Newsletter No 26 Summer/Autumn 2005 

 

Editorial : The Agri-Aware Survey on Access

The results of this survey were published at the end of July and attracted much media attention. It was carried out by Agri-Aware, which was set up by the farming and food industry to promote a positive image of farming, a point that should be borne in mind when analysing its findings. As far as we can see this survey was carried out among the public at large, not among walkers, never mind hill walkers. It is not a random sample, a most important point that doesn't seem to have been picked up by the media. Of the 405 persons questioned over 28% lived in a rural area and only 26% live in a city or city suburb. But in the country as a whole over 48% live in towns and cities with a population of over 10,000 and nearly 60% in towns over 1,500. The survey therefore has a clear rural bias and is therefore more likely to give a 'favourable result' Even if the selection were unbiased, the general public would hardly be aware of the many access problems facing hill walkers; if they were the results might have been quite different. For instance, only 6% of those surveyed had problems while pursuing leisure activities; the corresponding figure from a recent MCI survey is 47%.

Anyway, almost half of this unbiased survey would be prepared to pay a nominal charge for access and most share the farmers' concern about privacy. However, nearly 80% think that the public should have the right of access to public amenities across farmland where no other route is possible. It would be interesting to know how the public, (as measured by in a truly random manner), would have felt if they knew that access without any grant is the norm elsewhere in Europe and even more relevant, if this survey had been carried out after the IFA's outrageous Countryside Walkways Plan had been unveiled. The question the survey did not ask was; should farmers in return for the huge subsidies they receive be obliged to allow reasonable access through their land. Our guess is that the answer would be close to 100% yes.

A Smash and Grab Operation

The IFA, in its countryside Walkways Plan, demonstrates the confidence it has that demands, no matter how outrageous, will still be listened to seriously in certain quarters. This Plan proposes that farmers be granted €5,000 per year for one kilometre of walkway, plus €1,000 per year per farmer as a little icing on the cake. All this for simply allowing walkers across their land! This is in the context where any grant for access is very much the exception rather than the norm all across Europe where the EU promotes the recreational use of the countryside, where Irish farmers already derive 70% of their income from the taxpayers of Europe and increasingly in Ireland for doing precisely nothing. The statement made in the letters pages of the national newspapers that maintenance work is part of the package is plainly wrong. The IFA is making this demand regardless of the work involved (if any) and any stiles, signposts etc. could attract an additional payment (rightly so, but it is not part of the package outlined above). The IFA proposes 2,000 km of pathway so costing per year a cool €15m (€10m for walkways plus €5m total for the lucky 5000 farmers involved) should it be accepted. But 2,000 km of walkway is nothing compared say with the 225,000 km of Rights of Way in England and Wales. Suppose, for argument's sake we end up with 125,000 km of walkways. This would cost the Irish exchequer a massive €625m, plus all the €1,000s for each landowner! Per year! The whole idea is preposterous. By the way, there is nothing in the IFA plan about freedom to roam. Watch out for further demands based upon the number of square millimetres conceded. We have said it before, unfortunately we have had to say it many times; the sooner the government tells the farming organisations where to get off and explains where their more than generous grants are coming from the better for all of us.

Wicklow Mountains National Park Plan

The Wicklow Mountains National Park (NP) Plan for the next few years is quite disappointing. KIO made a submission to it but we were wasting our time. According to the Plan the primary objective of the NP is conservation and recreational use comes a bad second, which might be acceptable in the West but hardly near a large population centre. There is little said about trying to develop an alternative 'honey pot' to Glendalough, nothing about or any idea about developing sign-posted walking routes rather than those in Glendalough. The idea of a shuttle bus is mentioned (surely that would be an excellent development radiating from say Sally Gap) but not developed. Nothing is said about accessing NP territory from say the south-west side of Glenmalure or the eastern side of Scarr, two areas where there have been and could again be clashes between landowners and walkers. Maybe we are wrong but this seems to show that the NP authorities are, like all government agencies prepared to let courageous individuals, supported by KIO, take on landowners but are prepared to do nothing themselves. However, before we get too dismissive let's not forget that national parks are one of the few areas in the country where walkers and other recreational users have a legal right to access, and are not beholden to landowners as in nearly every other part. For this we must be truly grateful.

Problem, What Problem?

