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Mourne Mountains Landscape

Last updated: 28 November 2006

Key Characteristics

  • Dramatic jagged peaks, forming a striking backdrop to views.
  • Steep rock and scree covered mountain slopes capped with granite tors, falling to the sea on their eastern edge.
  • Rough grass and heather used for sheep grazing.
  • Reservoirs and rocky mountain streams occupy steep combes and glens.
  • No settlement on upper slopes and mountain tops, sparse farmsteads, including derelict stone cottages on lower fringes; very few roads.
  • Panoramic views to sea and across the 'Kingdom of Mourne'. Popular area for tourism.

Landscape Description

The prominent pyramidal peaks of the Mourne Mountains form a stunning backdrop to views throughout south-eastern Northern Ireland. They comprise an area of distinct steep rocky summits rising to 850m at Slieve Donard. The underlying geology is granite which is reflected by the characteristic tors which cap the mountain tops. It is a landscape of exposed, thin grass cover, rock and scree slopes. There are no less than 12 high peaks grouped close together near the highest summit of Slieve Donard. The open mountain slopes are predominantly rough grass and heather, close-cropped by sheep. Stone walls snake up the lower slopes but higher up there are no field boundaries. Loughs, reservoirs and rocky mountain streams occupy the steep combes and glens, which dissect the mountain ridges. Areas of blanket bog on the narrow plateau between the peaks are punctuated by small rounded loughs, the sources of the many rivers and streams which radiate from the mountains. Broadleafed woodland extends up the glens from the surrounding lowlands, where there is also some commercial forestry. The Silent Valley, containing the Silent Valley Reservoir, is a popular tourist destination and the whole area is a mecca for walkers and climbers.

There is no settlement on the upper hillslopes and mountain tops and only sparse derelict stone cottages and barns on the lower hillside fringes. Very few roads penetrate the mountains, Spelga Pass being the only place where the landform allows the passage of a road. There are stunning, long distance, panoramic views to the sea, across the unique stone wall landscape known as the 'Kingdom of Mourne' and across the lower land to the north. It is an open, exposed, wilderness mountain landscape and its distinctive character is reflected by its designation as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Eastern Mournes are also designated as an ASSI, as a result of their geological and physiographical features as well as heathland and upland flora. The Mourne Wall is of historic interest.

Landscape Condition and Sensitivity to Change

The Mourne Mountains are a high quality landscape which is in relatively good condition. This is a wild upland landscape which has been largely unspoilt by human impact. The fragile upland ecosystems and the open skylines which are prominent in views from all around would be highly sensitive to change. Even small changes in this area would be visible from long distances. Damage to the vegetation on the steep slopes of the uplands would result in accelerating erosion of shallow soils which would be very difficult to halt and repair.

Principles for Landscape Management

  • The provision of facilities for tourism, especially in the Silent Valley could result in damage to the character of the area if it is not carefully controlled. The sympathetic location of car parks, visitor centres within the existing stone wall and woodland framework and the repair of footpaths to avoid the escalation of erosion of upland vegetation would be beneficial.
  • The expansion of commercial forestry onto the higher mountain slopes would be detrimental to the open character of the mountains. Some forestry may be integrated on lower slopes and hollows if designed in large scale patches with irregular edges and in association with broadleaf planting.
  • The maintenance and repair of dry-stone walls would prevent their loss from the landscape.
  • The monitoring of grazing pressure will help prevent damage to the grassland and ensure the rugged landform is fully visible in distant views. Guidelines are set out in the ASSI management schedules.

Principles for Accommodating New Development

  • Any development on skylines or within open treeless landscapes would be highly visible. Its accommodation within hollows sheltered by scrub and traditional stone walls should be encouraged.
  • The restoration of traditional, small stone cottages and barns is preferable to the construction of new buildings; the use of local stone is essential. Large scale barns would be inappropriate in this upland landscape.
  • The development of wind farms, radio masts, reservoirs and associated infrastructure should be discouraged in this highly sensitive landscape. Careful visual analysis would be required before construction.