty years. The story goes that sometime in the 1960s a breeding pair escaped from the island’s only wildlife park. From that single pair, there are now estimated to be around a hundred wallabies in the marshy land known as the Curragh. Though terribly inbred, and suffering from poor sight, as a result, the animals are flourishing and can be spotted singly or in family groups in the area’s nature reserves.

Can you spot the mother Wallaby and her baby?

Even though I’ve been on the Isle of Man for well over three years I’d somehow never gotten around to seeing them. So when John ‘Dog’ Callister offered to take me and two friends on a walk around the Curragh last week I jumped at the invitation. John Dog spent many years working both on his own and for Manx National Heritage building public paths and structures for the Close Sartfields and Ballaugh Curraghs nature reserves.

He knows all about the Wallabies and has even caught a couple of blind ones to take to the vet. With no native predators or poisonous snakes to injure them, the Wallabies seem to be doing okay on their own despite their challenges. The only real danger they have is from dogs and vehicles.

On our walk, we spotted not one but FIVE Wallabies including a mother and baby. Each time we spotted one I tried to take decent photos but either my zoom wasn’t decent enough in the failing light or I was too mesmerized to remember to take a photo. The topmost image in this post is one of the Manx Wallabies as taken by the BBC.
Wallaby in the Ballaugh Curraghs. Photo credit: Jay Houghton 

John Dog also gave us a tour of Sartfield Nature Reserve and we were introduced to scores of native wildflowers in both their English and Manx names. John Dog is considered an expert on Manx names for wildflowers and in some cases has helped create names where proper ones weren’t known.

I knew a few before such as ‘Tramman’ for Elder, and ‘Cushag’ for Ragwort but was also introduced to ‘Sleggan Slieau’ for Foxglove and ‘Ullaagagh’ for Honeysuckle. For a complete list, please have a look for John Dog’s book which is available in some of the Manx National Heritage gift shops.

Having John Dog as a guide made the walk one to remember. He knew exactly where to go, what to see, and also seemed to have a story for every plant. One folk tradition he showed us was picking ‘Faerie Ears’ off Elder trees so as to soak them in water until they truly resembled soft pointy ears.
It was said that Faeries on the Isle of Man live in the earth under Elder trees and listen out through the little ‘ears’ that grow on the tree’s bark. Strictly speaking, it’s unlucky to break the branches or pick the bark of Elder trees without asking the tree first but John Dog figured the tree wouldn’t mind this time. He’d been asked by Manx Radio to do a feature on Elders so hopefully, a bit of PR was enough to placate them.
The meadows in the Curragh were peppered with wildflowers and we were lucky enough to spot at least two varieties of native orchids along with Valerian, Foxgloves, Meadowsweet, both Field and Hedge Woundwort, and majestic Royal Ferns, to name a few. At one point we stopped to pick sprigs of Bog Myrtle to put behind our ears – a twist and a flick every now and again and it works to keep the Midges at bay.

The plantings were all fairly dense but every now and again John Dog would point out an old hedge or boundary wall in the undergrowth. You’d think they’d been there for eons by the way they were covered in plants so it was hard to believe that the park had been nothing more than treeless agricultural fields up to the 1960s.

Wild Orchids growing in the Curragh
Native Orchids at top and John ‘Dog’ Callister with a Royal Fern below
The walk didn’t take more than an hour or so and the paths were all very well maintained. We popped out onto the road where we’d parked before long having had successfully spotting the Wallabies and scores of native wild plants, fungi, and flowers. What I was really surprised about was that even though it was a warm summer evening we saw only two other people on the walk.
Together the parks are surely one of the hidden gems of the Isle of Man and a definite must-see! If you’d like to visit either the Ballaugh Curragh or Close Sartfield Nature reserve just follow this link for more information. And please remember to leave your dogs at home so they don’t worry the wildlife.

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  1. Barbara Anne Kinzett says:

    Oh Wallabies Oh No, we have them in Waimate New Zealand someone brought them over from Australia years ago, now we are over run and are a pest decimating so much land. Cute they are , but they will take over . I am Manx would hate to see the land of my birth destroyed , take care

  2. What a shame the wallabies are going blind,a lovely walk and so much to see. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    1. You're very welcome :) It was a wonderful walk and I'd recommend it to anyone who's spending time on the island!

  3. An interesting day – such a pity about the inbreeding of the wallabies.

    1. Yes it is. John Dog said he'd tried to nudge the wildlife park to toss a couple more over the fence but no luck thus far ;)

  4. I never expected the isle of man to have landscape like that and wallabies to boot! Really neat, more rain here.

  5. I would have loved to be on that walk with you Tanya – I'm a big fan of nature reserves particularly for wildflower spotting – but wallabies, well I'll be blowed – as they say. Do they ever cull them like deer or just let the numbers build up? John Dog certainly looks the part anyway – I bet he's really interesting to talk to.

    1. They don't cull them as far as I know but I've heard that a number of them have been hit on the road…probably due to them not seeing cars coming!

  6. Indeed – I didn't know there are wallabies on the Isle of Man :) I thought they only live in Australia.

    Very interesting post!


    1. It's pretty wild isn't it? We were really close to one in particular who starting to bound away just like a kangaroo after a few minutes. It doesn't really hit you that they're Wallabies (and not VERY big rabbits) until you see them move!