Monday, 23 November 2015

'From Corries to Coast' Photographic Exhibition A Celebration of Wicklow's Geological Heritage

From Corries to Coast’ Photographic Exhibition


A Celebration of Wicklow’s Geological Heritage

On top of her world, Greystones by Michael Hughes.
A photographic exhibition ‘From Corries to Coast’ celebrating Wicklow's Geological Heritage was organised by Wicklow Uplands Council in partnership with Wicklow County Council’s Heritage Office. An exhibition of some 30 photographs was launched at Blessington Library in August when the awards were presented and €500 in prize money given out.  The exhibition was on display in the Library for two weeks and was also shown at the Natural Wicklow Conference on the 18th and 19th October 2015 in Summerhill Hotel in Enniskerry.  There was great interest in the competition with over 170 entries received.  The exhibition is now on display in Wicklow County Council’s Buildings and will remain there till the end of this year when it will move to Greystones and Bray libraries in the New Year.

The aim of the photographic competition and exhibition was to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity, beauty and significance of geology in County Wicklow and the contribution it continues to make to our quality of life, our health and our wealth.  The landscape of Wicklow has been moulded by nature over many millions of years, giving us the distinctive mountains, lakes, valleys and coastline that we enjoy today.  This geological landscape also provides the building blocks of our livelihoods in the form of soil for agriculture and forestry, stone, sand and gravel deposits for buildings and roads and, historically, the mining of minerals such as copper, sulphur, lead, zinc and even gold, all of which dramatically transformed the landscape and communities of county Wicklow.
Come along and enjoy a selection of images from around the county which showcase Wicklow’s Geological Heritage including our outstanding landscapes and connections with people and products. All are welcome to view the exhibition, admission is free.
Author: Lenka Mulligan, Communications Officer, Wicklow Uplands Council.

Shaping the Future of the Wicklow Uplands - A Community Led Approach at Wicklow Uplands Council's Joint Panel Meeting

Shaping the Future of the Wicklow Uplands – A Community Led Approach at Wicklow Uplands Council’s Joint Panel Meeting

Community panel discussing issues at Wicklow Uplands Council's Joint Panel Meeting.
Wicklow Uplands Council organised a joint meeting of its panel groups in the O’Toole Community Hall, Rathdangan on the 7th October 2015. The venue was carefully selected to give an opportunity to people and communities living in south-west Wicklow to have their voices heard and to share their concerns and proposals.

Local community representative, Mr. Mick O’Toole, welcomed all present to the village of Rathdangan and gave a very insightful presentation about the challenges faced by a small rural community, outlining their successes and how the community had taken ownership of their survival and ongoing development. He explained how the village had changed over the years from a very vibrant rural community with sheep sales and trades and businesses at every corner, Rathdangan was a place where people could live and work locally. Over the years this picture has changed dramatically. The village pub is the last local business remaining and the majority of people now commute to work. The community finds it difficult to meet all criteria when it comes to funding opportunities. “There is no funding for Rathdangan, the village is too small” he said.  However, the community has demonstrated a very positive attitude and has acquired a piece of ground from Wicklow County Council for a community amenity area and playground. This is currently being developed and to date €23,000 has been raised for the project.

Another successful move was the opening of the Village Pantry tea room and coffee shop which is a focal point and meeting place for the community and is bringing life back into the area. The Pantry opened 18 months ago, is run by 25 volunteers and is open every day 9.30-12.30.  The Pantry sells arts & crafts and produce from within a 2 mile radius and the local SuperValu delivers online shopping there daily. The community received €2,000 in funding from the Wicklow County Council for the project.

There was an opportunity for uplands stakeholders to present their views and suggestions at the individual meetings of Wicklow Uplands Council’s four stakeholder panel groups which includes: Farmers and Landowners, Environment and Recreation Interests, Economic and Tourism Providers and Communities. Proposals included the development of long distance and community walking trails including a West Wicklow Walking Trail linking the villages of Knockananna, Rathdangan and Donard and a mining heritage trail from Avoca to Glendalough to link and promote both areas. Given that many parts of rural Wicklow are under significant demographic decline it was noted that Wicklow Uplands Council could play a facilitation role with regard to developing agreed access or rural community development plans.

The need for support for Wicklow Uplands Council’s application for a Locally Led Environment Scheme to manage upland vegetation and support upland hill farming was also highlighted alongside the issue of deer and dog control, rural crime and controlled burning of vegetation. Renewable energy, access to high speed broadband in rural areas, rural social inclusion and the support for low capacity communities to access funding were also highlighted at the meeting. Many of the challenges facing the area and project ideas put forward at the meeting will serve both to inform Wicklow Uplands Council’s future work programme and our submission on the Wicklow Local Development Strategy currently being prepared by County Wicklow Partnership.

