National Trust in the Mournes

Project
Sheep are used in the Mournes for conservation grazing

The Mourne Mountains are the highest and most dramatic mountain range in Northern Ireland. Beloved by hikers, the Mournes have long inspired writers and storytellers. A landmark of international importance, all 12 peaks of the Mourne Mountains have been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Find out about the events and activities which have shaped our work as caretakers of Slieve Donard and Slieve Commedagh.

Latest updates

09 Jun 21

GPS tracking collars on grazing sheep

We have deployed innovative GPS tracking technology on sheep which graze on Slieve Donard. Our use of GPS trackers on the herd is a first for the National Trust in Northern Ireland. Trackers ‘ping’ an alert if sheep graze land damaged by the fire. Alongside drone imagery, habitat monitoring and control sites, the devices will provide valuable data on any impact of grazing and allow the land to be managed for optimal recovery. Rhona Irvine, Rural Surveyor for the National Trust explains the process: ‘Light conservation grazing by sheep helps to prevent dominance from individual, more invasive species, as well as reducing the number of woody shrubs. This makes the land more resilient to future fire risk by reducing the potential fuel load. In that way we ensure rare, important and sensitive species are not drowned out and are able to get the light and conditions they need to thrive. Working with conacre farmer John Maginn, and various advisors, we have looked at solutions that would allow conservation grazing on the land to continue, whilst minimising the impact on the burn areas. Faced with the problem of how to control the livestock in a landscape which would be impossible to fence or compartmentalise, we came up with an innovative solution. We are fitting ergonomic GPS tracking collars on a proportion of the flock which will be regularly recording the position of the animals. This information will be relayed back to an app which can be used to assess whether any action needs to be taken to heft the sheep on to different areas of the mountain.’ This part of our project work has been made possible thanks to the Farming Innovation Fund.

Sheep are used in the Mournes for conservation grazing

09 Jun 21

Ravens provide sign of hope in the Mourne Mountains.

Some of the areas most impacted by the Mourne Mountain wildfire was the Millstone and Thomas’s Mountains. When the fire ripped through the mountainside at the end of April, there were a pair of nesting ravens in Thomas’s Mountain feeding young chicks. With the fire so close, National Trust rangers feared for their survival. Area ranger Marc Vinas said, ‘On 23 of April, the ravens at Thomas's Mountain were feeding three young chicks. That night, the fire moved past their nesting site and we didn’t know if they would survive. Fortunately, the chicks did survive the passing flames and smoke, and their parents continued feeding them over the next few days. Our next concern was that the fire would have disturbed the birds and the nesting site and that even if the chicks had survived the flames and smoke, there was a risk they would die if the parents were not feeding them regularly enough. Thankfully these birds are famous for their intelligence and cunning nature and the ravens showed an uncanny ability to adapt and survive. Weeks after the Mournes wildfire had gone out, the hollow call of the raven could still be heard around Donard, bringing with it a sign of hope.’

A raven in full voice on the Isle of Wight

08 Jun 21

Surveying to prioritise the way forward

Working with partners like the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and the Mourne Heritage Trust, one of the first steps in our recovery plan was to commission drone and land surveys to help effectively assess the damage which the fire left on the landscape. Utilising such technology and insight also allows the team to monitor the natural regeneration of the heathland. Already there are positives signs of recovery including new heather growth and returning wildlife. As new shoots begin to emerge we face a challenge - to ensure the burnt land is given the time and space it needs to recover naturally, while at the same time, continuing to manage the wider landscape for the benefit of nature through the use of conservation grazing.

Mourne Mountain Fire Survey - landscape modelling