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Our work to recover from fires in the Mournes

Slieve Donard, Mourne Mountains, County Down, Northern Ireland
Slieve Donard, Mourne Mountains | © National Trust Images/Joe Cornish

The Mourne Mountains are the highest and most dramatic mountain range in Northern Ireland. On 21 April 2021 a large gorse fire spread through the area. Find out how our work will help the landscape to recover and wildlife to thrive once more.

What’s special about the Mournes?

The region was designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1986. The National Trust purchased the 1,300 acre site which includes Slieve Donard, Slieve Commedagh, Thomas Mountain, Millstone Mountain and Shan Slieve in 1991.

The montane heath vegetation is a Northern Ireland Priority Habitat and is home to special species including the dwarf willow, feeding sawfly and two predatory ground beetles. The bogs and wet heath provide habitat to rare plant specimens such as the pale butterwort and starry saxifrage.

The Mournes are visited by hillwalkers, cyclists and rock climbers. Voted by walkers as their favourite walking destination in Northern Ireland, the Mournes is a popular location. The mountains influenced C.S. Lewis to write the well-known book The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Sphagnum moss and Crowberry on the Migneint at Ysbyty, Snowdonia
Sphagnum moss grew in abundance before the fires in the Mournes, County Down | © National Trust Images/John Miller

What happened in the Mournes?

In the early hours of 21 April 2021 a wild fire broke out in the Mourne Mountains. Over the next three days, 60 firefighters and 12 appliances attended one of the biggest fires of its kind ever recorded in Northern Ireland.

Approximately 720 acres of land were impacted by the fire. 495 acres are owned and managed by the National Trust including Slieve Donard and Slieve Commedagh.

Why is climate adaptation work needed at the Mournes?

The fire in 2021 left large areas of burnt and charred plants and grassland including sphagnum mosses and heather. Many animals and invertebrates perished in the smoke and fire, including ground-nesting birds and the common lizard.

What will the Mournes project achieve?

In 2021, the effects of the wildfires were more severe because of previous drought and prolonged periods warm weather. Our adaptation work aims to make the landscape more resilient and able to adapt to the changing climate and drier, hotter summers.

The work will help burnt areas to recover through careful conservation grazing. There are plans to introduce grazing enclosures to protect fragile habitats, giving space and time for its recovery.

Plant life will be monitored to ensure that faster growing species do not become dominant over slower growing varieties. Sheep will be used to graze on the areas not affected by the fires to help maintain a diverse habitat without causing erosion. There are plans to introduce grazing enclosures to protect fragile habitats, giving space and time for its recovery. Wildlife will be monitored to see which species return and continue to thrive.

These projects are part of the National Trust’s wider work on climate adaptation, which aims to make the places we care for better able to cope with the impacts of climate change and create new opportunities for nature to thrive.

Project updates

June 2023

Conservation Grazing with Cattle

Two years on from the wildfire, we have now introduced cattle to the lower slopes of the Millstone and Thomas Mountain. These lower slopes have been dominated by purple-moor grass and other rank vegetation since the wildfire and have been avoided by the grazing sheep as determined by the GPS collars fitted.

These habitats dominated by purple-moor grass, inhibit the recovery of the heather species previously found in these areas. To promote the re-establishment of heather this, rank sward needs to be broken down. To do this there are new conservation heroes on the mountain, with a small herd of Luing cattle being introduced. These cattle are hardy and therefore well suited to this upland environment. The cattle on the mountain have been wearing Nofence GPS collars which allow the stock to be managed within target areas of habitats or ‘virtual pastures’ across the property. Since the cattle have been introduced, positive measurable changes have been recorded within the habitats in which they graze, as they reduce the cover of purple-moor grass, allowing young heather saplings to recover.

We hope that over the coming years the conservation grazing carried out by our conservation heroes will promote the recovery of the mountain.

A view across water to the Mourne Mountains in the distance surrounded by foothills and trees

Discover more at The Mournes

Find out how to get to The Mournes, where to park, the things to see and do and more.

Our partners

Fundraising Regulator

The independent regulator of charitable fundraising in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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Department of agriculture, environment and rural affairs (DAERA) Environmental Challenge Fund

The Environment Fund is administered by DAERA to support projects which will help deliver key environmental outcomes across Northern Ireland.

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Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA)

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) is an Executive Agency within the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

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Mourne Heritage Trust

Mourne Heritage Trust provides environmental and visitor management services in the Mourne Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

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Farming Innovation Programme

The Farming Innovation Programme is part of Defra’s investment in innovation, research and development.

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