Author: Lenka Mulligan, Communications Officer, Wicklow Uplands Council

The PURE Mile Competition - Empowering Local Communities

The PURE Mile Competition - Empowering Local Communities

Cunard Crossroads Ceili by Peter Murphy
The Pure Mile, an environmental competition which aims to foster a greater appreciation and awareness of the country roadscapess by rewarding and acknowledging local community efforts had its annual awards night on Thursday 24th September at the Brooklodge Hotel, Macreddin, Aughrim.
The competition encourages communities to keep a mile stretch of road (approx. 1.6km) and the immediate environment litter/rubbish free. For the past nine months, community groups and people living on the miles have been busy cleaning up their areas, taking part in regular litter picks and clean ups, researching information about their local wild flowers, plants, trees, animals, built heritage, history and the folklore associated with their areas. A large number of communities went the extra mile by repairing and painting old traditional gates, rebuilding stone walls, improving stiles, maintaining bridges, cleaning up farmlands and entrances, erecting bat boxes and holding information nights and talks about their local areas.

2015 was the sixth year of the PURE Mile completion and there were 8 awards presented on the night with cash prizes totalling €3,000. The Best PURE Mile Award and a cheque for €1,000 was presented to the Glenmalure Pure Mile. The group researched the natural and social heritage of the area and produced and information leaflet which can be picked up the Glenmalure Lodge. The Best Litter Free Awards was presented to Manor Kilbride PURE Mile who invested a hugh amount of time arranging litter picks and regular clean ups of their area. A special award for The Best Anti-Dumping Campaign went to Blackhill PURE Mile of Glenealy for their achievement and battle against dumping in the area and the Highly Commended Litter Free Award to Tomriland PURE Mile. The Best Education Award was presented to Three Mile Water Furzeditch PURE Mile and Brittas Bay National School. Cunard PURE Mile picked up two awards on the night, the Best Community Effort Award and the Best Built/Social Heritage Award. The Best Natural Heritage Award went to Roundwood PURE Mile for the amazing natural heritage on their walking trail.

This year upland communities featured strongly among the winning entries. Wicklow Uplands Council approached two groups from Glenmalure and Cunard, to get their grassroots perspective and asked them to describe how they looked after PURE mile and what additional actions they took to raise awareness of local heritage.

Glenmalure PURE Mile

Reflecting on the Glenmalure experience, local representative Brian Dunne said “We are very fortunate that Glenmalure is already an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with lots of tourists driving, walking and cycling the road everyday it was therefore important to us not to disturb the natural aesthetics of the area. With this in mind, we did not erect signs along the PURE Mile or make any drastic changes to the route. We did however keep the grass verges along stretches of roadside next to houses mowed and carried out essential maintenance such as litter-picking, tidying field entrances, painting gates and replacing them where necessary. As Glenmalure has so much to offer in terms of local history and biodiversity and because signposts were not erected we needed to find a way to convey this information to both the local community and visitors who walk the PURE Mile. We decided the best option was to produce a pamphlet outlining all the history, flora and fauna along the way. The aim of the pamphlet is that people can self-locate at each point of interest along the road and learn about each site and what plants and animals they might expect to see there. We are very grateful that a number of local businesses and individuals very generously sponsored this pamphlet and it is now freely available at their premises.

Treasure hunt and litter pick event in Glenmalure

We also carried out a number of events on the PURE Mile over the summer months to promote all that it had to offer including a treasure hunt and litter pick for kids which involved learning the names of the historial sites and plants and animals, a history and nature walk with four local speakers who spoke on the history, culture and biodiversity of the area, a bat talk hosted by bat expert Enda Mullen and a 5km run in conjunction with the local camogie club.

5k run was a great fun for all in Glenmalure.

Cunard PURE Mile

Reporting on the Cunard community’s experience Derek Brady noted “This mile is a beautiful part of the Glenasmole Valley and has some very interesting historical artefacts. We focused on the two bridges in Cunard which were both overgrown with weeds and vegetation. The bridges were brought back to their original beauty with all the stonework and verges looking amazing. That day we realised what a local group can achieve.

Painting and cleaning up of the Glenasmole Community Centre with Duncan Stewart.

The restoration of bridges got us thinking: Who actually built the beautiful bridges in Cunard? How did they manage to get materials to and from the area and lift them into position? Were any of these people our great grandparents? How many people in the valley have old photos or stories about the people and the history of the valley? We decided to arrange a Heritage Day to collect as much information about the valley as possible and enlisted the help of South Dublin County Council’s Library. They kindly provided two librarians to be on hand to scan and record photos and memorabilia which proved very useful.

