“Caring for the Belfast hills, their wildlife and people.”
1 Contact: Dr. Jim Bradley, Partnership Manager, Belfast Hills Partnership Trust, 9 Social Economy Village, Hannahstown Hill, Belfast, BT17 0XS. / Tel: 00353 (0) 28 90603466 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / www.belfasthill.org
2 Territory: The Belfast Hills area takes in Carnmoney Hill and Cave Hill to the north and Colin Glen, Divis and Black Mountain and Slievenacloy to the south and west. The operational boundary encompasses approximately 5,500 hectares (13,500 acres); Divis is 478m making it the highest of the Belfast Hills. Belfast has an urban population of over 280k (2012). It is estimated there are at least 75 distinct community ‘groups’ within the catchment. The territory attracts in excess of 600k visitors per annum.
3 Founded: 2004 (formal foundation).
4 Genesis: In 1992 there was a call for a Belfast Hills Regional Park in order to address concerns about the exploitation and degeneration of the Belfast Hills landscapes combined with threats to both communities and habitats. A subsequent study (1998) revealed there was a lack of public support for such a move especially from landowners but there was however considerable support for a stronger, more joined up approach to the management and protection of the Belfast Hills. Core support was secured from the Department of the Environment and four local councils to create the Belfast Hills Partnership which comprises local councils, government departments, community groups, nature conservation organisations, businesses, recreation and a team of staff. In 2011 the BHP was augmented by a Heritage Lottery funded Belfast Hills Landscape Partnership Scheme (Stage 1&2) which has substantially increased its capacity and profile.
5 Vision: That the BHP care for the hills, its wildlife and people. We will restore – physically and in the minds of our people – the Belfast Hills as a vital, living asset for Belfast and beyond; an asset to actively enjoy, gain inspiration from and protect as a living part of our Belfast and Lagan Valley region. It is time to reconnect our people to this great landscape after many years of political strife, which left many feeling afraid to visit our surrounding hills. The Belfast Hills will be improved, restored and more fully appreciated through managing the landscape in positive ways – ways which integrate with and add skills to the work of all of our statutory, farming, community, commercial, recreational and environmental partners who live and work in and around the Belfast Hills. We will ensure unique opportunities offered by having uplands and city so close together, are understood and taken in order to positively better this landscape, its people, heritage and wildlife, providing an inspirational model of how to sustainably manage urban fringe landscapes.
6 Key Objectives:-Strive to protect the wildlife of the Belfast Hills; Combat invasive species that threaten our native plants and animals; Record wildlife and protect habitats; Improve access and develop routes; Produce leaflets, provide information and facilitate volunteering opportunities; Commission environmental research; Organise events, produce newsletters and manage website; Support local agriculture and communities; Scrutinise planning applications that may affect the Belfast Hills; Make sure government departments consider the Belfast Hills when making decisions and ; Encourage healthy walking. [Note: Landscape threats include physical loss of landscape features, built heritage and habitats and secondly the decline in quality of landscape features, built heritage and habitats.]
7 Structure: Company limited by guarantee with Trust status (Charity Commission NI). Board members, including company directors and charity trustees number 13. The BHP has a fixed Board structure in line with its constitution which divides into three sectors and up to 5 representatives from each : Landowning (e.g farm representative bodies X 2; commercial waste operators; quarry operators; site owning environmental organisations) / Communities / Users ( community representatives X 2; environmental community organisations X 2; recreational users representative) / Statutory (Councils X 3; DoE X 1). There is an independent chair who has been in place since 2009.
8 Operational Management: There is currently a staff complement of 8 including a manager, special project staff (LPS) X 4 including a manager, administration, outreach, volunteer cordination, BHP special projects, and communications (PT).
9 Annual Core Budget: Between £500-600k per annum over last three years. [Note: The BHP has up to 20 seperate funders.]
10 Sample Programming: The BHP Core Business Plan (2013-18) falls under four distinct themes – Environmental, Economic, Social & Commercial and Corporate. Environmental includes: Protection and management of Belfast Hills biodiversity; Invasive species work; Wildfire management work; Brownfield site restoration; Minimise impact of waste on biodiversity, access and recreation; Fringe community wildlife sites; Biodiversity monitoring and survey work; Biodiversity research work; Community recording project; Increased awareness of Belfast Hills biodiversity; Events and publicity; Wildfire awareness and ; Fringe community wildlife sites. Economic includes: Better planning in Belfast Hills – Monitoring of and positive input into planning processes. Social & Commercial includes: Improved Access and Opportunities – New paths, greenways, infrastructure and impact assessment; Raise awareness, interest and participation in access; Encourage and facilitate development of recreation infrastructure in keeping with BHP recreation plan; Liaise with key partners such as Outdoor Recreation NI and SportNI on recreation development opportunities; Visitor services development in Belfast Hills; Installation of new brown tourism signage in the hills; Drafting of a visitor services development plan until 2018; Further development opportunities through enhanced working relationships with partners especially in tourism and ; Waste management in Belfast Hills. Corporate includes: Greater co-ordination to maintain and develop a partnership approach; Improve awareness of value of hills for heritage and visitor potential; Facilitate non-biodiversity research in the hills; Seek additional funding, manage and deliver key projects e.g. LPS, Challenge Fund and visitor infrastructural projects.
11 Some Practical Problems Encountered: How best to manage the ‘cuckoo in the nest’, two separately funded programmes under the one umbrella i.e. BHP & LP Scheme; Unpredictability of funding and knock-on pressures on cash flow (funding pinch in 2009-10); The BHP doesn’t own any land; we often feel we are working in relative isolation from other upland focused groups, we could benefit from more co-operation and joint working on shared problems; Partners needing to be aware of speaking positively of others; Need to constantly gather data (cost/time/expertise) and conduct research in numerous areas of the operation often at the behest of funders and; One of the next big strategic challenges will be to further integrate the BHP into the greater Health & Wellness offering for Greater Belfast.
12 Some Unresolved Issues: The Belfast Hills face a wide range of ongoing problems. These include fly-tipping and illegal landfill, pressures for local agriculture including undergrazing, wild fires, access to the hills and quality of life issues for local people. The BHP aims to address these in practical ways through:- Increasing people’s appreciation of the value of the Belfast Hills through the likes of public information and training; Plan and carry out work programmes to protect and enhance biodiversity on the hills; Help people enjoy the hills through a range of well-managed public sites; Improve the quality of life for local people and; Promote sustainable local agriculture and industry including tourism.
13 Lessons Learned: Experience teaches you how to prioritise e.g three volunteers shook their tins for two days and got £120 in donations, whereas the team combined their skills and applied for a special fund and got £700k; The bigger the project the greater the ‘soft skills’ that are required to manage it successfully; There is a significant requirement to keep your core team together at all cost; As the scale of the operation increases there is a need / expectation for enhanced public relations; A formal volunteer corps needs to be constantly managed in order to be of material value; The farming community in upland areas need more supports, they must see real benefits such as subsidies; Managing the workload when staff numbers fluctuate; Effective community and partner communications at all times and; Partnership is the start and end of our success.
14 Work Profile: Community engagement 20%; Administration and Fund raising 15%; Access issues & projects 15%; Education and outreach 15%; Biodiversity 15%, Planning issues 10%; Agriculture issues 10%