Beauty spots smashed by raging storms
A coastal path at Portavogie has been smashed by the raging storms that have battered Northern Ireland for the last six weeks.
Tumultuous seas and 80mph gales have also left their mark on some of our most treasured coastal beauty spots, scouring away the dunes in Murlough National Nature Reserve to depths of up to 10 metres in places.
The National Trust said much of this sand is still on the move and "Murlough-like" sand dune habitats could eventually be recreated further up the coast.
The east coast of Northern Ireland took the brunt of the thundering waves and high tides, causing the collapse of two roads on the Ards Peninsula and another near Rostrevor.
Meanwhile, this coastal path at Portavogie was shattered after the waves swept away its foundations, while huge boulders of at least three tonnes were picked up and thrown through a nearby fence, smashing it to smithereens.
The National Trust said some of the best-loved beauty spots along the UK coastline have suffered years worth of damage in the space of weeks or even hours during the winter storms.
Some parts of Murlough have lost between five and 10 metres of sand dune – more than has ever been lost in a single period before.
Coast and countryside manager David Thompson said: "The intensity and frequency of the storms, coinciding with the high tides that were predicted, has had huge consequences for the area.
"Normally during a period of bad weather we look to see how our woods and parkland have coped. However, this time we are seeing the effects on our coastland, which has taken the brunt of this weather.
"The sand dunes have been badly eroded by the sea surges. Over a 2-3km stretch along Murlough has been affected and we have lost an average of 2-3 metres of sand dunes and worse in some places, which have lost between 5-10m. This is more than we have ever lost in one period.
"Our sand dunes now look more like cliffs, with unusually steep profiles and precipitous where they have been planed off from their base." The trust has said substantial quantities of sand from erosion of the dunes are already beginning to move from south to north, and eventually Murlough-like habitats could be recreated further up the coast.
"It is about adapting to the changes. Murlough's dunes are mobile systems, so as long as we let them be mobile they can at least be reworked and recolonise elsewhere," Mr Thompson said.
"Our priority will be to support Murlough so that its habitats and species are as robust and vibrant as possible in order to give the species that exist here a fighting chance to adapt to change."
Murlough has been managed as Ireland's first nature reserve since 1967 and is a fragile 6,000-year-old sand dune system at the edge of Dundrum Bay and the Mourne Mountains. The dune system at Murlough is the best and most extensive example of dune heath within Ireland with more than 600 species of butterflies and moths, one of which, the Marsh Fritillary butterfly, is of European importance.