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Our work at Castle Ward

Two conservators working to clean a painting in the house at Castle Ward, County Down, Northern Ireland
Painting conservators at Castle Ward | © National Trust Images/Sarah Burch

Learn about some of the work we carry out throughout the year, from cleaning chandeliers to tending to the cattle that help us with conservation grazing. Find out what it takes to preserve the Castle Ward mansion and estate for generations to come.

Conservation during Covid-19

Excerpts taken from a previously published article courtesy of David Young / PA Media.

Collections and House Manager Neil Watt lives in an apartment in the Castle Ward mansion as part of his role. During the pandemic lockdowns in 2020 he and his partner, Kris Reid (also a conservationist), used the time when there were no visitors to make repairs and restore many of the objects in the mansion’s collection.

Getting to work

First they installed a new dehumidifying system to address a centuries-old damp problem. Then they set about cleaning and cataloguing the house’s collection of 2,000 books, most dating from the 18th century.

Castle Ward also has one of the finest sets of cooking pots and pans on the island of Ireland, but over the centuries it had become blackened and tarnished. Neil and Kris took on the job of polishing the 100 pieces one by one. They did the same with many other fixtures and fittings, including all the brass door handles.

The perfect opportunity

The good weather in the early summer enabled them to clean the antique window blinds and beat down the luxury carpets and rugs. There was also the delicate job of cleaning the Victorian crystal chandeliers. Neil said in any other year the jobs would not have been doable:

‘You only have so many hours in the day and if the house is open from 11am until 5pm you can’t do all this work in front of the public, because it would detract from their experience.’

– Neil Watt, Collections and House Manager at Castle Ward

Dexter cattle grazing in the parkland at Castle Ward, County Down, Northern Ireland.
Dexter cattle at Castle Ward | © National Trust Images/Sarah Burch

Field-to-fork success

Castle Ward is the first National Trust property in Northern Ireland to deliver a field-to-fork initiative. Dexter beef raised sustainably on the estate now features seasonally on the menu in the tea-room.

Tenant farmer Alan Laughlin and rangers at Castle Ward have been working together to use conservation grazing techniques to farm the land on the estate in a more nature-friendly way. In recent years Alan’s rare-breed Dexter cattle have been transforming Tullyratty (the grasslands on the estate and a designated ASSI).

Dexter cattle

A small, sturdy breed, this herd of Dexter cattle was born and raised at Castle Ward and the animals are pasture-fed only. This means they can support the National Trust with conservation grazing, contributing to the species diversity of the land.

As well as normal grassland, the cattle graze the woody grass, allowing a varied range of native wild flowers to spring up. This in turn supports local pollinators. The resulting species diversity benefits both the rich diet of the cattle, and supports the National Trust’s aim of restoring a healthy, beautiful environment.

‘It’s a tremendous opportunity to work with such a forward-thinking organisation that are not only supporting their tenant farmers but ensuring they work in a sustainable way. The cattle get the benefit of the rich grassland which is fantastic because it means an even better-quality beef.’

– Alan Laughlin, Farmer on the Castle Ward estate

A taste of the results

When you visit the tea-room at Castle Ward, why not taste the produce for yourself? A variety of dishes using Castle Ward Dexter beef will be available seasonally, creating a complete farm-to-fork experience.

Three visitors, one in a motorised wheelchair, travelling along a path outside the Palladian-style side of Castle Ward, County Down, with two large evergreen trees in the foreground


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