Jan 2020: Due to the recent replacement of the fence at Slievenacloy Nature Reserve we have had to temporarily close several of the stiles into the fields. Please bear with us as we replace these
Know before you go
Parking informationParking on roadside.
Grazing animalsYes - May to December.
Formal road network and off-road paths. Medium terrain. Trail: 4 miles
Open to the public.
When to visit
Opening timesOpen at all times
Best time to visitMay to September
About the reserve
Situated in the Belfast Hills, between Stoneyford and Divis Mountain, Slievenacloy is one of the best examples of a species-rich grassland in Northern Ireland.
This vast wilderness – a mosaic of unimproved meadows, purple moor grass and rush pasture - is one of our largest nature reserves and a hotspot for orchids, birds and fungi.
On a clear day, the highest points of the nature reserve allow spectacular views of Belfast and a panorama that includes five of the six counties of Northern Ireland.
In early summer, the grassland supports a profusion of wildflowers particularly orchids, with nine species recorded here. In a good year, you might see thousands of common-spotted and butterfly orchid, along with more uncommon species such as lesser butterfly, small white and frog orchid.
Butterflies and moths are also plentiful and few sites rank as high in Northern Ireland. Look out for beautiful grassland butterflies such as orange-tip, small copper, small heath, common blue, dark green fritillary, meadow brown and ringlet. Rare or uncommon moths include red carpet, wood tiger, narrow-bordered bee hawk-moth and marsh pug.
On summer days scan the fields, fence posts and hedgerows - these are stomping grounds of skylark, meadow pipit, stonechat, linnet, reed bunting and more. Listen out for cuckoo and grasshopper warbler, two species that are scarce in Northern Ireland. Notable birds that have occurred on spring passage include ring ouzel and grey shrike.
If you’re lucky, you might spot Ireland’s only reptile, the common lizard, basking in the sun.
Autumn brings a multitude of brightly coloured waxcap fungi to the grassland. 26 out of 43 Irish species have been recorded here, ranking Slievenacloy as the second best site for waxcaps in Ireland. The most striking of these is the vibrant pink meadow and regal waxcap.
The reserve is a fairly bleak place to visit in winter, like many other types of grassland, but is also a great time to see raven, goldfinch and linnet.
In order to maintain Slievenacloy’s fragile habitats and special wildlife, the reserve is grazed with traditional livestock such as Irish moiled cattle from early summer to mid-winter. We also carry out essential habitat management including rush cutting and scrub control.