Sperrins Outdoor Recreation Forum (SORF)


Sperrins Outdoor Recreation Forum (SORF)

The creeping success of the Sperrins.

1 Contact: Mike McClure (Forum facilitator) Outdoor Recreation Development Officer, Sport Northern Ireland
c/o Tollymore National Outdoor Centre, Hilltown Road, Bryansford, Co Down, BT330PZ.
Tel: 0044 (0) 2890 383855 | m: 0044 (0)7976 468914 / Email: mikemcclure@sportni.net


2 Territory: The Sperrins stretch through counties Tyrone and Derry from south of Strabane eastwards to Slieve Gallion and north towards Limavady. Other principle towns are Maghera, Omagh and Cookstown. The region has a population of some 150k. The Sperrins are a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The highest peak is Sawel Mountain at 678m. The area is marked by remote bog land, mountainous valleys and has a distinctive glaciated landscape. [Note: The scale of the Sperrins can be gauged by a north to south drive time = 90mins / east to west drive time = 45mins.]


3 Founded: The SORF was formed in 2013.


4 Genesis:  The most significant historical obstacle holding back development of the Sperrins is the absence of one co-ordinating and suitably resourced management body with responsibility for the development, management and promotion of the region as a whole. The AONB area of the Sperrins currently has no dedicated AONB Officer or AONB Management Plan and is the only AONB not to have such in place. The area formally was governed by up to 7 different Councils (now 4). Sport NI facilitated the newly established broadly representative SORF to help develop an action plan with 21 over-arching principles and provides them with much needed strategic and practical guidance in their formative years. [Note: While the  SORF is chiefly concerned with sustainable recreational development and is the only body with a pan-Sperrins approach, it is not a suitable vehicle to oversee a coordinated management approach to the Sperrins but rather has lobbied for the councils and the Department of Environment to put one in place.]



5 Vision: The sustainable development, management and promotion of future outdoor recreation facilities and opportunities within the Sperrins region, accommodating both the needs of the local community and those visiting the area.

6 Key Objectives:– The SORF’s primary structural objective is in the short to medium term establish a ‘Sperrins Partnership’ like other landscape management bodies such as the Mourne Heritage Trust or Strangford Lough and Lecale Partnership to be responsible for an area wide approach to the management, protection and development of the AONB; In product development walking and cycling route development are to the fore as is raising awareness of the heritage and environmental richness of the area through some innovative programmes; Marketing and communications will focus on developing and implementing a distinct Sperrins brand delivered through new and traditional media. Old and new festivals and events will be promoted. Integrated signage is also a key objective. [Note: Funding for projects completed / in-progress come through individual programmes on a project by project basis delivered through a number of public agencies / bodies.]



7 Structure:  The Forum comprises 15 members drawn from all relevant stakeholders, there are also 15 observers who can attend meetings. Representatives are drawn from Community, Recreation, Farming / Landowning, Tourism, Heritage, Wildlife & Ecology and Statutory Bodies / Agencies.


8 Operational Management: The SORF has no staff in any capacity. Sport NI provides the services of its Outdoor Recreation Development Officer for 1/1.5 days per month basis. [Note: Sport NI funded the development of the SORF Action Plan.]


9 Annual Core Budget: The SORF has no formal budget but Sport NI covers the costs associated with meetings and any relevant outputs within a small and constrained budget. All members are voluntary.


10 Sample Programming: Design and delivery of ‘Sense of the Sperrins’ (with QUB teaching staff) which was delivered locally for local people. This tailored certified course was over subscribed running one day per week for eight weeks; Sperrins Heritage Trail (14 sites) – involved supporting farmers improve access to these sites. It has proved successful and provides a useful template; Helped develop a dedicated web site for outdoor recreation in the Sperrins with a private sector operator see: www.cycleni.cyclesperrins.com ; Developing recreational ‘hubs’ focusing on clusters of activities and visitor services to cater for locals and visitors – Glenelly Valley / Gortin Glen / An Creagan and Lough Macrory / An Carn, Dungiven, Banagher, Moneyneena and Draperstown / Lough Fea and Davagh / Learmount, Park and Claudy / Mourne and Derg Valleys; Walking development – ongoing creation of new walks, linking existing walks, creating strategic cross-country links between hubs, promote wild walking and hosting events. [Note: All of the above are / will be delivered in partnership.]


11 Some Practical Problems Encountered: The significant changes / reorganisation of Councils in NI coupled with the lack of Access Officers (Council posts / similar to RRO in RoI) on the ground in the Sperrins has resulted in some disconnection; The scarcity and unpredictability of core funding; Raising expectations at the beginning of the process within the community; The need for a 20 year strategy (with 4 X 5 yearly ‘action plans’) however public funding / strategic planning tends not to think on this time frame; The universities / research institutions tend not to know the Sperrins.


12 Some Unresolved Issues: The first modern day gold mine in Britain or Ireland has been developed at the Cavanacaw deposit in the Sperrins; Water course / drainage management, especially with climate change, remains a significant threat; Building and managing a solid relationship with the farming community; there is a poor road network into and through the Sperrins; How can you best develop a great big marshie bog that is little more than a name on a map; Many ancient monuments are being neglected; The need for appropriate planting in the uplands going forward; How best to influence the Councils as they do their required Village Plans.


13 Lessons Learned: The need to take as many learnings as possible from previous uplands programmes / initiatives; The Sperrins has no ‘centre’; Improving broadband promotes people home working especially in more remote areas; Access – generally few people know where the walks are in the Sperrins; Be mindful of the mining of our resources; The Sperrins is one of the oldest recorded habitable areas of Ireland (over 8000yrs) which in time past claimed its own distinct ‘language’. The Sperrins continues to view itself as an ‘island within an island’; The SORF are aware of the required ‘balance’ between running funding programmes and helping local groups / communities up their game and; There are significant community concerns in the Sperrins about the industrialisation of what is meant to be a protected landscape ie. potential for a major gold mining  development to have a significant negative impact on the AONB .


14 Work Profile: Building relationships and credibility 25%; Communications 25% Advice and guidance 25%; Administration and planning 25%.


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