Our elders always remind us about certain things that happened in the by gone days like walking to school in their bare feet. This got us thinking if we could bring one of their memories back to life. We had all heard them speak of the Crossroad Céilí and what a memorable night this was for all the locals so we decided to organise this for them. The lovely hamlet of Cunard is a perfect setting for a Céilí with the Cunard Upper road creating a natural amphitheatre. The householders affected in Cunard all gave their blessing and meetings with South Dublin County Council, musicians and Gardaí were organised. The local Summer Project Children made bunting for the Céilí and a neighbouring farmer brought in bales of straw. As soon as the people started to arrive that evening with their children in tow, the atmosphere felt right. Locals could not believe how Cunard had been transformed in such a short space of time. It was not long before young and old were out dancing on the cross roads of Cunard for the first time in decades. The Céilí dancing finished up as the light was fading but the local musicians continued to play well into the evening.

Cunard Crossroads Ceili by Peter Murphy

Wicklow Uplands Council congratulates the Glenmalure and Cunard communities and all the 2015 PURE Mile entrants and acknowledges the very significant contribution that they have made to their local communities. It is clear that the PURE mile initiative is highly effective in empowering local communities across Wicklow and south Dublin to create community cohesion and develop a sense of belonging and pride in their local place and heritage. This is testament to the community spirit evident in the 70+ groups that have participated in the competition to date and for many of whom this is merely the beginning. The awards night was also the official launch of the 2016 PURE Mile Competition and again PURE is inviting all groups and communities living in rural areas of County Wicklow to take part. Further information can be found on

Authors: Ian Davis, PURE Project Manager, Lenka Mulligan, Communication Officer, Wicklow Uplands Council with contribution from community representatives from the Glenmalure and Cunard PURE Miles.


Thursday, 19 November 2015

Deer Remain a Controversial Issue in the Wicklow Uplands

Deer Remain a Controversial Issue in the Wicklow Uplands

Glendalough Valley from the Spink by Egita Feldberga.
The incidence of T.B. in cattle in the county continues at a level many times the national average despite the fact that the same disease control measures pertain in Wicklow as in other counties.  Local farmers and vets have suspected for some time that deer might be involved in the spread of the disease and have been calling on The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to investigate the matter.

Over the past winter The Department used their own hunter and shot and tested 104 deer in the Calary area, 16 of which proved positive for T.B. While this does not prove conclusively that deer are spreading the disease to cattle, it does point to a strong probability and highlights the need for a reduction in deer numbers with a proper scientific study in the Calary area.

The Wicklow Deer Management Partnership continues its work and this year we set up a deer management project in the Manor Kilbride area of West Wicklow similar to the Ballinastoe Project which has been running for some time. Jim Fitzsimons was appointed Project Coordinator and the group elected Sean Eustace as their Chairman. The purpose of these projects is to collaboratively manage deer in a sustainable way. Both projects have been undertaken with financial assistance from The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and The Forest Service, (The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine).

2015 saw the establishment of the National Deer Forum which was set up to develop a national long-term deer management strategy for Ireland. While the objective of the forum which draws together all stakeholders is a positive step, it is too early to make a judgement on its effectiveness. Nevertheless it is clear from its early deliberations that the deer problem in Wicklow and particularly in the uplands is more severe and more complex than in any other part of the country.

Author: Declan O’Neill, Board Director of Wicklow Uplands Council.

The EUROPARC Federation Conference 2015

The EUROPARC Federation Conference 2015

Philip Geoghegan and Tom Byrne at the EUROPARC conference.

Regensburg, a city in the south-east of Germany and a UNESCO world heritage site, houses the headquarters of the EUROPARC Federation and was the venue for this year's EUROPARC conference. The EUROPARC Federation is a group which represents all the national parks and protected areas right across Europe with alliances around the world.

The annual EUROPARC conference is where member organisations meet to share experiences and information. The purpose of the Federation is ‘Helping Protected Areas to fulfil their role through practical activities on the ground as well as influencing policy’ and the annual conference is a two to three day programme of presentations, workshops and opportunities for networking.

Wicklow Upland Council’s membership of the Federation represents something of a hybrid within the organisation which has almost 400 members, most of which own or manage Protected Areas across Europe. The Wicklow Uplands includes protected areas, a national park, a living landscape with active farming, a unique geological structure, remarkable Stone Age remains, hugely important religious sites, a recreational playground next to a large urban population centre and a necklace of supporting towns and villages on its perimeter. Few EUROPARC members can match this diversity, although the sheer scale of some of the wilderness areas is mind-blowing.

