Exploring Murlough National Nature Reserve
A visit to Murlough National Nature Reserve is a wildlife lover’s dream with mammals, birds, hundreds of insects and swathes of beautiful wildflowers all to be discovered. Outside of the reserve, the Trust also looks after other important conservation areas in County Down, where you can go for a walk through nature.
Murlough boasts a diverse range of fauna. Over 620 species of butterfly and moth can be found here, including the marsh fritillary butterfly, a UK BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) priority species.
Grazing cattle and ponies
A mixture of cattle, ponies and rabbits graze the land. They help shape the habitats which are perfect for Murlough’s invertebrate species, as well as the common lizard which preys upon some of the invertebrates. If you’re lucky you might even catch a glimpse of one of the bigger mammals on the reserve – the fox, badger or stoat.
Farmland and coastal birds
Murlough is a great place for birdwatchers to see farmland birds and coastal birds, and Dundrum Inner Bay offers great views of many wintering waders. Keep an eye out for the seals at Ballykinlar beach as you'll often see them hauling out from the beach.
Sunny slopes for butterflies to thrive
There are 23 species of butterflies at Murlough. The reserve is one of the last strongholds of the endangered marsh fritillary. This species needs sunny slopes and hollows to thrive on the reserve and, with an abundance of devil's bit scabious, which is their food source, there are areas that make the perfect home for colonies of this butterfly.
Rare moths recorded
Other well-known species include the small copper, the common blue and the painted lady. Several moth species can also be found at Murlough, including Palpita vitrealis, a migrant species from southern Europe that has only been recorded twice in Northern Ireland. The black rustic is a common autumn species, and the pink-barred sallow can also be seen here.
The pygmy shrew
The pygmy shrew is the smallest mammal found in the UK. It is, in fact, smaller than some insects and is sometimes found sleeping in the burrows of beetles. A fully grown pygmy shrew is around a quarter of the size of a house mouse.
The average weight is around 4 grams, although they can range from 2.4–6.1 grams and their weight can decrease by up to 28 per cent in winter. They are often referred to as 'annuals' since their life span, at best, is around 15 months.
Rabbits were originally introduced to Murlough in the 12th century and bred as a source of food and fur for Normans. Many locals still refer to Murlough as 'The Warren'.
The rabbit populations here play an important part in maintaining the structure and biodiversity of Murlough and conveniently help keep the low-density heathland ecosystem which allows many wildflower, heather and lichen populations to flourish.
Several bird species call Murlough their home. These include the pale-bellied brent goose, which is one of the most important wildfowl species that visit Dundrum Inner Bay. Once a rarity in Ireland, the little egret population has seen an increase in recent years and can be spotted on the reserve.
Stonechats are insectivores appearing in open scrubland around Murlough. Dunlin, mainly a winter visitor to Dundrum Bay, this is the standard small wading bird.
Walks through nature
Dundrum Coastal Path
This path is an old stretch of railway which would have carried you out to Newcastle. It forms part of the Lecale Way and provides beautiful views across Dundrum Bay and many opportunities to watch coastal wildlife. Spot herons, egrets, curlews and oystercatchers who enjoy the rich abundance of foodstuffs on the mudflats. The linear trail is around 2.5km and is accessible by a small car park off the main A2 to Dundrum.
The dune system at Murlough is estimated at being up to 6,000 years old. Discover the history of the dunes, and how Murlough came to be Ireland’s first national nature reserve.
A 5 year project is taking place to remove the invasive sea buckthorn at Murlough. Partially funded by NIEA, the team is on track to remove 4 hectares over the next few years.
Discover the volunteering opportunities available at Murlough National Nature Reserve, and how you can get involved.
Plan a visit to one of the special countryside places in our care and discover the benefits of being in the great outdoors. Pack your walking boots and get ready to explore woodlands, valleys and rivers.
Explore some of the finest landscapes in our care on coastal paths, accessible trails, woodland walks and everything in between. Find the best places to walk near you.
Whether you're looking for a heart-raising hike up Northern Ireland's highest mountain or a ramble by the river at The Argory, there are many countryside and woodland places to experience in Northern Ireland. Enjoy woodland respite at Minnowburn with the forest bathing beds or escape to the wild landscape of County Fermanagh with the countryside adventures at Florence Court, Castle Coole and Crom.