Northern Ireland

Mourne mountains: Conservationists spend £300,000 to protect habitat

Parts of the Mourne Mountains have been damaged by hill walkers overgrazing, weathering and the impact of wildfires.
Image caption Some areas of the Mourne Mountains have been damaged by hill walkers overgrazing, weathering and the impact of wildfires

A major conservation project is under way in the Mourne Mountains, as conservationists say a failure to intervene might mean the permanent loss of important habitats.

A big problem is the collapse of exposed peat banks on the mountains.

Some areas are under particular pressure, due to a combination of heavy recreational use, overgrazing, weather and the impact of wildfires.

To address the issue, £300,000 is being spent on restoration projects.

Image caption Hill walkers will be asked to use a new path, instead of walking on the open heath

The Mourne Mountains Landscape Partnership has identified key sites and is undertaking conservation work.

Siobhan Thompson is a natural heritage officer with the partnership and said the work is just beginning in time.

"It's at that kind of cutting edge where if you left it, you might not be able to get it back," she said.

Image caption Conservationists are concerned about the collapse of exposed peat banks

Nine sites have been identified where biodegradable material will be used to restore collapsing banks.

Dams made out of a hessian-type material will also be put in to retain water and help the growth of plants which can bind the heath together.

Image caption A restored peat bank with biodegradable netting in place
Image caption The team is installing hessian dams to conserve water

A new path is to be laid which hill walkers will be asked to use, instead of walking on the open heath.

A helicopter was chartered to airlift the materials onto the mountainside.

Work to put them in place will begin immediately.

The Heritage Lottery Fund is providing much of the cash.

Image caption Conservationists hired a helicopter to bring the materials onto the mountain range

Walkers and farmers have been helping conservationists identify problem sites.

Ms Thompson said such people had begun to notice the impact of erosion.