Much of the landscape of Binevenagh AONB is characterised by long beaches and extensive dune systems. Within these dune systems there are examples of creeping willow, embryonic and shifting dunes whilst the damp areas in between the dunes are known as ‘dune slacks’. The post glacial landscape at Magilligan Strand, a National Nature Reserve, was created as a result of the changing sea levels which followed glaciation and shares many of the characteristics of the ‘machair’ landscapes of western Scotland. The Bann Estuary is another site important to the study of coastal physiography. Both have been designated as Special Areas of Conservation and as Areas of Special Scientific Interest. Management of the dune system at Benone, a Local Nature Reserve, is the responsibility of Limavady Borough Council whilst Portstewart sand dunes are managed by the National Trust.
These are special habitats and important for the wide range of different plants and invertebrate species they support including for example shepherds cress, petalwort, variegated horsetail and the rare marsh helleborine. There are many different insects here as well including the brightly coloured burnet moth and butterflies such as the meadow brown, grayling and marsh fritillary. In some cases marram grass and sea buckthorn have helped to bind the dunes together but in the case of the latter this often needs management to prevent it swamping the native species.
The extensive mudflats of Lough Foyle have been designated as a RAMSAR site in recognition of its international importance for birds. Its eelgrass beds provide a rich food source for the light-bellied brent goose and whooper swan on their return from Iceland each Autumn. Lough Foyle has extensive mussel and oyster beds and flounder, plaice and shoals of grey mullet are common. The River Roe, River Foyle and River Bann are all are noted for salmon and sea trout. The Bann Estuary is also noted for eels and the mudflats here are important for many waders such as the redshank and lapwing. Shelduck have also been known to nest in the sandhills near Castlerock. For ‘shell spotters’ the beaches of Binevenagh AONB are a paradise. Look closely and you could find anything from a delicate top shell to large oyster, whelk or Icelandic mussel shell. Offshore you might see a small whale or a dolphin whilst Common (or Harbour) porpoise hug the shoreline during summer.
Inland Binevenagh has been designated as both a Special Area of Conservation and as an Area of Special Scientific Interest. This striking basalt headland is important for both its geology and geomorphology however it is particularly noted for its unique assemblage of artic-alpine plants such as the purple saxifrage and moss campion. Wildflowers such as kidney vetch, harebell and wild thyme are common on the moss rich screes and slopes. The native ash and hazel woodland at both Aghanloo and the Umbra is a feature of the lower slopes and home to several rare plants including the birds nest orchid. Peregrine falcons can often be seen hunting around the cliff face.
Altikeeragh situated on the plateau above Binevenagh is an important example of an intact
upland raised bog and supports many rare bog land plants and mosses such as sphagnum imbricatum. This site has a wild and remote character and has been designated as both a National Nature Reserve and an Area of Special Scientific Interest. Other parts of the upland area such as Springwell and Ballyhanna have been planted in commercial forestry.
The AONB provides a habitat for a wide range of other animals including fox, badger, stoat, otter and notably rabbits. The dune land also provides a habitat for Ireland’s only reptile, the common lizard.