The National Trust is appealing to visitors to Divis and the Black Mountain to park responsibly, keep dogs on leads and bring their litter home as incidents of anti-social behaviour continue to rise.
When the Trust took over the care and conservation of the mountain on the outskirts of Belfast, visitor numbers sat at around 30,000 a year. That figure has ballooned to over 170,000 visitors in 2019 with 2020 numbers expected to be even higher as people rediscover the benefits of spending time in nature following the easing of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.
As a result, the two free car parks at Divis fill up quickly at peak times with people choosing to park along Divis Road, resulting in traffic congestion. But traffic chaos isn’t the only issue, the Trust is also facing a growing problem of littering and dogs not being kept on leads.
Joshua Watts, general manager for the National Trust in Belfast says: “Thankfully most of our visitors are courteous however a significant number do not adhere to our guidance to park off the road. There have been a small number of instances of people directing severe anger and aggression towards our staff whenever we ask people to use a car park or to keep their dogs on a lead.
“There have been more instances of people driving and parking irresponsibly throughout the road, leading to a few near-miss road traffic collisions which at times have been in close proximity to our staff. We have seen incidents of people parking across driveways of houses on the road, blocking in the local residents and we have concerns that emergency services would be unable to access the road in the case of an emergency due to people parking on the verges and making the road unpassable.”
While the Trust is not responsible for traffic management on the road – that falls to the Department for Infrastructure and the PSNI – it has taken a number of measures to try and address the issue as Joshua explains: “As well as opening discussions to work on longer term solutions with Belfast City Council, the Department for Infrastructure and key stakeholders, we’ve taken some immediate actions such as opening the car parks from 8am – 8pm, seven days a week; directing traffic into the upper carpark and using additional signage to prevent inconsiderate parking on the road.
“We are asking people to avoid visiting Divis during peak periods and have introduced messaging on our website that encourages people to visit off peak and walk or cycle where possible.”
These measures are not without cost. The Trust estimates it has spent over £8,000 in additional wages and materials as a result of the traffic congestion and litter problem at Divis since lockdown restrictions were lifted at the end of May.
Rangers have spent an estimated 306 hours on traffic management and 126 hours on litter collection, a figure which rises to 210 hours when volunteer hours are included.
“For a conservation charity these figures are unsustainable,” adds Joshua. “The pandemic has had a detrimental impact on the Trust’s finances and it’s vital that we restrict our spending to supporting our conservation work. At the moment our rangers are being prevented from carrying out essential work such as the removal of invasive species, infrastructure repair and path restoration.
“We are appealing to those visitors travelling to Divis by car to show consideration for others and park responsibly. Once on the mountain we ask that you keep your dog on a lead and bring your rubbish home with you.
“If people would follow these simple and courteous instructions, the mountain would be a much more enjoyable place for everyone to visit and our rangers could get back to what they do best, looking after special places like Divis and the Black mountain for everyone, for ever.”
For more information on planning a visit to Divis and the Black Mountain visit https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/divis-and-the-black-mountain