Helping Mount Stewart adapt to the climate

When storm surges and climate change threaten one of the world’s most outstanding gardens, how do you plan its future?

The challenge

National Trust-owned Mount Stewart sits on the shore of Strangford Lough, a large sea inlet in County Down. Thanks to what’s believed to be a unique microclimate, Mount Stewart’s gardens are filled with Mediterranean and exotic plants – even banana trees – that would normally struggle to survive on the temperate coast of Northern Ireland. It’s a stunning place. 

But as a rapidly changing climate brings greater weather extremes and a growing risk of saltwater intrusion, the National Trust is considering whether the gardens’ location remains sustainable over the coming decades. Do they need to be relocated? If so, where?

What we're doing

We’ve placed various sensors within and outside the area believed to be the microclimate, allowing us to monitor conditions and changes over time. 

Interestingly, the first summer’sresults indicate that the microclimate area isn’t any warmer than the surrounding countryside. Yet itfeels hotter in this part of the estate. 

Maybe the trees surrounding the microclimate help protect it from cooling or damaging winds and maintain humidity, keeping the soil moist.Perhaps the area is less frost prone.We’re not drawing any conclusions until we have at least a year’s data. 

We’re also comparing our readings with official records nearby to understand how muchthe actual temperature at Mount Stewart varies from those records. This will help the National Trust create bespoke climate projections, but again, we’ll need a minimum of 12 months data to ensure this modelling is meaningful. 

How it helps

We’ll work with the central National Trust team to help them consider how to collect and correlate local climate observations with official records at other sites.

Our work also raises questions about how much data organisations and societies need to make decisions. With climate change adaptation, people often say they need more data before they can act, but is that always true?

As academics, we prize objective data, but there’s so much more to planting a garden than understanding the climate alone. The gardening team at Mount Stewart have a deep knowledge of the site and the conditions plants prefer. Our data will offer them another tool in their shed, helping them plan and, if it comes to it, understand where on the estate the gardens could be relocated to preserve them for the future.


  • Dr Alan Kennedy-Asser
  • Dr Simon Cobb
  • Keith Jones (National Trust)

Image credit: Mount Stewart Gardens [9] by Michael Dibb, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Alan Kennedy-Asser Lead researcher profile

Dr Alan Kennedy-Asser, School of Geographical Sciences

Partner organisations

  • National Trust


  • University of Bristol third sector impact seedcorn award
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