Newsletter No 25                                     Spring 2005 

 

Editorial : The Wicklow 'Access Route' Saga

This issue, supposedly about the closing off of 33 'access routes' leading to mountain areas in Wicklow, is important - but almost solely because of the publicity about access routes that is generated. The history of the saga is this. Wicklow County Council (WCC) put some 'access routes ' (the term has no legal standing) into their Development Plan in 1999. No one thought anything about it and WCC in particular did nothing to secure these routes, which are un-signposted and un-mapped, so no one knows where they are. So it was just a piece of window dressing. In the Development Plan last year WCC repeated the exercise but in this case the affected landowners were incensed and the 'access routes' were hurriedly withdrawn. The whole sorry episode has been referred to an interim committee of WCC. Since the 'access routes' are unlikely to be secured whether WCC has them in its Plan or not walkers will continue to muddle through, relying on the goodwill of landowners. Don't expect any action by WCC to help us.

KIO wins major battle in Europe

KIO has, after a long and expensive campaign in Brussels, won a major battle in the war against barbed wire fencing, which it describes (in Eurospeak) as 'access- denying and eyesores'. We brought Petition 660/2202 on barbed wire fencing, particularly in the West of Ireland, to the European Parliament and the latter now complains about ' the landscape degradation caused to open scenic landscapes by post-and-wire fencing of the kind referred to by the petitioner (KIO)'. The Parliament is currently considering the appropriate next steps it will take, given Ireland's failure to heed a previous warning. The Parliament states that 'Ireland relies on a simple size threshold of 100 hectares below which projects are exempt from the need for development consent or environmental impact assessment. This does not take sufficient account of factors such as the possibility of the threshold being circumvented'. KIO will now bring this judgement to the attention of Irish Ministers and other politicians. Those of us who have walked in the West in particular will know what an eyesore these fences are and worse still how they can prevent access. What is less well known however, is that sheep, accustomed to roam freely and seeking minerals where they may are now confined to small areas. It's not only walkers who suffer!

One small step for walkers, (maybe) one giant leap for access

A disputed right of way across Dun Laoghaire Golf Club's new course on the Dublin-Wicklow border has been resolved in favour of walkers. There has been a slight alteration to the route but the beginning and end points are the same. Legal costs are to be borne by the owner of the land, who will also contribute €3,000 to the council towards realignment of the route. This battle has been fought by primarily the Enniskerry Walking Association, who are already involved in two major battles in Glencree. KIO, among others, played a supportive role in this dispute. Local recreational and rural development groups should take heart from the efforts of the Enniskerry Walking Association who had the full support of Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council in defending a traditional right of way. All too often such rights of way have vanished without trace and continue to do so in the face of greedy landowners and developers.

Legal challenge in county Wicklow

A well known track across the top of Glencree Valley was the subject of a three day court case recently. The case concluded on Thursday 12th May and Judge Bryan McMahon is expected to deliver his judgement over the next four weeks. Whatever the outcome congratulations once again to the Enniskerry Walking Association and the local folk for giving evidence in an environment that is fraught with stress and anxiety.

Bray to Greystones Cliff Walk

For well over a year this 5km walk along the spectacular cliffs of Bray Head has had forbidding notices erected by Wicklow County Council. This in spite of the fact that it was perfectly possible to walk it and only those unused to our habit of ignoring signs (e.g. tourists) were taking the notices seriously.When questioned about whether the notices were necessary and with the threat of unwanted publicity, Wicklow County Council removed the signs at each end leaving only two in the middle. The power of the press!

Loughshinny and Rush Nth. Co Dublin

Correspondence from Richard K, Nth Co Dublin.

On Friday 22nd April a centuries old walkway between Loughshinny and Rush was fenced off with 3 metre high fence posts and barbed wire.

The land has not been used for any purpose but part of it is under the control of a Government Department because of archeological importance.

Editor's comment : We advised Richard that under the Planning Act 2000, land that has been open for more than 10 years cannot be fenced off without planning permission. If no planning permission is granted they will have to take the fencing down and apply for planning permission. At this stage objections can be made to any proposed fencing or development. Contact the Planning Enforcement Officer in your local council who is required to give you the information about planning permission etc.

Richard contacted the Fingal County Council and was told that that there is no record of any planning application ever being received for the land in question. Fingal County Council asked him to forward in writing to their Planning Enforcement Section an objection to the fencing and advised that they will follow it up in due course. An Taisce have also expressed an interest in this case.

The Independent calls for Access

In a second leader on the 11th April the Irish Independent came out strongly in favour of access. With the help of data from KIO it claimed correctly that only 3 of the thirty counties in the Republic have shown any interest in rights of way. It stated significantly ' the subject must be addressed at national level. It is useless for the government to leave it to local councils, or to a national forum which could talk for years and decide nothing'. Exactly!