We mentioned in the last newsletter that Failte Ireland (FI) were, according to two of its leading executives whom KIO talked to recently, very concerned about access and the stunning effects these problems were having on walking tourism. Maybe we were naïve enough to hope that FI would mention access problems in public but at least a diplomatic silence might have been appropriate. Not a bit of it. At a recent meeting a leading FI executive announced that the dramatic fall in walking tourism numbers was due to the foot and mouth crisis of 2002, from which, allegedly, walking tourism has not yet recovered! This extraordinary statement was refuted by a letter in the Irish Times from a KIO member who quoted what FI themselves had said in an internal memo in 2003; 'the principal problem facing the walking tourism product is access and it must be solved post-haste'. FI's research update of July 2005 goes one better; not only is foot and mouth not he cause of any problem, there's no problem at all! We quote: 'In general , walkers and hikers are very happy with their experience in Ireland, with almost 90% returning home praising their holiday in Ireland'. This on the back of the halving of numbers of incoming tourists in the last few years, an unpleasant fact that was of course not referred to. It's a pity that there is no mechanism to interview the walking tourists who came a few years ago, never to return, interviews that might have given a more realistic idea of the parlous state of walking tourism. There is a more serious point to be made here. If those who are suppose to know these matters come out publicly with such tosh, the true, serious situation is lost in a miasma of self-satisfied delusion and it is left to KIO to point out the facts. No other organisation will do it!

Threats in the North-West

Mr O'Cuiv, the Minister, given the unenviable task of sorting out access problems, had a stormy reception in Sligo recently. He addressed a meeting of farmers in Sligo town, appealing to their completely non-existent spirit of community solidarity. He got the usual response: rants about how everyone in tourism was benefiting from hill walkers and how farmers were getting nothing our of it couples with threats to close off what the Farmers Journal described as 'huge tracts (sic) of land'. The farmers concerned seemed not to know, or rather did not care to advert to the unpalatable fact that they could not live where they do were it not for the generous grants they receive from the taxpayer of Europe and Ireland. This is something that the Minister might have pointed out, but as usual he chose not to. This meeting led to correspondence in the Journal, which admirably is not afraid of publishing letters unpalatable to some farmers, and which attracted just such a letter from a KIO supporter.

Problems in the South-West

For reasons which we will explain, we are not going to mention the precise town involved. This town had what has up to recently been a successful walking festival. Unfortunately, local farmers have taken exception to it and have blocked off several of the routes used in the festival. So what did the organisers do? Well, they wrote privately to the Minister for Tourism, who did not seem to know anything about C na T, which is supposed to solve our access problems, since he suggested that the organisers contact the Minister of the Environment, who has nothing to do with such problems. However the organisers of the festival did not go public on the access problems, though their brochure has had to have cancelled notices on several of their proposed walks. And the reason for their not going public? We are surmising but it seems to us that if the unfortunate organisers kick up a fuss in public then even more routes will be blocked off: after all in a situation where all the legal power lies on one side, that of the landowners, they can wield the big stick with impunity. One wonders how many other problems of access are unrecorded for this or similar reasons?

Letter from KIO to Mountain Log Summer 2005

Wicklow walking routes

While Joss Lynham, in his letter in the spring Log, is quite correct in stating that the draft Wicklow Development Plan included a schedule of "Access Routes" without consultation with the landowners, he failed to mention that the draft was taken in toto from the 1999 Plan. Clearly there was no need to consult landowners. Also, if one studies the actual wording in the Plan it will be seen that the list is purely aspirational. Section 6.1.16 states that the schedule "lists a number of existing access routes to amenity areas that will be established on a more formal footing only with the consent and in consultation with landowners". The issue of access routes became a very emotive issue in the run up to the adoption of the Plan last year due to the misrepresentation of the true situation by certain Councillors representing landowning interests and by the IFA. In any event there is no need to, and in our view, nor any purpose in listing "access routes" in development plans. From our sturdy of other county plans Wicklow is the only county engaging gin this futile exercise. What is needed is the restoration of the 14 public Rights of Way listed in t he draft plan, this time with accurate maps not the totally ridiculous maps produced by the Council.

Mountain Log replied : 'The MCI Executive have already decided that a quarterly publication Is not the correct place to publish letters that are part of an on-going debate. It was suggested that perhaps such might be better placed if they were put on the MCI's website, where other members might be better able to respond to them in a timely fashion.' All very well, except that the Mountain Log is widely read compared to the MCI website which is accessed by very few people.

The Famine Road Glencree

Mr Niall Collen the wealthy builder has appealed the Circuit Court decision in favour of the existence of a legal Right of Way. No date has been fixed for the appeal. We will keep you informed.

Media

The Agri Aware Survey on Access and the IFA Walkways Plan lead to at least two major articles on access in the Irish Times recently. That of Lorna Siggins, bizarrely title 'The Fall and Rise of Walking' was a mixture of unfounded hope and pious nonsense, culmination in a leading officer of Ireland-West tourism who stated 'we're moving beyond access, if you like'. We look forward to being informed how this feat was achieved. The other, by Mary Rafferty, was titled 'Everyone has a right to Ramble' attacked the IFA proposals in no uncertain terms an d compared Ireland's chronic access problems with the situation in Scotland, now light-years ahead of us. She described the IFA Walkways Plan as follows: 'But when the fine words were stripped away it amounted to little less than an attempted rain on the public purse'. The editorial went on to mention that 'in other countries, support for farming in an environmentally friendly manner and protecting wildlife in upland areas is regarded as an intrinsic part of an open countryside policy. Here, the IFA is trying to have its cake and eat it.'

Burren Way- Cliffs of Moher

We have been receiving bad reports about access to the Cliffs of Moher. Judging by a recent report from a reliable source - a former TD - the situation is worse than ever. He reports: "using the latest Discovery Map I looked in vain, at the southern end of the cliffs for the start of the Way at Liscannor. The map clearly shows the start of the walk in the centre of the village. A short walk should have brought us to a path along the seashore. However, there was no sign of the "yellow man" posts. Eventually we were told that this route had not been maintained and had been abandoned. We were advised to take the car nearer the Cliffs and start again on a tarred road. We picked up a signpost "Burren Way to Doolin" as per the map. At the end of the road where the walk was mapped to continue, we came to an abrupt halt. Two gates with threatening notices barred our way, along with an irate farmer who refused our polite request to be allowed to cross his land. After a brief interchange, we turned back and managed to find our way to the cliff path proper by another route. Before departing we pointed out to the farmer that he might like to consider where his "cheque in the post" was coming form. His reply is unprintable in, as we say, a family magazine. Meanwhile we had been joined by a couple of very pleasant Germans from Cologne. They were not amused, but were somewhat mollified with my profuse apologies on behalf of the ordinary non-landowning people of Ireland. It's really a shame. The cliff walk is absolutely breathtaking - it must be one of the fines tin the world. Ah well, those two visitors won't be troubling us again.

Three models for access

If we look at other developed countries , countryside access falls into three main types, although many countries (i.e England and Wales under new countryside legislation) benefit from a mixture of all three.

Freedom to Roam

A contentious model in the Irish context but one which is enjoyed, subject to various degrees of restriction, in many European countries. Switzerland and parts of Germany enjoy the Betretungsrecht tradition of public access. In Sweden walkers benefit from the Allemansrätt which translates as 'Everyman's Right' or the Right of Common Access' a medieval tradition allowing even across enclosed land that still enjoys the support of landowners. Norway and Denmark have similar arrangements.

Rights of Way

This is the cornerstone of access in France where there are 120,000 km of legally protected and enforceable Rights of Way. Prior to the new legislation in Scotland, England and Wales this was also the main form of access there. In fact, England and Wales have an even bigger network of Rights of Way than France. In principle, Northern Ireland shares similar laws on Rights of Way as the rest of the UK, but in practise has nowhere like the same density of paths. The Republic of Ireland does not provide any legal Protection for Rights of Way, and established paths considered such are normally the result of a tradition of permissive access that can be withdrawn at any time.

National Park

Government-owned land, whether designated as a national park or other form of protected area, is perhaps the most straightforward form of access. Ireland's national park system currently covers only about 1% of the country and still does not cater very well for walkers' needs. They are not a panacea and can be dependent on access around their perimeters.

Mt. Aspiring National Park New Zealand has a very healthy walking tourism economy based on the huge national park system which makes up 30% of the country.

KIO Committee

Many thanks to Kitty Murphy (CHA) who has stepped down as Membership Secretary/Treasurer of KIO after nearly ten years of invaluable service and to Brain Graham (An Óige) for his valuable contribution to the committee for the past few years. Brian has recently been appointed as Secretary of An Óige and we wish them both every success for the future.

 

  


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