(Incorporating the Joyce Country Geopark concept)
“ Talking to local upland farmers about access issues early on has saved us from potential trouble further down the road.”
1 Contact: Trish Walsh, Manager, Petersburg Outdoor Education Centre, Clonbur, Co. Galway / Tel: +353 (0) 94 46483 / Email: email@example.com
2 Territory: Binn Shléibhe (also referred to as Mount Gable) is defined by Loughs Mask to the north and Corrib to the south. The area is a Gaeltacht designated area. The highest peak is the mountain of the same name at 417m. There are two significant communities in the area, Clonbur / Clochbreac and Corr na Mona all with populations of under 1k inhabitants. There are in excess of 120 upland commonage shareholders who have engaged in the whole access process. The mountain is part SAC. From a heritage perspective the old Seanbhothar (green road) on the south side was recently refurbished, resurfaced and has new interpretation. There is Coillte forest on the south west and north east lowlands. [ Note: Four new car parks for recreational users are positioned across the area and they come with information panels with a map of the area, a brief description of the mountain plus safety and practice tips for recreational users. It is anticipated the design template can be rolled out elsewhere as part of the Mountain Access Scheme.]
3 Founded: 2009 (project commenced)
4 Genesis: In 2009 Comhairle na Tuaithe created a Mountain Access Scheme (MAS) pilot programme comprising two destinations including Binn Shléibh. The aim was to establish a formal process enabling the acknowledgement of local land ownership while meeting the reasonable expectations of walkers with regard to upland access. Access to the Binn Shléibhe uplands had not been a particular issue but the numbers of recreational users had begun to increase. Local community and tourism interests also wanted to look at the options of walking festivals and other promotional opportunities for walking/outdoor recreation. Coinciding with this was the recognition of the potential of securing Geopark status for the whole locality of Joyce Country which is home to the project. The root of this approach is the recognition of the formal geopark as a model for rural development. It was felt that there had to be a proven system for dealing with the issue of access with local landowners and this work has evolved into a formal application seeking Geopark status for Joyce Country. If the Geopark is to succeed then access to locations for geology, botany, archaeology had to be available freely and with goodwill.
5 Vision: To allow for rural access to take place with landowners, rural landscape and recreational users co-existing in a mutally beneficial way.
6 Key Objectives:– Provide a forum for discussion of access issues; Provide a farmers liaison officer as a point of contact and; Open up alternative farming enterprises by increasing the number of visits to the area; To achieve Geopark status.
7 Structure: The informal local group comprises representatives of community X 3; recreational users X 4; farmers X 1; tourism interests X 1; heritage X 2; wildlife and ecology X 1 and; statutory bodies / agencies X 1. Although informal there are strong links and support from the local Co-operative. [Note: As a pilot MAS there is regular reporting to Comhairle na Tuath at a national level.]
8 Operational Management: The voluntary group is serviced in a part time capacity by the Co-operative Manager who also embraces community development and promotion of the Irish language. There are also government employment scheme support through the RRS with 4-6 posts. However a key support and innovative solution is a Farm Liasion Officer (voluntary) who comes from a local farming background and is the point person for all access related issues. The role includes:- Bringing to the table the farming perspective in any negotiations on access issues; Contacting farmers if any issues arise; Helping mediate where there are problems; Ongoing advice and support to farmers on access issues and; Promoting Leave no Trace in the farming community; Helping disseminate the positive message of opening access to upland areas.
Training needs identified include trail building, wall building and alternative farming enterprises.
[Note: It is hoped to replicate the role of the Farm Liasion Officer into other MAS areas in the future as part of a common integrated partnership approach to managing upland access.]
9 Annual Core Budget: 8k average annual budget [Note: Varies due to nature and frequency of sporadic grants. This figure does not include in kind contributions from partners including the community. The Department of Rural Affairs has been a key benefactor.]
10 Sample Programming: Mountain Access Scheme – the delivery of one of the two national pilot projects which has gained the area a national profile … a significant byproduct of the pilot scheme has been the preperation of a practical Toolkit to assist local partners which is awaiting launch; Production and distribution of a Binn Shléibhe Mountain Access Project, Information Sheet for Landowners; Walking Festival – pilot festival delivered / lessons learned; Research – partnership with GMIT for baseline survey prior to usage / profile of recreation users; Fund Raising – occasional ‘fork supper’ fundraisers for local tourism initiatives which also act as good networking / information dispensing opportunities. [Note: The launch of the Toolkit above is now awaiting agreement of the indemnity arrangement for landowners in Mountain Access Areas. The State Claims Agency has agreed to the indemnity, the details of how it will be implemented are currently being worked out by the State Claims Agency and the Department of Environment, Community & Local Government (Rural Recreation Section).]
11 Some Practical Problems Encountered: Continuity of personnel – some of our key partners have a high staff / officer turnover; Length of time it has taken for a national indemnity scheme to become active; Need for education and enhanced communication – that recreation users are made aware of the work, volunteer time and cooperation that takes place to enable their recreation.
12 Some Unresolved Issues: Track upgrade and ongoing maintenance; Investment to date has been parliamentary in route infrastructure with little resources going into interpretation and marketing exposing the whole sustainability of the project; Lack of a designated material budget for various government employment schemes; Loss of population from rural upland areas and; Change in farm / off farm employment.
13 Lessons Learned: A pro-active approach was taken from the beginning rather than waiting on problems occurring. This has been a successful way of dealing with this thorny issue; Simplicity of the scheme; The valuable role played by a farmers liaison officer; Rural upland areas badly need investment and support for access schemes to work and; The need for designated Rural Development Officers in vulnerable communities.
14 Work Profile: Community engagement 50%; Route development & access issues, land use, farming, heritage and environmental improvements 20%; Administration and fundraising 20% and; Communications & events 10%.