THE ASCENT PROJECT AT SLIEVE DONARD
Showcasing the need for Management and Repairs
Slieve Donard is one of Northern Ireland’s two ASCENT project sites, located in the south of County Down. Slieve Donard forms the highest mountain in the Mourne Mountain range, and is the highest Mountain overall in Northern Ireland with a height of 850m above sea level. It is protected under a number of European designations; it is classified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, an Area of Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation due to the sensitive heathland habitats which exist within the mountains.
The key challenges faced on this site are rapidly increasing visitor numbers, unrestricted access and the conflicting usage of the mountain by different stakeholders. The Glen River trail from Newcastle is the most popular route up to the peak, with over 90,000 visitors ascending the mountain through this way. The path is popular with hikers, runners, challenge events, sponsored walks and mountain bikers. The path popularity is largely due to its origin in the seaside town of Newcastle, which is a popular tourist destination in the summer. This often draws a number of visitors up the trail who are ill-prepared for mountain hiking, which places considerable strain on the local Mountain Rescue and other emergency services in the area.
The management of the mountain can be difficult due to the high range of stakeholders who claim ownership of the area; NI Water services manage the South side of the mountain as a catchment area, local landowners have grazing rights to the upper Mournes, the Forestry manages commercial woodlands at the base of the mountain, and the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council are responsible for all car parks and rights-of-way associated with the area.
Through the ASCENT Project, the Mourne Heritage Trust’s task was to repair and modify existing tracks to the top of Slieve Donard, in order to create a more robust path network able to withstand increasing visitor numbers, increase safety on the mountains and to protect adjacent heathland communities from the effects of visitor footfall. A key aim for the charity was also to develop a feasibility study to showcase the need for more consistent management of upland areas, by employing a full time path repair team for the duration of this project and placing emphasis on volunteer involvement, constant effort and ‘Stitch in Time’ capacity building solutions which maintain the balance between competing environmental, economic and social interests.
A final aim is to develop capacity, international learning and knowledge sharing across all ASCENT Project Partners and beyond. This is being achieved by trialling new technologies for knowledge sharing; particularly media, social networking, film making, mapping, and new information platforms. A ‘Path Work’ training course is also currently under development for land managers.
Working in partnership, and developing networks of support for land managers across all project partners is vital in order to secure our upland areas for years to come. The ASCENT Project has facilitated opportunities to establish these relationships and networks which will be paramount as we face future challenges.
Did you know?
The name ‘Slieve Donard’ comes from the name of a local Christian missionary, Saint Donard (Sliabh Domhanghairt), who is said to have appropriated the mountain for Christianity in the 8th Century. Before this, the mountain was known as Sliabh Slángha, or “Slángha’s mountain”, referring to the mythical Slángha, son of Partholón, who was said to be the first physician in Ireland.
Mr. Matthew Bushby
Ascent Project Partner
WHAT OUR COMMUNITY HAS TO SAY
I love the Mourne Mountains and I feel really lucky to have such a great area to explore and enjoy. Seeing the ASCENT Path Team working hard is great as I think it motivates others to value and take care of the area, and I appreciate all the hard work that goes into taking care of the paths.
— Judith Franklin
Portadown, County Armagh – Hiker
The ASCENT project has provided momentum for shared initiatives and closer partnerships between the National Trust and Mourne Heritage Trust, as we work towards the common goals of sustainable access and habitat conservation in the Mourne Mountains.
— Patrick Lynch
Conservation Lead Ranger, National Trust, Murlough Nature Reserve & Mourne
The Mountains have a lot to offer for people of all ages. We visit the Mournes regularly to keep our young ones active with walking, biking, exploring caves and seeing new sights. We love that the ASCENT project is making it possible for more people to enjoy the area without damaging it in the process by making sturdy paths. It means our kids will be able to keep enjoying the area for many years to come!
— The Brannigan Family
Newcastle, County Down – Local Family
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