Divis Mountain: National Trust urge walkers to stick to paths at beauty spot

By Conor Macauley
BBC NI Agriculture & Environment Correspondent

  • Published
DivisImage source, National Trust
Image caption,
Divis and Black Mountain is a popular area for walkers on the edge of Belfast

People have been urged to stick to paths at one of Northern Ireland's most popular beauty spots, which has been thronged during the lockdown.

The National Trust said more than 200,000 people had walked the trails on Divis and Black Mountain in 2020.

This represents an increase of almost 20%.

The trust said it had to repair parts of the path network and encouraged walkers to prevent what is known as "path creep".

That is when people step off an eroded path and start to cut up the heath on either side of the route creating extensive areas of damage.

It was a particular problem on a trail that runs along the summit ridge of the mountain, which offers panoramic views of Belfast.

The charity got £60,000 from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) to repair more than half a kilometre of the route.

Image source, National Trust
Image caption,
The path network before recent repair work

Lead ranger Craig Sommerville said they welcomed people who were enjoying the benefits of nature.

But he said path erosion had a significant impact on an important heathland habitat.

"Once vegetation is lost through erosion, soil and stone can quickly wash off the mountain," Mr Sommerville explained.

"This general loss of habitat and degradation can affect heathland flora species such as heathers, mosses and flowering plants like potentilla and bog asphodel.

"It can also affect other rare mountain plants already at risk and living at the very edge of their range."

Image source, National Trust
Image caption,
More than half a kilometre of trails have been repaired

Due to its proximity to Belfast, Divis Mountain has proven hugely popular with people looking for somewhere to walk.

But, at one point, police were called to the area to deal with inappropriate parking and warned they would fine people responsible.

The path improvements were carried out mostly by hand with the aim of having them done in time for an expected surge in numbers at Easter.