“We feel we are a benchmark for integrated and sustainable upland management in Ireland.”
1 Contact: Martin Carey, CEO, Mourne Heritage Trust, Unit 3 Cornmill Quay, Annalong Marine Park, Annalong
Co. Down, BT34 4QG / Tel: 0044 (0)28 4372 4059 / Email: email@example.com / www.mournelive.com
2 Territory: Mourne is one of the eight Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) which together cover a fifth of the land area in Northern Ireland. They span over 570 square kilometres in the south east of Northern Ireland rising from sea level to 850 metres at the peak of Slieve Donard, Northern Ireland’s highest point. The territory includes the Mourne mountains, a significant coastline, and the ancient uplands of Slieve Croob together with the foothills and drumlin country in between. The Mourne AONB is the most heavily used area of Northern Ireland for outdoor recreation.
3 Founded: The AONB was first designated in 1966 and extended in 1986.
4 Genesis: The Mourne Heritage Trust was established in 1997 to meet an identified need for locally based strategic management of the area. The model of a Trust-based partnership was agreed by the Environment and Heritage Service (now Northern Ireland Environment Agency) and Northern Ireland Tourist Board, in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the then three local authorities of Banbridge, Down and Newry & Mourne, now replaced by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council. All these public partners at present remain committed to the partnership, although each has at times explored the possibility of withdrawal, most recently NIEA terminating funding in 2015 before reinstating under a new grant fund. At the outset the prominent local issues were control of erosion in the uplands, traditional stone wall maintenance, sustainable tourism promotion and the need to get a balance between development and conservation.
5 Vision: ‘To sustain and enhance the environment, rural regeneration, cultural heritage and visitor opportunities of the Mourne Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and contribute to the well-being of Mournes communities.’
6 Key Objectives:– A comprehensive 5 Year Management Plan is structured around four interconnecting themes:- Mountain, Countryside and Coast; Historic Environment; Sustainable Communities and Enjoying, Appreciating and Understanding the Mourne AONB. A significant element of the Trust’s functions across all the work areas outlined above is informing public policy and related programmes. [Note: The Mourne (AONB) are not marketed as a tourism brand however a wider Mourne Mountains and Ring of Gullion tourism brand has been established by the local authority.]
7 Structure: There is a 21 strong formal and broadly representative Board comprising Community Organisations (4), Recreational Users (4/5), Farmers / Landowners (4/5), Tourism (5), Heritage (2), Wildlife & Ecology (6). There is a staff complement of 18 both full time and part time staff including those employed in casual posts and on time limited projects. A managed corps of over 50 regular trained volunteers is a valuable additional resource. There are in excess of 120 members of the ‘Friends of the Mourne’. The Trust also facilitates the Mourne Outdoor Recreation Forum with its 2 Working Groups (Strategic Path Review Group and Best Practice for Waymarking Upland Event Group). The Mourne Mountains Landscape Partnership (Heritage Lottery Funded) is a £3m programme to conserve and enhance some of the UK’s most important landscapes and it operates within the apparatus of the Trust. An ambitious programme is underway aiming to engage with local people on conservation and enhancement projects in the Mourne AONB. Actions range from path construction to storytelling and from the history of granite quarrying to conservation of the prized upland heath habitats.
8 Operational Management: The CEO is supported by three key managers namely Countryside Services Manager, Mourne Mountains Landscape Partnership Manager and Office Manager. The Trust Rangers are an important and highly skilled asset comprising an Area Ranger, Access Ranger, Mountain Bike Trail Ranger, two Countryside Officers and three casual support staff. A Sustainable Tourism Manager works with and supports the other officers to maximise the tourism benefits of the various activities and liaises with tourism enterprises to promote awareness of the special landscape qualities of the area. [Note: The MHT manages the mountain bike trails, controls litter and undertakes trail and related maintenance work for the Councils and, by aligning these services with its broader environmental management work, does so in a cost effective manner.]
9 Annual Core Budget: £400k pa [Note: Additional projects normally take the annual budget to over £1m].
10 Recent Sample Programming: Natural Environment Enhancement and Protection e.g. Wildfire Control including a series of trial controlled burns on a 5 hectare site; A ‘Healthy Heathland’ project aiming to restore habitat through the development of habitat management plans and implementation of practical restoration tasks for selected key sites; Active Lifestyles Volunteer Programme providing 1217 work days for all volunteers in 2014/’15; Coordination of the Annual Mourne Natural Heritage Awards. Visitor Management and Services e.g. Data collection – network of electronic pedestrian counters at strategic locations in and around the uplands showed 225k (2014/’15) annual recorded visitors at five portals sites to the hills with in the region of 20% of visitors assumed to come from the RoI; The successful completion of a major Upland Path Repair Programme at a cost over £700k; Regular repair and improvement of visitor infrastructure at 13 key upland car parks and amenity sites; Enhanced ranger service on Mourne Mountain Bike Trailsites (X 2). Sustainable Tourism e.g. The development of tangible focal points for interpretation and celebration of key ‘Living Legends’ stories including restoration of fifteen historic stone structures – bridges, gates, follies, obelisk – in Tollymore Forest Park, interpretation centre in Annalong Cornmill and a number of ‘Trails with Tales, including the Narnia Walk in Rostrevor.
11 Some Practical Problems Encountered: How to bring people with you when there are conflicting agendas and emotions are high; The continuity of funding is a significant challenge; Practically overcoming the decade long contention over the Mourne in relation to structure and identity; Programming prioritisation; Working effectively with multiple funders / public partners including three Councils.
12 Some Unresolved Issues: Need for improved visitor management planning (measuring impact and ensuring sustainability) and visitor infrastructure (notably car parking and sustainable transport); C; Addressing and educating visitors on anti-social behaviour, litter and wild camping; Controlling dogs and helping resolve disputes is an ever present challenge on the hills.
13 Lessons Learned: Local bespoke solutions work best i.e. learning from best practice elsewhere and adapting appropriately through implementation (in other words adaptive management); Environmentally Embedding an experienced ranger with any external path development contractors has resulted in higher standards and a transfer of knowledge; The most practical way to engage with all the communities / community groups within the territory is to meet them through events / activities and not formal public meetings; A strong, experienced and passionate officer corps is essential in order to get the job done in an area as important as the Mourne and with so many factors impacting on it;
14 Work Profile: Visitor infrastructure development and maintenance 20%; Habitat management (conservation) 20%; Communications 20%; Built heritage restoration 20%; Volunteer engagement and management 10%; Influencing policy and public debate 10%.