Restoring the Boardwalk at Murlough

Paths at Murlough in the early 1970s

Murlough became Ireland's first Nature Reserve in 1967 as a marker of its rare habitat. The boardwalk was built in the early 1970s to limit path erosion affecting the ancient dune system and now needs a major restoration project.

Building the Boardwalk

Being an international beauty spot and a Nature Reserve has its challenges. In 1967 when the National Trust took on ownership of Murlough, damage was already evident. Erosion was visible on the paths between the beach and adjoining caravan parks from the volume of visitors, vehicles and even use of the reserve by the American Army in the 1940s.

The team needed to come up with a solution to protect the rare habitat. Jo Whatmough was one of the original wardens at Murlough and recalls their work, “From 1968 to 1972 we trialled a number of methods of stabilising the paths, and with funding, one method using douglas fir boards was found the most successful at providing access and limiting damage to the surrounding landscape”. In 1972 the Murlough Boardwalk was introduced across the reserve.

The boardwalk at Murlough spans 3km of the reserve
A view of Murlough National Nature Reserce
The boardwalk at Murlough spans 3km of the reserve

The Murlough method

The Murlough design consists of individual douglas fir boards strung like beads on two lengths of heavy wire. Another common method is to arrange lighter planks on top of horizontal risers, but Murlough’s undulating landscape required a design which allowed for the twists and turns of the dunes. The design has been so successful that the ‘Murlough method’ has been adopted elsewhere.

The 'Murlough method' of boards strung on two strong wires
The Murlough boardwalk restoration project
The 'Murlough method' of boards strung on two strong wires

The new project is underway

The original timbers lasted for around 30 years due to a chemical treatment which is no longer in use, and the natural douglas fir boards need replacement more often. Patrick Lynch, Area Ranger at Murlough explains why the project is so important: “Large portions of the 3km of boardwalk now need replaced which is vital for the habitat of the reserve. The deterioration of the paths leads to erosion of the dunes creating an unstable surface. The 3 year project will allow us, as the wardens did in the 1970s, to test out different techniques to ensure the future of the boardwalk.”

Where old meets new at Murlough
Part of the old boardwalk at Murlough meets the newly laid boards
Where old meets new at Murlough

The project is estimated to take around 150K to complete. Each board costs £6.50, and is currently under production by Marc, our Boardwalk Ranger and a team of volunteers. Look out for them on your next time on the reserve and see how we’re getting on.