Mourne Upland Path Erosion Control Event


Tollymore National Outdoor Centre, with the stunning back drop of the Mourne Mountains, was the venue for a celebration of a programme of upland path works carried out in recent years by Mourne Heritage Trust. Minister for the Environment, Mark H Durkan was the special guest, recognising the role of Northern Ireland Environment Agency as a major funder of the various works alongside Sport Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Heritage Lottery Fund. 

The project centred around repair of over 5km of heavily eroded paths at locations around Slieve Binnian, the Brandy Pad and Slieve Donard by skilled contractors working to a detailed specification prepared by the Trust.  Complementing this were ‘stitch in time’ and ‘stay on track’ works by the Trust’s countryside staff in key access corridors to the uplands.  A final ingredient was the input of volunteers under the Trust’s Active Lifestyles programme, including reinstatement works to minimise adverse impacts on sensitive habitats and visual amenity.

Reflecting on these inputs, which cumulatively represented approximately three quarters of a million pounds of funding since 2010, Chairman of Mourne Heritage Trust, Mr Desmond Patterson said: ‘This programme has been a true example of joined-up government. It brought together funding from the relevant agencies under the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Landscape Partnership umbrella, to achieve the complementary objectives of protecting the environment and enhancing the visitor experience.  On behalf of all who enjoy, work in and care for the Mournes, I would like to express our gratitude to them and to the land owners, Northern Ireland Water, National Trust and my fellow local farmers ’. 

Matthew Bushby, Countryside Services Manager for the Trust spoke about the ‘learning journey’ travelled.  He explained ‘Path repair works on this scale were very much a first for this area, and indeed Northern Ireland.  We adapted best practice techniques to the particular conditions of the Mournes, assisted greatly by observations from user groups and representative bodies like Mountaineering Ireland and the Ulster Federation of Rambling Clubs.  We were also pleased to find that the most effective foundation layer was sheep’s fleeces, procured from local farmers.  The approach developed sought to ensure that repaired paths blended into the environment whilst maintaining the challenging and rewarding experience of walking in the mountains. The body of learning about erosion control techniques is something we have enjoyed sharing with other upland areas’.

Minister Durkan highlighted the value of local partnerships with organisations like Mourne Heritage Trust in helping achieve government objectives in our most prized landscape areas.   He said ‘These mountains are not only beautiful and important for recreation, but they also represent a most important biodiversity habitat. The Eastern Mournes is designated a Special Area of Conservation, marking it as one of Europe’s most important tracts of upland heath. The pioneering work carried out by Mourne Heritage Trust will help ensure that people can continue to enjoy and appreciate this sensitive area in the knowledge that its special qualities are protected.  It has shown that, with the right technical approaches and involvement of partners, conservation and sustainable development can go hand in hand.’

Speaking at the celebration event, Sport Northern Ireland Director of Participation, Nick Harkness said ‘The value of the natural environment in Northern Ireland makes the region uniquely suited to participation in many adventure sports.  Through Sport Northern Ireland’s contribution to the implementation of the Outdoor Recreation Action Plan, we will work to maximise opportunities for increased participation and excellence in outdoor sports.  This project makes the increase in participation in hillwalking and outdoor recreation sustainable in the longer term, and will allow us to continue to deliver the benefits of the mountains to the health and well-being of society.  Organisations such as the Ulster Federation of Rambling Clubs, Mountaineering Ireland, Duke of Edinburgh and the An Gaisce award schemes, with over 9,000 young people using the Mournes per annum, will benefit from these improvements’.

Closing the event Margaret Ritchie, MP for South Down, emphasised the need to capitalise on the expertise and partnerships built up saying, ‘I commend Mourne Heritage Trust for its ground-breaking initiative. It is important to the environment, economy and people of South Down that we continue to guard against erosion and improve the user experience in Northern Ireland’s foremost area for upland recreation. I thank the funders and both public and private landowners for their cooperation and input to date and look forward to these relationships continuing to prosper for the good of all’.