What we do
Our core activities dictate what we do on a day to day basis. However, we frequently apply for additional funding to carry out specific project work. Here is a flavour of what we are currently working on.
Welcome to Mournelive.com, celebrating the exceptional landscape of the Mourne Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Mournelive showcases the work of the Mourne Heritage Trust. The Trust formed in 1997 to meet an identified need for locally based, strategic management of the Mourne area. It is an independent limited company as well as a registered charity and their work focuses on protecting and enhancing this special place.
Situated in the south east corner of Northern Ireland, the AONB stretches across 570 square kms (57,000 hectares). Specifically, it includes the Mourne mountains, a beautiful coastline, and the ancient uplands of Slieve Croob. The beauty of the landscape lies in its diversity. It also features lakes, reservoirs, drumlins, farmland and beaches, as well as sand dunes.
The Trust’s mission is:
‘To sustain and enhance the environment, rural regeneration, cultural heritage and visitor opportunities of the Mourne Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and contribute to the well-being of Mournes communities’.
The Trust has a long history in the area of erosion control. To date, our efforts have been dictated by the availability of funding, which can fluctuate from year to year.
The unprecedented increase in people accessing the Mournes during Covid-19 took it’s toll on many popular walking routes. Some areas had already been suffering prior to the pandemic so this further endorsed the need to have a permanent path team, allowing a more strategic approach to creating/maintaining paths.
The long term sustainability of paths is key. Not only do they need to cope with increasing numbers, they also need to be adequately robust to withstand extreme weather conditions, which are sadly a common occurrence nowadays. They also need to offer a comfortable experience under foot, which helps to protect the surrounding (often delicate) habitats.
We have gained a lot of knowledge over the years and this has helped our techniques to evolve. Below is a section of path where two different styles (stone pitching and ‘branch and aggregate’) are blended to suit the nature of the landscape.
Our Forest Rangers operate in Castlewellan Forest Park and Kilbroney Park, Rostrevor. Their role involves maintaining the mountain bike trails in both parks and making sure they are free of debris and fallen trees (with the frequency of storms increasing, this is an ever demanding element of the job). Their presence on the ground has meant that they can engage directly with trail users and this can lead to the introduction of practical improvements to the trails. For example, the tree trunk, below, was positioned at a popular point where weary riders liked to dismount and have a rest. The use of a fallen tree meant that it blended into its natural surroundings.
The Engagement Ranger project began as a pilot in the latter part of 2021. As the title suggests, their role is to engage with people out in the Mournes. This engagement encourages walkers to have a safe and positive experience while also encouraging them to minimise their environmental impact.
With the increased numbers accessing the Mournes for recreation, they sometimes encounter people who are not prepared, both in terms of equipment and knowledge. Even the most experienced walker can come into difficulties so it’s very important to be prepared for every eventuality. Their message aligns with the principles of “Leave No Trace” and this includes raising awareness of the need to keep dogs on leads, to protect both livestock and various native species.
Keep an eye out for the Rangers on the main access routes and at pre-arranged events !
The Mournes has a long history of wildfires, and these have had varying degrees of impact over the years. In 2007, the Safer Mournes Partnership was established to enable better coordination of a range of bodies. Its aim is to tackle the issues of fire/crime through education and community fire safety advice. The partnership consists of representatives from the Mourne Heritage Trust, NI Fire & Rescue Service, PSNI, Forest Service, National Trust and the council.
In May 2011, a small fire above Annalong quickly escalated and spread across 10 square kilometres within hours. It devastated an area of European importance and also put lives at risk. At its height, firefighters from 61 of Northern Ireland’s 68 fire stations were battling it. Flames were 40 foot high and travelled faster than an adult could run. By the time the fire was extinguished it had destroyed one third of the heathland enclosed by the Mourne Wall.
The scale of this devastation persuaded the Partnership that more needed to be done. Thankfully, the government funded a team of experts to visit the area. They produced a report that recommended preventative measures. It also outlined actions to manage fires more efficiently.
In April 2021, another fire left a scene of desolation on Slieve Donard, Thomas’s Mountain and the Glen River Valley. A few months later, the environment minister allocated £332k to the Mourne Wildfire Recovery Project. This project is being led by the National Trust . The funding will be used for habitat management works as well as future planning, monitoring, stakeholder engagement and equipment.
A key aspect of looking after the Mourne landscape is the heathland management project. Increased recreational use, under-grazing and wildfires have caused significant damage. Consequently, these combined pressures have altered the species composition and the condition of the habitat. The Healthy Heathland project has involved refining best practice approaches to suit the Mournes.
Eroded peat hags, for example, are an ever increasing problem. The creation of lots of dams helps to improve water retention and promote regeneration, thus addressing this problem. Both stones and large coir rolls are used to create dams in the high Mournes. Coir rolls are produced from the husk of a coconut shell. They provide erosion control and accelerate vegetation establishment.
“Caring for Mourne” also includes engaging with local businesses to try and promote the principles of Sustainable Tourism. The Natural Resource Rural Tourism Initiative (2003 – 2007) established the Trust’s promotion of sustainable practices. Hence, it was during this time that the area achieved the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism. This was the first time that an organisation within the British Isles achieved such an accolade.
Over the years, funding has enabled additional project work to be undertaken. For example, the Mourne Mountains Landscape Partnership (2013 – 2017) injected approximately £3 million into the local area. Projects focused on the natural, built and cultural heritage of the Mournes.
The Trust actively promotes the “Leave No Trace” principles (see below):
- Plan ahead and prepare.
- Be considerate of others.
- Respect farm animals and wildlife.
- Travel and camp on durable ground.
- Leave what you find.
- Dispose of waste properly.
- Minimise the effects of fire.
- For further information, please follow this link: Home – Leave No Trace Ireland
Strategy, Policy Development and Partnerships
Mourne Heritage Trust’s framework for ‘Caring for Mourne’ is provided by the Mourne AONB Management Plan. Specifically, this sets a vision for protecting and enhancing the landscape, through collaboration with key partners.
Four interconnecting themes form the basis of the management plan:
- Mountain, Countryside and Coast
- Historic Environment
- Sustainable Communities
- Enjoying, Appreciating and Understanding the Mourne AONB
The Trust represents landscape priorities in local, national and international forums. Furthermore, it also contributes to policy development and best practice exchange.
Examples of key networks include:
- Northern Ireland Environment Link
- Northern Ireland Protected Areas Network
- National Outdoor Recreation Forum
- National Association of AONBs
- Europarc Federation
… to name just a few.
Liaison with policy makers in central and local government is ongoing. In addition, government departments often issue strategy consultations which impact on the area. Written responses are compiled to reflect how proposals could potentially impact the area.
Local groups, key partners and stakeholders feed into this advocacy work through engagement with the Trust. Such groups include:
- Mourne Outdoor Recreation Forum (MORF) – convened by the Trust and SportNI
- Mourne Wildfire Group – a collaboration with NI Fire & Rescue Service and the high Mournes Partnership (including key public landowners such as the National Trust, NI Water and Woodland Trust).
These many and varied forums enable the Trust to understand and articulate the key issues impacting on the AONB. Subsequently, this helps to shape policy and operations in a bid to deliver maximum impact.