Mourne Biodiversity

What is Biodiversity and why is it important?

Biodiversity is literally the diversity of life on earth. It includes all living plants and animals and the ecosystems on which they depend. It is found all around us, in gardens, parks, roadside verges, fields, mountains, rivers and in the sea. Biodiversity provides the requirements for life - a breathable atmosphere, clean water and food. It also provides the raw materials for clothing and medicines and enhances our quality of life by adding variety to our surroundings and helping to create a pleasant environment for us to live in.

Biodiversity in Mourne

The Mourne AONB is designated for the qualities of its landscape.  But that landscape also contains a remarkable range of natural and semi-natural habitats – a delightful varied mosaic of heather, moor, bog and pasture, dotted with freshwater and woodlands and meeting sandy and rocky shores, mudflats and salt marsh.

Unsurprisingly, with the Mourne Mountains containing twelve peaks over six hundred metres in height, upland habitats – including upland and montane heath and blanket bog - are particularly important. The lowland countryside is dominated by agricultural land but also has important semi-natural habitats including hedgerows, lowland heath, dry acid grassland and meadows. Woodlands cover only about one fifth of the Mourne AONB, over half of this is conifer but containing some broadleaved woodlands as well. More than 340 km of rivers and streams criss-cross the AONB, some feeding major reservoirs and others supporting Otter populations and providing excellent spawning grounds for Salmon and Trout. Wetlands, including marshes and fens provide the perfect habitat for dragonflies and damselflies.

And that’s before we even mention the Mourne coast, bathed by warm waters from the south Irish Sea. An important nursery area for young fish, its saltmarsh and mudflats also support large numbers of wintering waders. Off the coast, the cold northerly waters of the North Atlantic meet warmer waters from the south, resulting in an unusual mixing of species ranging from microscopic algae (phytoplankton) to grazing animals. Mammals including Common and Grey Seals as well as Dolphins and Harbour Porpoise can all be found, while the open sea provides feeding areas for seabird populations, such as Common and Sandwich Terns.

Conservation Designations

The importance of the Mourne AONBs habitats and the resulting biodiversity is indicated by the presence of multiple national and international conservation designations within the AONB boundaries.

A particular jewel is Carlingford Lough, which supports significant numbers of sandwich terns, while on its mud flats graze light-bellied brent geese and large numbers of waders such as oystercatcher and ringed plover. For this reason it is designated as an international Ramsar Site and European Special Protection Area for birds.

Inland, the high Mournes are important for their purple heather and the other speices that make up one of Europe’s finest tracts of upland heath. Murlough’s dune grassland and lowland heaths support one of the largest populations of marsh fritillary butterfly in Northern Ireland, while Rostrevor’s ancient oak wood nurtures a rich and diverse understorey of hazel and holly and ground flora including toothwort and bird’s nest orchid. These sites are European Special Areas of Conservation and Rostrevor Wood and Murlough are also designated as National Nature Reserves.

The scrubland of Ballybannon Fen supports a variety of sedges, rushes and mosses, as well as common butterwort. The nutrient poor deep waters of Castlewellan Lake encourage the rare quillwort and in the shallows shoreweed grows and otter footprints can be found. These are Areas of Special Scientific Interest, designated by the United Kingdom.

The Shimna and Trassey Rivers and the Slieve Croob Massif are protected under local planning regulations as Sites of Local Nature Conservation Importance and other sites are being considered for designation as Local Nature Reserves.

But all of the Mourne AONB’s habitats and wildlife are special, so please explore and enjoy responsibly.

To view a comprehensive list of all the designations in the AONB click here

Appreciating Our Biodiversity

To help you appreciate the richness of the biodiversity of the Mourne AONB we have chosen six of the main habitat types and identified interesting features and charismatic plants and animal. For example Juniper - our very own genetically distinct variety of this mountain shrub - is a threatened but iconic plant in the uplands. Few visitors and locals lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a red squirrel can fail to be taken with this charismatic member of our local population. And whether you call it gorse or whin, the yellow flower of this prickly plant dominates our hedgerows. Please click on the links to explore in word and picture some of our most important habitats and the characteristic species to which they are

Caring for our Biodiversity

Since 2007 Mourne Heritage Trust’s work in protecting and enhancing the biodiversity of the Mourne AONB has been guided by the Mourne Biodiversity Action Plan, which provides detail on the important habitats and species as well as explaining why and how we should protect them. Click here for a summary of the Mourne Biodiversity Action Plan.
For more on our current biodiversity projects and activities see the ‘Caring For’ section of this website.