THE ASCENT PROJECT AT SLIEVE GULLION
Keeping visitors on the right path
Slieve Gullion lies in the south of County Armagh, in the heart of the Ring of Gullion AONB and is the highest point in the county, with an elevation of 573 metres (1,880 ft). The summit of the mountain is unique in that it features a small lake and two ancient burial cairns, one of which is the highest surviving passage graves in Ireland.
Slieve Gullion is one of the largest heathlands in Northern Ireland with a variety of heathland type dominated by heather, lowland heaths and acid grasslands as well as a series of small wetlands known as ‘basin fens’, which are very diverse and of high conservation value. Some of the lowland heath communities are especially important for Northern Ireland. All of these habitats are highly specialised to the area, and are extremely sensitive to the damage caused by visitor footfall.
The key challenge for Slieve Gullion is the damage and erosion of sensitive habitats caused by increased usage and insufficient upland paths. The existing, undefined track was not sufficient to accommodate for the increase in visitor numbers, which rapidly expanded from pre 2012 counts of ~5,000 visitors per year, to ~31,000 visitors in 2017. The rapid increase in visitor numbers was associated with visitor infrastructure development of the Forest Park at the base of the mountain, and repair of the park’s top car park in 2012.
Upland paths on Slieve Gullion have drastically deteriorated due to increased use and other disturbances and this is having a detrimental impact on the Natura 2000 (Special Areas of Conservation) designated habitats. The summit of the mountain has experienced rapid erosion, forming an unsightly scar on the top of the mountain. The current path also poses risks to visitors due to the formation of deep peat hags, pits and gullies where footfall and weather erosion has occurred.
One of the key aims for Slieve Gullion under the ASCENT Project is to reduce the impact on habitats and the landscape caused by recreational use of the Slieve Gullion paths. The objective of the works is to provide an informal upland-style path network, that is more attractive than the surrounding ground and to discourage people from leaving the path. In addition, drainage features are required to prevent surface water from reaching the path and to remove rain water from the path. Our work will enable the delivery of repairs to Natura 2000 features on Slieve Gullion through organised training events, volunteer work and contractors work on the paths.
Recently, experts from “Walking the Talk”, a company with many years of experience in designing upland trails, undertook an in-depth survey of the route. Their recommendations include relocating existing boulders to create safe steps and innovative techniques, such as, using sheep’s wool as a base for the new trail. Contractors will use modern techniques to reduce damage and disturbance to the mountain, including helicopter flights to bring aggregate to the precise spot it is needed.
The end result will be a sustainable, ecologically sound and attractive path that will safely allow the 31,000 walkers who brave the summit each year, to extend their walks and make the most of this lovely area.
Did you know?
Slieve Gullion gets its name from the Irish: Sliabh gCuillinn, meaning “mountain of the steep slope”
The Ring of Gullion is one of the best ring-dyke systems in Ireland or Britain. Slieve Gullion itself is the finest example of a tertiary igneous centre in Ireland. The rock exposures on the mountain and surrounding areas are of international geological importance.
Mr. Darren Rice
Ascent Project Partner
WHAT OUR COMMUNITY HAS TO SAY
Slieve Gullion is on our doorstep and is a wonderful resource for young and old alike. Whether you walk it’s slopes, play in its park or chat with a friend over a coffee its beauty is stunning and offers something for everyone.
For the seasoned hill walker Slieve Gullion offers an abundance of possibilities. Follow the tourist path or take one of the lesser used routes along the Famine Wall... whatever the trail, you won’t be disappointed.
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