Uggool Beach

Yet another complaint to Mayo County Council from a would-be visitor to this long-blocked beach. The writer states 'our pleas have fallen on deaf ears, and met only with procrastination. Last summer we found the car parking area at the Silver Strand fenced off, without warning. There was a shoddy box on which a hand written note had been placed requesting 'donations' to park! On a useless piece of bog land!

Editor's comment : Mayo County Council, adept at masterly inactivity, can be expected to live up to their reputation.

Money Money Money                      Beara Hills Co. Kerry

Recently walking on the Beara Hills in Kerry I decided to descend via Glen Inchiquin, three or four kilometres west of Tuosist. As I started my descent I noticed several signs indicating how the owners had kindly provided seats, picnic areas, viewing areas, car parks and so on. I pressed on to what is an obviously public road, only to be overtaken by a woman who had obviously come down from the farmhouse further back and obviously the originator of the signs. I was persistently asked for an 'entrance fee' to 'the park' which I had inadvertently crossed and used the facilities of - namely the track leading off the mountain. Needless to say I did not pay. Nor did I say what I wanted to say, such as the fact that countless tax payers in Ireland and other EU countries have been paying farmers in this country for years only to discover that they - the farmers- are now holding walkers to ransom and that most of the farmers are now far more wealthy than those who paid for them in the first place. D. P. West Cork

KIO meets Fáilte Ireland

Roger Garland, KIO's chairman and David Herman, recently met Shaun Quinn, Fáilte Ireland's CEO and Paddy O'Mahony, Project Marketing Officer in charge of marketing walking tourism. The two Fáilte Ireland (FI) executives showed a sense of urgency about solving the problems of access, which they agreed has led to the collapse in the number of walking tourists. They agreed with us that obtrusive fencing was a formidable deterrent to access and should be curbed. FI has been working behind the scenes to impress the government of the seriousness of the situation. FI puts faith in the efforts of C na T to come up with a voluntary code to allow access. FI hopes that within two years or so this will result in a large number of 'access points' on the borders of mountain land from which will develop paths through this land. It is not clear to us how access points are of much use without freedom to roam (preferably) or rights of way in the areas within these borders. KIO hopes that C na T is successful in this but sees little or no positive results from its deliberations so far. KIO is far from convinced that Minister O'Cuiv can deliver on his promises without offering either substantial payment to landowners or by introducing legislation, to both of which he is opposed. KIO will nonetheless continue to participate in C na T

Walking Tourism Figures Challenged

Fáilte Ireland has recently produced a horrifying set of figures showing the drastic decline in incoming walking tourism, down to nearly a half between 1999 and 2003. The evident reason for this, the parlous state of access was challenged by the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, who claimed that all types of outdoor tourism were down. While this is true, Fáilte Ireland has stated that in the case of walking the main reason is lack of access. KIO had a letter published in the Irish Times of 15th April and there was a similar letter supporting our position on 19th April.

So Mr Thompson of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association reckons that farmers are not to blame for the disastrous fall in the number of walking tourists (report April 12th). He knows full well that we live in a country with virtually no signposted rights of way and no area of private land where walkers can go without the possibility of a bruising encounter with an angry landowner. Nor is this just a remote possibility, since huge areas are barred by offensive notices and barbed wire fencing which are especially prevalent in Mr Thompson's Sligo, the county that also boasts a farmer twice convicted of assaulting walkers. All this is in stark contrast to our European neighbours where walkers are made welcome, where there is a fair balance between their rights and the rights of landowners and where the government does more than bleat feebly about purely voluntary measures when faced with the intransigence of the farming organisations. In those countries landowners have some sense of community, and more importantly realise that they owe something back to the taxpayers without whose generous support they would not be able to live in a pleasant rural setting. For example in England and Wales there are legal rights of way and freedom to roam, plus cross-compliance measures introduced in the recent CAP reforms to protect access to the countryside, which has created a walking tourist business worth £6 billion sterling and created in the region of 250,000 full time jobs. Mr Thompson and the policies of his organisation, plus the actions of his members has had the opposite effect in Ireland.

