AN extremely rare and ancient wildlife haven opens this week to the public for the first time in over 500 years.

Mourne Park is home to ancient woodland which is so rare it covers just 0.04 per cent of the landscape in Northern Ireland. In 2021 the Woodland Trust bought 156 hectares of the 212ha estate and has now completed the first phase of works including three new walking trails for the public.

In June, the conservation charity launched a campaign to acquire an additional 46ha within the County Down estate and to continue carrying out vital work to improve access for people and nature recovery.

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Ian McCurley, director of Woodland Trust Northern Ireland said: “Mourne Park is one of the most important areas of natural beauty in the whole of Northern Ireland with 73ha of precious ancient woodland so incredibly rare to find.

"We want to open Mourne Park up in a sensitive way, to allow the public to enjoy it in all its glory."

Until the Woodland Trust acquired the 156ha in 2021 from private ownership, the estate was closed to the public behind walls and access was only granted via an annual subscription. The Trust has completed three walking trails to allow free public access through its land in Mourne Park for visitors.

The three trails have been completed over loose gravel paths over a variety of gradients, ease and differing lengths; namely the Bluebell Walk, the Woodland Loop and the Whitewater Trail.

The Bluebell Walk is a relaxing 1.6km stroll through ancient woodland over a long sloping section, the Woodland Loop explores newly restored native woodland over a 1.6km gravel path and the 4.5km Whitewater Trail follows the river and the old carriageway through mature beech trees.

Ian added: "We have created three walking trails in our first phase of works. In these times, when people are calling for more green space, access to the countryside has never been more important.”