The framework for ‘Caring for Mourne’ is provided by the Mourne AONB Management Plan which sets out the long term vision for the special qualities of the area’s landscape and what can be done, by a range of partners and stakeholders, to protect, conserve and enhance these qualities. In the Mourne AONB, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, in association with partner agencies, supports Mourne Heritage Trust as the mechanism for co-ordination of implementation of the Management Plan.
But the Trust’s role is also to provide direct services in relation to landscape management and to develop and deliver relevant projects. These services can be categorised into four main areas as follows:
Natural Environment Enhancement and Protection
MHT staff and volunteers are out and about in the Mourne AONB protecting and enhancing the natural environment – controlling a range of invasive species and protecting native juniper and red squirrels, planting new provenance woodland, raising awareness of important habitats and species and skilling local people in recording, and carrying out vital clean-ups of the mountains, countryside and coast.
The Active Lifestyles Programme enables people from all walks of life with all ranges of ability to help manage the natural environment, and the most significant efforts contributing to the delivery of the Mourne Biodiversity Action Plan are recognised through the annual Mourne Natural Heritage Awards. The Safer Mournes Partnership, chaired by the Trust, is working hard to mitigate wildfire and other activity that damages the special environment.
A key future aspect of our natural environment enhancement work is our heathland management project, which will involve piloting best practice approaches for heathland management and refining them to work effectively in the Mournes, before training landowners, farmers, volunteers and others to deploy the successful techniques. This work is a key element of the Mourne Mountains Landscape Partnership, a £3m plus programme of actions to involve people in caring for and celebrating natural and man-made features of the High Mournes and immediately surrounding area. More information of the Landscape Partnership can be found in the mini-site by clicking here.
Visitor Management and Visitor Services
The Mournes have been enjoyed for years by locals and visitors - and are becoming more and more popular. As well as great experiences for people this activity of course brings associated management issues. The Area Ranger, Access Ranger and Countryside Team are at the fore front of visitor management; maintaining public rights of way and cycle routes in the lowlands, looking after mountain car parks, liaising with landowners, carrying out repairs to fences, stiles, bridges and tracks, monitoring user numbers and events.
Planning, designing and supervising erosion control and path repair work at popular but critically eroded sections of the upland path network is a vital and specialist activity. Complementing major works our Mourne Upland Path Volunteers contribute greatly to a ‘stitch in time’ approach to keeping routes sustainable. The Mourne and Slieve Croob Strategic Path Review provides a framework to agree a long term approach to the management of the upland path network and related issues, and the Mourne Outdoor Recreation Forum, chaired by the Trust, facilitates dialogue and development of agreed approaches to visitor management with user groups.
Built and Cultural Heritage
Of course the landscape we see and appreciate today is not just a natural wonder but has been moulded by centuries of human activity. Nature has combined with man’s influence to produce a living, working landscape with special traditions. The Trust’s activities therefore encourage appreciation and care of the structures and ways of life that have both been shaped by, and in turn shaped, the landscape. The Ranger and Countryside Teams monitor and repair key features like the iconic dry stone walls that divide the land into a ‘patchwork quilt’ of fields and the Mourne Wall, a listed monument spanning the high Mourne peaks, in the process skilling volunteers and landowners to contribute. Staff also maintain access to important heritage sites from Legananny Dolmen on the slopes of Slieve Croob to the Granite Trail at Newcastle and beyond.
Significant achievements have also come through the development of specific projects. A Rural Heritage Programme produced a Mourne Heritage Trail, online database of heritage sources and a set of seasonal menus showcasing local sea food and agricultural produce. The multi-award winning Mourne Homesteads Scheme combined renovation of seven traditional Mourne cottages to provide homes for local families with a programme of traditional building skills training. More information on these projects and on the human influence on our landscape can be found in the Built and Cultural Heritage section of this website or by clicking here.
More recently our built and cultural heritage work has been focussed through the Mourne Mountains Landscape Partnership. Key themes include the industrial heritage associated with granite quarrying, the provision of water from the heart of the Mournes and traditional farming practices. Elements of this programme also explore arts and crafts, myths, legends and folklore associated with the landscape. More information of the Landscape Partnership can be found in the mini-site accessed form this website or by clicking here
Sustainable tourism is a way of positively managing tourism for the benefit of visitors, local residents and the environment. This ensures the long-term health of the landscape, to be enjoyed by future generations, while seeking to derive social and economic benefits from its special qualities.
In 2003, the Mourne AONB, through Mourne Heritage Trust, was the first area in the UK or Ireland to receive for the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism, awarded by the Europarc Federation. A re-assessment was successfully undertaken in 2008 leading to the Trust receiving the award for a further five years at a ceremony in Stromstad, Sweden.
The Charter is a practical tool for ensuring that tourism development in Europe’s most valued landscapes is carried out sustainably. It requires a structure for working in partnership with stakeholders, a strategy for growing sustainable tourism and a set of actions. The 10 Charter Principles (see box) have helped to guide the development of tourism in the Mournes throughout the last decade.
Sustainable Tourism Charter Principles
01. To involve all those implicated by tourism in and around the protected area in its development and management.
02. To prepare and implement a sustainable tourism strategy and action plan for the protected area.
03. To protect and enhance the area’s natural and cultural heritage, for and through tourism, and to protect it from excessive tourism development.
04. To provide visitors with a high quality experience in all aspects of their visit.
05. To communicate effectively to visitors, tourism businesses and residents about the special qualities of the area.
06. To encourage specific tourism products which enable discovery and understanding of the area.
07. To increase knowledge of the protected area and sustainability issues amongst all those involved in tourism.
08. To ensure that tourism supports and does not reduce the quality of life of local residents.
09. To increase benefits from tourism to the local economy.
10. To monitor and influence visitor flows to reduce negative impacts
The Sustainable Tourism journey began in earnest in 2003 with the Natural Resource Rural Tourism Initiative (NRRTI) through which, over the next five years, MHT supported 72 projects ground-breaking tourism projects with over £2m of European Funds.
This highly successful initiative was followed, from 2008 to 2013, by the Mournes Tourism Signature Project, one of five ‘Signature Projects’ in Northern Ireland identified by NITB and co-ordinated locally by MHT. The Trust produced an Action Plan and set about levering in approximately £5m in funds for tourism infrastructure and related developments. These included the Mourne Coastal Route, Silent Valley Visitor Amenity Enhancements, Mountain Bike Trails, Upland Path Enhancements. and Mourne Public Art Trail.
The Trust is continuing to work with tourism stakeholders and partners in the Destination Mourne Mountains Partnership, developing a further range of visitor infrastructure and service improvements.
Copies of our previous annual reports can be found by clinking on the years below.
Mourne Heritage Trust Annual Report 2014/15
Mourne Heritage Trust Annual Report 2013/14
Mourne Heritage Trust Annual Report 2012/13
Mourne Heritage Trust Annual Report 2011/12
Mourne Heritage Trust Annual Report 2010/11
Mourne Heritage Trust Annual Report 2009/10
Mourne Heritage Trust Annual Report 2008/09
Mourne Heritage Trust Annual Report 2007/08
Mourne Heritage Trust Annual Report 2006/07
Mourne Heritage Trust Annual Report 2005/06
Mourne Heritage Trust Annual Report 2004/05
Mourne Heritage Trust Annual Report 2003/04