Divis and the Black Mountain's Biodiversity

Horses on Divis and Black Mountain in Belfast

The mountains comprise a mosaic of grassland heath and bog and are home to a variety of rare species that make Divis and Black Mountain a truly special place for nature.

Divis and the Black Mountain are a patchwork of habitats. These habitats support several species such as skylarks, small copper butterfly, Irish hare or meadow pipit. A number of the species found here are identified as Northern Ireland Priority Species.

Our property is significant for biodiversity with red grouse, stonechats, skylark, snipe and other upland breeding birds, while peregrine falcons and ravens feed in the area. There are several occupied badger setts and on a walk through this habitat you may encounter a hiding Irish hare.

The Heath and Bog

The mosaic of grassland, heath and bog on the upper slopes of Divis and the Black Mountain is home to a rich and diverse collection of wildlife. Upland breeding birds such as red grouse, stonechat, skylark and snipe criss-cross the sky. Irish hare, frogs and newts live here. Butterflies such as the small heath can also be seen flitting across the site. You might even be lucky enough to spot a peregrine falcon in the sky above.

The heath is made up mainly of heather species but a closer look reveals some interesting flora such as the heath spotted orchid. Along the short grasses on the river banks waxcaps emerge during the autumn and winter months. Thirteen species of waxcap fungi have already been identified, one of them is a new record for Northern Ireland.

One of the most important components of the blanket bog is sphagnum moss. This amazing plant can hold up to 20 times its own weight in water, and is the building block for peat.

The upland bog was once a great place for extracting turf which today remains to a depth of four metres in places and the thin peat and acid soils support plants such as sphagnum, bog cotton and bog asphodel which specialise in surviving in these difficult habitats.

Unfortuntely this delicate natural balance is being disrupted as more visitors explore the mountain, damaging the habitat and disturbing the wildlife and flora that live here.  

With no designated path, the trail’s remote, wet and boggy nature also means it can be very difficult to navigate for even the most experienced of walkers, posing a health and safety risk.

To protect the wildlife that live here, and for the safety of our visitors, we have taken the decision to close the Heath Trail to walkers.

The devil's-bit scabious flowers in Divis make for a purple-hued autumn stroll
A close-up view of a purple devil's-bit scabious flower

National Trust Images / Peter Welsh

The devil's-bit scabious flowers in Divis make for a purple-hued autumn stroll

Grazing Cattle 

Divis and the Black Mountain is a mosaic of different habitats. The area boasts blanket bog, wet and dry heath and grassland with a diverse range of grasses, wild flowers and fungi. This is maintained by grazing cattle. Without the grazing, some of the areas of the mountain would begin to revert to scrub and some species could be lost.

We work closely with our local tenant farmers who have many years of experience managing cattle on the mountain. We have selected breeds which are traditionally more docile. During the most sensitive times of year for cattle – breeding and rearing season - we keep the cattle in dedicated enclosures away from public trails.

The biggest potential danger on the mountain stems from contact between cattle and dogs. Cattle will become agitated and possibly aggressive if they perceive a threat to their young. To mitigate against this, dogs should be kept on leads. If cattle do become aggressive towards walkers with dogs, the dog should be let off the lead to reduce the danger to its owner.

Cattle graze the Downs from spring to autumn
Cattle graze Downs Banks
Cattle graze the Downs from spring to autumn