Responding to climate change at Mount Stewart, County Down
With its dramatic coastal views and abundance of marine life, Mount Stewart Estate in County Down is a remarkable place. It's positioned on the east shore of Strangford Lough, which has a salt marsh — one of the rarest coastal habitats in Northern Ireland and home to light-bellied brent geese, harbour seals and terns.
But this special place is exposed to the elements and vulnerable to climate change. Rising sea levels threaten the salt marsh, mudflats and islands. Winter storms are damaging the estate's access routes and roads (some of which date back to 1744) and pose a flood risk to gardens and historic buildings.
Thankfully, the estate's sea plantation, which was created in the early 19th century, acts as a buffer against severe weather, reducing wind speeds and preventing sea spray from depositing sea salt onto the gardens and buildings. We maintain the historic section of the seawall around the sea plantation, which gives us some breathing space to adapt to the changing climate and creates a microclimate that supports a diverse variety of wildlife.
At Anne's Point, a piece of farmland surrounded on two sides by the seawall, we worked with the Rivers Agency at Northern Ireland’s Department for Infrastructure to create a breach in the wall. This has helped us adapt to rising sea levels and create new wildlife habitats. We’ll be carrying out further work on the breach so that it fills and empties with the tide, allowing the salt marsh to develop and provide a natural defence for the Portaferry Road and the estate.
At Mount Stewart we also champion renewable energy. Since 2010, we've heated the buildings using a biomass boiler, which uses wood chip from a sustainable and certified willow coppice managed by local partners on a neighbouring estate.