Skip to content

Responding to climate change at Mount Stewart

A child on their parent's shoulders admiring a view across the water of Stangford Lough from Mount Stewart
Family admiring the view of Stangford Lough from Mount Stewart | © National Trust Images / Christopher Heaney

Mount Stewart estate in County Down is positioned on the east shore of Strangford Lough. It’s exposed to the elements and vulnerable to climate change. Find out how we’re adapting to rising sea levels and creating new wildlife habitats.

Keeping Mount Stewart’s wildlife safe

With its dramatic coastal views and abundance of marine life, Mount Stewart estate is home to light-bellied brent geese, harbour seals and terns. These species are vulnerable to the effects of climate change; as rising sea levels threaten the salt marsh, mudflats and islands, their habitat is under threat.

Threatened birdlife at Strangford Lough

Strangford Lough is one of the few marine nature reserves in the UK. One of the impacts of climate change is erosion of the islands in the lough, which are important for breeding seabirds. The low-lying islands are under significant threat and in danger of being submerged, which will cause a decline in seabird populations as they lose their breeding and resting habitats.

The rising sea level also has an impact on the mudflats which are vital for the wintering birds that visit Strangford Lough on their migration. They provide food for the birds and are in danger of being submerged, which would dramatically change migrating wildlife populations.

A view looking from Portaferry Road, across the rippled sandy shore of Strangford Lough, County Down. Scrabo Tower is just visible atop a hill in the far distance beyond the lough.
A distant view of Scrabo Tower from Portaferry Road, Strangford Lough | © National Trust Images/John Miller

The impact of the changing weather

As well as threats to wildlife, some of the estate’s infrastructure is also impacted by the severe changes in weather. 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.

Landslides and coastal erosion  

There are regular landslides on the coastline around the world-famous Giant’s Causeway as a result of increased rainfall. Eighty miles away on the east coast of Northern Ireland, Mount Stewart has worked hard over the last decade to tackle the effects of coastal erosion partly due to rising sea levels around the shores of Strangford Lough.

To mitigate this, the car park has been relocated to more sheltered ground and the area has been re-purposed by using flora to act as a dense shelterbelt from the incoming sea water.  

The Mount Stewart sea plantation

The Mount Stewart estate's sea plantation was created in the early 19th century. It acts as a buffer against severe weather, reducing wind speeds and preventing sea spray from depositing sea salt onto the garden and buildings. We have maintained the historic section of the seawall around the sea plantation as we know this piece of land and the woodland on the coastal boundaries of the estate creates Mount Stewart’s microclimate, but we realise that this is unlikely to be sustainable given predicted changes in sea levels due to climate change. We are introducing more detailed monitoring at the site to understand the pressures it faces, and will be looking at alternative forms of coastline management as part of our response to climate change risks.

The lake in the garden at Mount Stewart, County Down, Northern Ireland
The lake in the garden at Mount Stewart, County Down | © National Trust Images/David Armstrong

The work at Anne’s Point

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.

Our carbon footprint

Much of the farmland on the Mount Steward estate has been converted to pasture, which means that there is a lot less carbon being released, which is not only better for the environment but works towards the National Trust goal of being carbon net-zero by 2030.

We champion renewable energy at Mount Stewart. 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.

Tackling climate change at Mount Stewart

Discover what is being done to make this precious landscape more resilient for people and nature.

Watch this video to find out more

Story Bench at Mount Stewart
Take a moment to sit on the story bench at Mount Stewart | © Jonathon Newtownards Chronicle

The Story Bench Project at Mount Stewart

To inspire climate conversations the National Trust commissioned three handcrafted wooden benches for places in its care across the UK, including one which has been installed in the grounds of Mount Stewart in County Down. These ‘story benches’ feature unique designs relating to the landscape and heritage of the locations they were inspired by and create a space for people to talk about how climate change is affecting the places they love. The wooden bench which was made by the Sylva Foundation, a forestry charity and wood school that uses environmentally friendly methods, features artwork by local artist Kerrie McNeill, which captures the things that make Mount Stewart special, including Brent geese on Strangford Lough, red squirrels in the woodland and the silhouette of the historic house, alongside the words ‘The land of heart’s delight’. This phrase was how Edith, Lady Londonderry, who resided in the house from the 1920s described Mount Stewart and the surrounding County Down landscape.

The bench has been placed on the estate to encourage people to sit and share their stories of the buildings, gardens, coastline and habitats of Mount Stewart and the wider Strangford Lough area in light of the effects of climate change.

A film featuring members of local communities was created to accompany the launch of the project. Contributors included a host of different people with a personal connection to Mount Stewart who hope to see it protected for many years to come. Watch the film here.

The Dodo terrace in the Formal Garden at Mount Stewart, County Down

A Climate for Change: Adaptation and the National Trust

Read the report to find out more about how we're looking after places of nature, beauty and history in a changing climate.

You might also be interested in

A volunteer and ranger at Leigh Woods, Bristol

Our work on the estate at Mount Stewart 

Discover how our work helps to create space for nature to thrive. From revealing an 800-year-old Norman motte to providing diverse habit for squirrels, barn owls and the native black bee.

Mother and daughter walking on south terrace with flowers in bloom

Explore the garden at Mount Stewart 

Take a stroll through the world-class garden at Mount Stewart and discover an extraordinary scope of plant collections and original, historic features.

The Dodo Terrace at Mount Stewart, County Down

The Mount Stewart garden appeal 

Find out how we’ve been completing important work to restore historic garden spaces. Discover how you can support this work for future generations to enjoy.

Volunteer room guide speaking with visitors in the Central Hall at Mount Stewart, County Down

Volunteering at Mount Stewart 

Find out how you can volunteer and help all visitors to enjoy this well-loved historic family home. There’s something for everyone with roles ranging from meeting visitors to sharing the history of this special place.

Visitors stopping to enjoy the view of Srtangford Lough from Mount Stewart, County Down

Exploring the estate at Mount Stewart 

Pull on your walking boots, choose your route and head out for a walk on the Mount Stewart estate. Spot seasonal wildlife as you go, or run wild in the natural play area.

Ranger removing debris from the hydro at Watendlath, Cumbria

Climate change and sustainability 

Together, we're securing our future with action on climate and the environment. Learn more about how we're responding to the changing climate at places in our care.