Overlooking the magnificent Poison Glen at Dun Lúiche is the Cathaoirleach of Donegal County Council along with ASCENT Project Partners and those attending the launch of the ASCENT project
20th October 2016.
ASCENT is a three year project funded by the IVB Northern Periphery & Arctic Programme 2014-2020, which will bring together Local and Environmental Authorities to collectively address the environmental challenges facing five Northern European partner regions with Errigal mountain in the Derryveagh Mountains one of the seven upland sites.
Donegal County Council as lead partner, working collaboratively with Metsáhallitus Park and Wildlife in Finland, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and the Mourne Trust in Northern Ireland, Hordaland County Council in Norway, and the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland and associated partners including Údarás na Gaeltachta, Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust, Mossfellsbaer Municipality and Skaftárhreppur.
The ASCENT Project was officially launched by Cllr. Tererence Slowey, An Cathaoirleach of Donegal County Council at the foot of the iconic Errigal mountain in Dunlewey, Co Donegal on 20th October 2016 and was well attended by local, national and international representatives with key speakers including Seamus Neely, Chief Executive, Donegal County Council, Michael O’Brien, Northern & Western Regional Assembly, Paul Roarty, Dun Lùiche Community Group, Charles Sweeney and Rosita Mahony, Donegal County Council and representatives from each of the partner organisations – Virkkunen Veikko from Finland, Andres Arnalds from Iceland, Marta Dixon from Norway and Darren Rice and Matthew Bushby from Northern Ireland.
Donegal County Council, Ireland
Errigal Mountain is an iconic landmark and at 751 metres high and dominates the natural landscape of the north west of Donegal. Over the last 20 years, Errigal has become a popular destination for hill walkers challenged to ascend the highest peak in the County and to experience the panoramic views from its summit extending across the Derryveagh Mountains and the Poisoned Glen, to the Donegal Gaeltacht communities and its coastal villages dappled along the Wild Atlantic Way. In 2016, Errigal hosted over 30,000 visitors.
At a local level Donegal County Council is working with the local community in Dunlewey and also the Errigal Stakeholders Group, with a vision to ‘facilitate the responsible enjoyment of Errigal in a way that protects its special qualities and benefits the local community’. The ASCENT project is the way through which this shared vision will be achieved. Over the coming months ASCENT in relation to Donegal will install visitor monitoring equipment to capture visitor trends at Errigal mountain while also engaging with the Errigal stakeholders in the development of an upland path to withstand the pressures from visitors and to ensure the conservation of the natural environment in the long term.
Finland’s ASCENT site, Hossa, has been nominated to become the 40th Finnish National Park. It will celebrate Finland’s 100 years of independence. The grand opening festivities will take place on June 17th 2017 in Hossa and will attract thousands of visitors. Everybody is invited to take part in a colourful ensemble of outdoor celebrations. The new national park will be opened by the Finnish President, Mr. Sauli Niinistö.
A visitor survey will be implemented in Hossa. Field work will start during the coming summer. In order to get statistically relevant data, the survey will cover summer, autumn and winter seasons. It will provide important information for the management plan that will be drafted later. The management plan will guide visitors of the national park as well as help manage visitor flows. The ultimate goal is to manage the area in a sustainable way.
A responsible tourism conference to mark the 90th anniversary of the Icelandic Touring Association hosted by Soil Conservation Services of Iceland in association with Ferðafélag Íslands (The Iceland Touring Association) was held in May 2017 which provided advice to attending delegates on responsible tourism and awareness-raising among hikers about the role of footpaths and their design with respect to nature conservation. Helen Lawless from Mountaineering Ireland, provided a key note speech and met with hiking associations, representatives from the tourism industry, and administration sector and also the Ministry of Environment. Helen was also interviewed by the widely read www.bbl.is/baendabladid. Site visits included tourist/hiking sites that are under great stress and in need of management plans for footpaths and also visitor management plans.
