Banning of horses from Northern Ireland nature reserve draconian, says MLA
The National Trust has been accused of "going from nought to draconian in 10 seconds" after banning horses from Murlough National Nature Reserve without public consultation.
The trust says it took the decision to withdraw horse permits from the Co Down beauty spot for "conservation and visitor safety reasons".
It added that riders were still permitted to use the neighbouring beach at Murlough by accessing it via Newcastle.
However, SDLP MLA Colin McGrath said that the ban had cut off horse riders' main access routes to the beach through the reserve.
"While you don't need a horse permit to ride on the beach, the ban on using the nature reserve entrances means that the only way to get onto the beach is to park in one of Newcastle's two main car parks with your trailer, mount up and ride through the residential areas, which isn't acceptable," he said.
"Today (Thursday) I met with the National Trust at Murlough Beach to ask them to hold their decision until a consultation can be held. It is difficult because the National Trust has taken the decision unilaterally, not through a public consultation.
"This is going from nought to draconian in 10 seconds."
The National Trust's general manager for Murlough Jacqueline Baird said: "The current decision to withdraw horse permits applies to the reserve only and not the beach, where horse riding can still take place.
"Murlough National Nature Reserve is an ancient dune eco-system unique in Ireland and a special place for visitor enjoyment and experience.
"This decision has been taken to ensure the future habitat protection of this fragile, sensitive coastal landscape and the provision of a safe environment for everyone.
"As guardians of this internationally recognised nature reserve, we want to ensure that it will be cared for and enjoyed by visitors for years to come."
The charity said the decision to withdraw the horse permits would only impact on "a small number of users".