Conservation charity flies in support to complete Mourne mountain pathway

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The National Trust’s project to restore nearly 3.4km of path on Slieve Donard continues with the help of grant funding from DAERA’s Environment Fund.

Path project in figures to date:

  • One helicopter
  • 190 tons of stone
  • Two full time rangers
  • Over 100 volunteers
  • 2,200 volunteer hours

The Trust is over half-way through a two-year project to create a sustainable path on Slieve Donard to protect the delicate eco system of the Mournes from the wear and tear that comes from being one of the top walking destinations in Northern Ireland. 

To date the Trust’s Mountain Rangers Clare O’Reilly and Marc Alcon, together with the support of over 100 volunteers and specialised upland contractors, have repaired nearly 1.5km of path to Slieve Donard along the Glen River and Bloody Bridge paths, and re-landscaped areas around the upland paths with the view to restoring three hectares of priority habitats.

Laborious and intense, the team can be seen working in all weather conditions on the mountain, manually repairing the popular Glen River Path. However sometimes manpower alone isn’t enough and for three days, beginning 25 November, the Trust has hired in assistance from a helicopter to lift 190 tons of recycled stone onto the mountain.

Area ranger Patrick Lynch explains: “We had reached an area known as ‘The Stairs’, just before the ‘Saddle’ that connects Slieve Donard with Slieve Commedagh. It’s a very steep landscape and one that has seen a lot of erosion due to water damage coming off the summit and the impact of over 100,000 visitors treading the path each year.

“There was simply no other way of getting the materials up to this height without the use of helicopter support, as driving heavy machinery up and down the mountain would have caused additional habitat damage and loss. We are delighted that a recent grant from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Environment Fund allowed us to move forward with this critical part of the project.”

The helicopter made a total of 190 trips over three days, dropping 190 one-ton bags of stone at selected locations along the pathway. “The drop off points were approved by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency,” Patrick explains. “The bags were placed in areas of high erosion where we plan to repair the path and restore the habitat. We’re using materials that have been sourced locally from three disused quarries on the mountain owned by the Trust, so we are using recycled materials in the maintenance of the paths. We will also be looking at innovative ways to control erosion in this area such as the potential use of Geojute, a lightweight biodegradable netting used for vegetation establishment.”

190 tons of material will enable the restoration of another 900 metres of path leading to the summit of Slieve Donard, which at 850 metres is Northern Ireland’s highest mountain.  In some areas the ‘braided’ tracks on the mountain are up to 1.5metres deep requiring the use of stone pitching, an ancient technique for building paths and roads which although more time consuming and intense, results in a more robust path. 

Environment Minister Edwin Poots MLA said: “I am delighted to support this work through the Environment Fund and to work in partnership with the National Trust on one of the core path networks in the Mourne Mountains at Slieve Donard. I truly appreciate the work that the National Trust do as they focus on areas of environmental protection and restoration of priority habitats through the creation of a sustainable path on Slieve Donard. This is particularly important during this difficult financial climate as the impact of Covid-19 continues to be felt.  Now more than ever, it is important to get out and enjoy our beautiful countryside and to see at first hand the great work that is being carried out by the National Trust”.

Mourne Ranger Clare explains why the work she is doing to repair the path is so important, “The Mournes are a beautiful place, rightfully popular with local, national and international visitors. While it is wonderful to see people enjoying all this special place has to offer, every pair of feet adds to rising pressure on paths that also experience the most intense weather Northern Ireland has to offer. While we try to source stone materials from as close to the path as possible, the repairs needed required the use of a helicopter to bring in enough Mournes granite to create a safe, sustainable route and protect vital habitats.”

“The most challenging task was working on the first 300 metres of the path at Glen River valley,” adds Marc, the Trust’s second Mourne Ranger.  “This section of the path was not coping with the visitor pressure and the amount of water coming off the hill. We spent months, using only hand tools, moving tonnes of onsite natural materials landscaping, repairing the erosion scars and creating a robust path easily followed and enjoyed by walkers.”

“We couldn’t have restored the 1.5km of paths to Slieve Donard both at Glen River and Bloody Bridge without the help of our funders and volunteers,” continues Patrick. “We are incredibly grateful to DAERA for funding this project and to the community groups, businesses and individuals who have given over 2,200 hours of their time, assisting our rangers with the path repairs. Thanks to their efforts, people will be able to walk on paths along this popular route to the summit, protecting the landscape and its rich variety of habitat and wildlife.”

The path project has been funded with legacy funding from the National Trust and additional support from DAERA. Members of the public also have the opportunity to help protect this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty by donating to the fundraising campaign. Visit https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/the-mournes for more details on how to donate or volunteer.

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