As an ASCENT Partner, Soil Conservation Services of Iceland invited Dr. Bob Aitken – an independent research consultant in recreation tourism and countryside management – to speak with engineers and landscape architects about path management and design. A number of days were spent visiting both ASCENT sites at Elðraun and Mosfellsbær, where work is ongoing on trail management and other sites challenged with increasing tourism numbers. Engagement took place with the Ministry of Tourism about the best approach in managing and designing sites and about informing policy making in relation to responsible tourism and awareness-raising among tourists and hikers alike. Interviews by Icelandic TV (RUV) about path management and safety refer: http://ruv.is/frett/haettulega-gongustiga-tharf-ad-laga http://ruv.is/sarpurinn/klippa/lelegir-og-haetturlegir-gongustigar
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, Northern Ireland in conjunction with Mourne Heritage Trust
The Ring of Gullion Partnership and the Mourne Heritage Trust have been very busy over the last few months.
During May Chris York, from Walking the Talk, visited the area and has been working with the ASCENT team to create drawings in order to protect the rich habitats of Slieve Gullion and provide a sustainable path. We were very pleased to be able to consult with Mountaineering Ireland and industry leader Bob Aitken, who provided valuable insights into erosion control on Slieve Gullion.
There also has been lots of work happening at Slieve Donard. The team have been carrying out upland erosion repair work on the Glen River Path, which is the main route to the summit. The aim is to minimise erosion damage caused by walkers by building a trail and associated landscaping, which will encourage people to stay on the preferred, sustainable line. Passersbys were encouraged to make a donation towards the project though a donation box on site.
We are delighted that a number of volunteers have been involved with the ASCENT project. These volunteers vary from students, who are gaining valuable work skills experience, to retired people, who have enjoyed the exercise and fresh air.
ASCENT partner Hordaland County Council’s (HCC) site is within the iconic rock formation Trolltunga (Troll’s Tounge) in Odda, Norway. The dramatic increase in the number of hikers over the past few years has provided new jobs and enthusiasm in the area but nevertheless the sudden increase has caused challenges with erosion, rubbish and safety which must be addressed.
HCC has been working to link ASCENT up to national initiatives led by Innovation Norway and the Norwegian Environment Agency, where the aim is to find lasting solutions for path management, rubbish handling and safety. ASCENT project’s work at Trolltunga will be trialling solutions which may be implemented nationwide and the aim is to establish transferable methods and models for monitoring and handling of the challenges. HCC is also working with the Norwegian Trekking Association, who maintain about 20,000 km of foot trails across Norway. Establishing an agreement with the land owner in Odda, Statkraft will allow funding raised from parking to contribute to the upkeep of the trail and other facilities as a top priority. This will be the basis of a lasting system for maintaining the path, signposting and information to hikers. HCC and Odda municipality are also excited to be planning a visit from our ASCENT Partners in Northern Ireland, which will include their path team for a mutual exchange of learning and experiences.
Marta Dixon | ASCENT Project | Hordaland County Council
Pictured above Project Partners and Stakeholders engaged in discussions regarding path management while on a site visit at Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands
One of the key outputs of ASCENT is to share path management knowledge, to transfer international learning and best practice models across the partnership and to invite experts to consider key aspects of path management.
Therefore in March 2017 a delegation of 31 project partners, stakeholders and community representatives participated in a productive study visit to Scotland to learn about upland path management, maintenance and policies there. Numerous site visits were undertaken to Ben Lomond, the West Highland Way, while experiencing first hand path construction on a relatively narrow path at Coire nam Beith. Path repairs were observed at Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the United Kingdom.
A thematic seminar provided the opportunity for all delegates to learn from the experiences, knowledge and methods of leading experts in path management regarding – strategic thinking, people & paths, interventions and techniques, building capacity and funding.
Coinciding with the study visit, the second ASCENT Steering Committee Meeting took place on the 30th of March in Glasgow, to progress the multi annual work plan.
Thematic Seminar attended by ASCENT delegates who participated in a lively discussion with key note speakers – Chris York, Dr. Bob Aitken and Dougie Baird
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