So, what could be gained by spending a few days sharing views and perspectives with our fellow European counterparts but to broaden both our and their perceptions and knowledge. Wicklow Uplands Council was represented by Tom Byrne, Vice Chairman, a dedicated and committed farmer and Philip Geoghegan, ex-Chairman, a lifelong advocate for adequate protection and flourishing of Uplands life and landscape.

The conference was opened by the EUROPARC President Ignace Schops who spoke on ‘Protected Areas in a changing environment’ - climate change being the buzz word. Jonathan Hughes, CEO Scottish Wildlife Trust, IUCN Council, World National Capital Forum, followed with his address. He quoted the 2012 report from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN which states that ‘by 2050 agricultural production will grow by about 60% with increasing wealth projected to boost annual demand for meat products by 76%.’ Alberto Arroyo Schnell, Senior Policy Advisor with the World Wildlife Fund spoke on Protected Areas in a changing policy framework and ‘Protected Areas - the change from within’ was discussed by Dr. Laura Meagher. All presentations can be found on

The workshop attended by Tom Byrne was titled ’Seeds of Growth, Multi-functionality of Agriculture in Protected Areas’.  There was a focus on farming in protected areas and the challenge of maintaining diverse communities in these areas. Commercial farming is often at odds with protected area management and the constraints now placed on these areas make it economically unsustainable. Support is needed to farm these areas within the constraints imposed.

Philip Geoghegan noted that the potential of sustainable tourism is a key theme for protected areas which many of the EUROPARC presentations centred on. The Directorate-General for Growth at the European Commission has a ‘Guide on European Funding for the Tourism Sector (2014-2020)’ and EUROPARC has produced a LIFE+ supported guide: ‘Practical, Profitable, Protected - A starter guide to developing tourism in protected areas’ which are resources that require further attention by Wicklow Uplands Council.  The European Network on Outdoor Sports may also be of benefit.

Most of the EUROPARC member organisations bring with them very well produced brochures, booklets and guides to the nature of their area, something which Wicklow Uplands Council could emulate to our advantage.  This supports the idea of sharpening the identity of Wicklow Uplands Council as an outgoing, representative, innovative contributor to a better future for those who live and work in the uplands.  It is already an organisation which has established a national identity and has been seriously influential on many environmental and agricultural matters.  Work on establishing a stronger local presence is already under way and our own existing shared expertise could drive good capital funding towards new environmental, tourism and recreational initiatives for the area.

Philip Geoghegan also noted that BioEUParks is a group of 10 partner parks contributing their expertise on energy renewal through biomass. He recognised that Coillte is the major actor here in Wicklow but suggested that we should, really examine the further productive capacity of fuel supply in the Wicklow Uplands - cultivation of energy crops, recovery and transportation of wood wastes, forest residues, agricultural wastes, etc.  Our own Sustainable Energy Ireland could advise where new productive investment might begin.

Tom Byrne and Philip Geoghegan advised that Wicklow Uplands Council’s longstanding and continuing membership of EUROPARC is very worthwhile in letting us see how other comparable areas have succeeded in improving their local economies. We have the same opportunities to search out the supports available and our colleagues in Europe will always be helpful and take pride in showing their way of engaging and prospering at a local level and we can equally offer them the lessons learned from our experience here in Wicklow.

Authors: Tom Byrne and Philip Geoghegan, Board Directors of Wicklow Uplands Council.

Wicklow to Lead the Way on Ireland's first Local Uplands (Agri) Environment Scheme

Wicklow to Lead the Way on Ireland’s first Local Uplands (Agri) Environment Scheme

