Murlough Nature Reserve lies on the coast of County Down
in Northern Ireland
, situated close to Newcastle. It offers spectacular views of Slieve Donard
, the highest peak in the Mourne Mountains
and Dundrum Bay. Its 6000-year old sand dune system has been managed by the National Trust since 1967, when it became Ireland's first nature reserve.
At 697 acres, it is the best and most extensive example of dune heath within Ireland, with a network of paths and boardwalks through the dunes. It is an important wintering site for many species of bird, including thrushes, Fieldfare and Redwing, which feed off the Sea-buckthorn's orange berries. Shorehauling Grey Seal and Common Seals are also common in the area. Between 50 and 130 common and grey seals regularly use the area for moulting, resting and feeding.Rare plants local to the site are pyramidal orchid and carline thistle. Many rare and beautiful butterflies occupy the reserve. One of 22 butterfly species, the Marsh Fritillary, is of European importance. It also has access to one of the finest beaches in County Down.
Murlough makes up one fifth of all dune heathland in the British Isles, but remains under threat from the encroachment of scrub vegetation such as bracken and gorse. In 1999 the National Trust established the South Down Heathland project, a five-year programme to protect the habitat. It has been designated an Area of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation.