Access to the Countryside Audit for the Antrim Coast and Glens

Posted on August 29th, 2012 · Posted in Latest News

Access to the Countryside Audit for the Antrim Coast and Glens AONB Project

On Wednesday evening,  22nd August 2012, Eileen Carson UFRC (also representing the East Antrim Rambling Club) and Alan McFarland UFRC [and also representing the Plodders RC], attended with other clubs and non-UFRC members, the Ballymena Showground’s, on the invite of Fiona Barbour, Development Executive with Outdoor Recreation NI (formerly CAAN)

 The purpose was to instigate consultations with   local walking groups and activity providers as part of the Access to the Countryside Audit for the Antrim Coast and Glens AONB Project,  on behalf of the  Causeway Coast & Glens Heritage Trust, Outdoor Recreation NI.

Below is an outline map of the project area. 

It is hoped the audit will inform and shape the strategic development of access within the Antrim Coast and Glens.  The ‘Heart of the Glens’ Landscape Partnership Scheme has £1.8 million available for spending over the next 5 years for projects which include improving access. 

The aim of the evening was to help add to the project research into, “assessing the current status of access, both in terms of official and non-official trails, with recommendations for future projects in light of the Landscape Partnership Scheme”.  This includes identifying all the trails and sites which are currently used within the AONB/LPS boundary, both official and non-official, on private and/or public land.  The project will primarily focus on walking however other activities such as off-road cycling, fishing, horse-riding etc will also be included.

With all our help , the project hopes to develop a full overview of the current access and then make recommendations for the sites/trails which should be taken forward for development, either to create new access or enhance/improve the existing access.

The roundtable discussions saddened and disheartened those with previous enjoyment of the area,  by the sheer number of relatively new access barriers by small holders, including on previously thought of way-marked trails, that have seen the deletion of many fine walks from club programmes . 

However, it was clear that some of these same land owners,  ‘willingly grant access on specific and demanding conditions communicated directly to, and only for the use of, responsive groups of individuals’, potentially signalling a will that if proper safeguards and legislation  were in place, many of these physical barriers to access may not continue to exist!

Adding to the discussion, Alan McFarland added the UFRC perspective that serious  future development and financial aid into recreational access and promotion of walking tourism in Northern Ireland as a whole, hinges on addressing the outdated legislation as advocated by the UFRC, with the support of others.

Current legislation actually prohibits farmers from offering access, by exasperating fears of unwarranted legal action against a land owner by a recreational walker using their land, while it singularly also fails to reassure or provide adequate private and public  land owners with the protections and policies needed to police responsible access to open commercial land and protect their crops and livestock from potential harm.

The UFRC continues to lobby government on the UFRC/ Law Commission [NI] paper of 2011 and proposals in opening the debate for legislative change along with a central government response to sustainable walking tourism that directly benefits local communities.  Examples of potential strengths and opportunities for the Glens and Antrim Hills communities and individual land owners, were identified in the working groups citing  collaborative practices and entrepreneurship in other more established walking area’s such as in Down and Louth.

The above initiative is a great opportunity to bring enhanced major investment into the area and promote responsible use of the natural features linking sporadic public lands by access through private land.   We would like to thank Fiona from Outdoor Recreation, and Sarah from Causeway Coast & Glens Heritage Trust, for their invite and wish them well in their enthusiasm and drive in moving the project forward.

Email Fiona for info at:   [email protected]

More info on Heart of the Glens can be found at www.ccght.org

Alan McFarland

Click on the following link for more details:

http://www.ccght.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Access-Audit-Tender-Document-2012.pdf