Blowing our own Trumpet

The March/April 2005 issue of Walking World Ireland, a magazine that has been consistently behind the cause of access in Ireland, has a thought provoking editorial. In it the Editor foresees in the near future a much-improved climate for access, based mainly on the successful outcome of the compensation case in Donegal, the fact that Ireland remains beautiful ant that 'a critical mass of outdoor enthusiasts cannot be far off'. We do not quite agree with this optimism and in particular the point about the 'critical mass'. The 'mass' can be enormous but if it is not 'critical' then it will achieve nothing. Successive governments fear taking on pressure groups, regardless of the rights and wrongs of the case. Witness the militant farming lobby, which has consistently thumbed its nose at government on environmental and other issues. This is where Keep Ireland Open is so important. We are the only national body pushing for access. We are the organisation the media usually come to if they want the recreational users' viewpoint. In addition, we carry out research, we raise the issues with politicians, we takes cases to Brussels ( the important ruling on barbed wire in the west, reported in this edition, is a case in point). We can take legitimate pride in being in the forefront of raising the issue of access in Ireland, both here and abroad. But let's face it. We are up against the inertia of walkers and walking groups, who are content if they can do their weekly walk and who do not care about the larger picture. We need as many as possible to help to help us in bringing the parlous state of access to the wider public. We walkers have the mass, now we need to be a lot more critical.

Stark Warning for Dingle Tourism

This was an uncompromising headline in The Kerryman and reprinted in the national newspapers. The article in question was a report of a special meeting of Comharchumann Turasoireacht Coirce Dhuibhne (CTCD) in Dingle recently. Dingle also got very negative publicity in the Lonely Planet Guide which indicated that hospitality in that area is no longer what it used to be. The CTCD Chairperson Caroline Boland stated. She said that the problems surrounding access to the countryside for walkers are still unresolved and asked landowners to replace negative signage with less offensive language.

Editor's comment : 'The problems surrounding access to the countryside' will remain unresolved until the Government takes decisive action, something it has firmly set its face against. As for less offensive language on signage , we accept that this is of some importance, but if the import of the message remains the same, not that important.

Fáilte Ireland calls in the consultants

Fáilte Ireland is in the process of hiring consultants to develop short looped walking routes in Ireland as soon as possible. The accompanying explanatory notes, which KIO has seen, describe a country where happy farmers exchange pleasantries with hordes of walkers who afterwards express their great satisfaction with their walking experience in Ireland. Unfortunately, the facts are not like that and Fáilte Ireland knows it (see the article elsewhere). The consultants who are to tender must be asking themselves why they are needed when everything in the garden is so rosy!

Rights of Way by Dedication

A farmer in the Knockmealdowns on the Munster Way and a landowner (since deceased) in the Lough Dan area of Co. Wicklow have offered to dedicate walks through their property to public use and have received no response from their local County Councils! While we do not see this as being a major way forward in national terms it was a generous gesture and certainly deserved a positive response. KIO has written to C na T to see if progress can be made using this approach.

Condolences Ronnie Petrie RIP

We wish to express our sincere condolences to the family of Ronnie Petrie on his recent death. Ronnie was a great friend of walkers and made available to us that wonderful path looking down on Lough Dan in Co. Wicklow. May he rest in peace.

 

Wicklow (Conifer) Way

A correspondent writes from Scotland :

'How many walkers in Ireland suffer from Conifer Overload Syndrome?' My husband and I walked the section of the Wicklow Way from Glenmalure to Aughavannagh recently. Never again! We slogged through dense conifers nearly all day , emerging only occasionally to catch a glimpse of lovely mountains. Looking at the map at the end of a very dull day we saw that if the route had been on the other side of the road it would have been mostly along the top of an open ridge! We also noted from the map that long stretches of the Way further north are also through forest. Is this the norm for Irish way-marked routes?

Deirdre Levins Inverness

Editor's comment : All too often it is the norm. To avoid taking on landowners many routes run through state forests or even along roads. Another good reason to take on landowners and so provide scenic and safe routes.

Quads Tackled

Bye-laws to restrict the use of quad bikes in the Wicklow Mountains are currently being examined. Cllr. Fachtna Whittle told Monday's area meeting of the council that the use of quad bikes in the mountains was growing. He said that between 10 and 40 quad bikes rode along the mountain trails, some of which traversed designated Special Areas of Conservation. The councillor reported that farmers were very concerned as any damage to an SAC could result in a reduction in their REPS payments.

Guidebook writers beware!

'Hill Walkers Atlantic Ireland', a guidebook to the best of the West, has come under legal challenge. One of the routes describes what the author, David Herman, was reliably informed was a well established, though un-signposted right of way in Glencroff, a remote area in the northern Maamturks. He recently received a solicitor's letter disabusing him of that notion and informing him that future editions must exclude any mention of a walk in that area ( in this the complainants are more reasonable than other landowners, who have demanded the immediate exclusion of any route through their land). The good landowners of Glencroff need have no fear, as the author will not be producing a guidebook to that area - or anywhere else. The reason is not difficult to guess: the very fact that every route over private land anywhere is open to a legal challenge.

 


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