Skip to content

Restoring the boardwalk at Murlough National Nature Reserve

View of the restored boardwalk through the sand dunes at Murlough National Nature Reserve, County Down.
View of the restored boardwalk at Murlough National Nature Reserve, County Down. | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Murlough became Ireland’s first Nature Reserve in 1967, and the original boardwalk was built in the early 1970s to limit the erosion of the path. Thanks to generous donations, we’re now undertaking a project to restore the 3km pathway, ensuring the protection of the ancient dune system and its rare habitats for generations to come. Read more about this vital conservation work here.

Restoring the boardwalk at Murlough

When the original boardwalk was installed, the boards lasted about 30 years due to a chemical treatment which is no longer in use. Nowadays, boards usually last around 10–15 years, which means they need replacing more often.

Testing sustainable boards

With increasing damage caused by wear and tear, a large portion of the boardwalk needs replacing to ensure the protection of the ancient dune system and its rare habitats. As well as using douglas fir boards, we’re also testing out some recycled plastic versions to ensure the longevity and sustainability of the boardwalk.

‘Large portions of the 3km of boardwalk now need replacing, 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 three-year project will allow us, as the wardens did in the 1970s, to test out different techniques to ensure the future of the boardwalk.’

– Patrick Lynch, Countryside Manager at Murlough

Help us to protect local habitats

The project which started in 2018 has been partly funded by DAERA and around 2km of the full 3km has been restored so far. You’re likely to run into Boardwalk Ranger Phil and his volunteers hard at work on the next section, so do stop and ask how the project is going.

How you can help

You can help us to protect this historic landscape by donating to the boardwalk appeal at the bottom of this page. It’s thanks to generous donations that we can care for places like Murlough Nature Reserve for generations to come.

View of the Mourne Mountains from Murlough National Nature Reserve, County Down, Northern Ireland
Mourne Mountains viewed from Murlough National Nature Reserve, Co Down | © National Trust Images/Joe Cornish

Building the original boardwalk

When the National Trust took on ownership of Murlough in 1967, damage to the Nature Reserve 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.

Providing access and limiting damage

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 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.

View of the Mourne Mountains across Dundrum Bay from the beach at Murlough National Nature Reserve, County Down


Everyone needs nature, now more than ever. Donate today and you could help people and nature to thrive at the places we care for.

You might also be interested in

A brown, orange and cream patterned male Marsh Fritillary butterfly

Exploring Murlough National Nature Reserve 

A visit to Murlough National Nature Reserve is a wildlife lover’s dream with hundreds of insects, swathes of beautiful wildflowers, mammals and birds all to be discovered.


Sea buckthorn removal at Murlough 

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.

View over the sand dunes towards the Mourne Mountains at Murlough National Nature Reserve, County Down

History of Murlough National Nature Reserve 

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.

Visitor walking across the sand dunes at Murlough National Nature Reserve, County Down, Northern Ireland

Volunteering at Murlough National Nature Reserve 

Discover the volunteering opportunities available at Murlough National Nature Reserve, and how you can get involved.

Ranger in National Trust fleece inspecting white blossom on tree in orchard

Our cause 

We believe that nature, beauty and history are for everyone. That’s why we’re supporting wildlife, protecting historic sites and more. Find out about our work.