Arsonists are threatening the future of one of Northern Ireland’s most important nature reserves.
Murlough National Nature Reserve near Newcastle was the first area in Ireland to be designated a nature reserve in 1967 — a move prompted by the national importance of its unique and fragile ecosystem.
Today this ecosystem is threatened by illegal fires, which regularly damage large areas of Murlough’s important flora and fauna.
In 2009/10 the Northern Ireland Fire Service attended 3,285 gorse fires across Northern Ireland, with 94% believed to have been started deliberately.
The National Trust, which protects nature reserves across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, along with a number of volunteers, have started cutting into thick gorse in an attempt to limit the amount of damage.
Sections of gorse are cut back, leaving strategic gaps in the vegetation in the hope that these will slow down or stop the spread of fire if one occurs.
One of the species most badly affected by these fires is the marsh fritillary butterfly, a butterfly of European importance, which normally thrive in the conditions offered at Murlough National Nature Reserve.