Hill sheep farming by Lenka Mulligan

Preparation is well under way for Wicklow Uplands Council’s application for a Locally Led Agri Environment Scheme for the Wicklow/Dublin uplands based on the model of the Burren Farming for Conservation Scheme. Following a lengthy period of consultation with The Department of Agriculture through the review of the Rural Development Programme, there is now provision for Locally Led Schemes under the new programme.  Given our work in this area over the past five years,  Wicklow Uplands Council is well positioned as a potential forerunner to develop and implement one of the first ‘Uplands’ schemes in the country.
Political support is now key to ensuring reward for the Wicklow Uplands and its hill sheep farmers. Minister Humphries’ impending decision with regard to the review of the Wildlife Act 1976 is also an important consideration particularly with regard to the permitted vegetation burning season. Wicklow Uplands Council advocates that the season be brought back in line with our neighbouring countries in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and welcomes a differentiation between upland and lowland burning dates in addition to periodic planned burning of suitable areas through agreed management plans under a Locally Led Scheme.
At a recent workshop in Portlaoise, The Department of Agriculture advised that there will be a competitive call for applications from upland groups across the country early in 2016 and this will be the start of the official process.  With this in mind Wicklow Uplands Council has been undertaking preparatory work to support a Wicklow based application and, in August this year, engaged Dr Claire Lauder from CL Spatial to establish a clear baseline of biodiversity for the area by undertaking ‘An Inventory of Biodiversity for the Wicklow/Dublin Uplands’.  The main two project outputs include an indicative habitat map of the study area and a record of threatened and protected species in the area. These were produced by collating all available existing data sets.  Teagasc Walsh Fellow, Fergal Maguire, also worked in Tinahely during 2014 to investigate the socioeconomic aspects of upland hill sheep farming in Wicklow.  His research examined and recorded hill farming practices in Wicklow and sought to identify barriers to its ongoing viability.  His thesis was finalised and submitted to UCD in October this year.  Wicklow Uplands Council’s 2013 study ‘To Identify Best Management of Upland habitats in County Wicklow’ was produced in co-operation and consultation with upland farmers in the area and created a blueprint for best future management of these areas.
Although there is still a long road ahead in terms of the development and implementation of a Locally Led Uplands Scheme requiring close liaison with the Department of Agriculture and the EU Commission, Wicklow Uplands Council remains hopeful that this is the best available solution to support upland hill sheep farmers to continue to farm the Wicklow hills.  In doing so they will improve the condition of our cherished upland habitats and ensure that the uplands landscape as we know it remains for future generations to live in, work and enjoy.
Author: Cara Heraty, Co-ordinator, Wicklow Uplands Council

A Letter from the Chair

A Letter from the Chair

Sean Byrne, Chairman, Wicklow Uplands Council
Wicklow Uplands Council is now 20 years in existence so perhaps this is a good time to reflect on where we have come from, how and why we came into existence, to remind ourselves of our original mission and consider if we still live up to this responsibility.
From very humble beginnings in 1995 and from a small and dedicated group of people, the emergence of the Uplands Council was conceived. The following is a snap-shot of the circumstances which resulted in the formation of the organisation.

In the early 1990’s communities suffered similar difficulties to those experienced all over the country today, compounded by a lack of communication from various state-supported institutions during a time when consultation with local people was not considered necessary.
At that time in Wicklow, it was a fledgling National Park Authority imposing conditions and structures in one of the most scenic landscapes in Ireland.  This and the prospect of management changes to our mountain areas as a Category II National Park with absolutely no interaction or communication with the people and communities affected by such ambitious plans.
Rightly or wrongly, this was seen as a major threat to traditional farm practices, recreational activities and future planning, an infringement of existing rights and a way of life enjoyed for generations. The uncertainty of how new regulation and legislation would affect people who lived, worked and took their recreation in the same mountain areas caused serious concern and anxiety to communities and individuals alike.
At the time there were various groups and organisations representing different interests which were sometimes completely at odds with each other, all individually trying to communicate with Government agencies to present a case for their members.  Representations were not co-ordinated and varying interests often conflicted with one another which further served to deepen what was becoming a divisive situation.  What was needed was an umbrella body or mechanism to bring all the stakeholder interests together. This was a big ask, considering the diversity of the groups involved which included:
The Irish Farmers Association, Cheviot Sheep Owners Association, commercial dairy farmers, Farmers and Property Owners’ Association,  National Association of Regional Game Clubs, local gun and sporting clubs, An Taisce, Wicklow Environmental Group, Mountaineering Council of Ireland, large private estates, commercial shooting estates, angling clubs, outdoor adventure centres, motor sport interests, walking clubs, mountain bike enthusiasts, community groups, medium and small sized businesses and tourism services and suppliers.
I must acknowledge the efforts of a number of key people whose initiative and determination helped to resolve some of the difficulties and frustration suffered by so many.  It was the foresight of the late Professor Adrian Phillips who initiated a study visit of interested parties in Wicklow to Newcastle, Co Down to study the structure of the Mourne Heritage Trust which was set up in 1980 to address similar issues in the Mourne Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  This led to the setting up of a Steering Group led through several months of very difficult discussions by former Chairman Dermot Hand. Others involved in those original discussions that I must pay tribute to are Jim Healy, Director of the Leader II Programme, who provided all secretarial and office assistance, David Rowe, Murtagh O’Keefe, Saive Coffey, Johnny Power, Frank Nuttall and David Hermon.  Those and others, who have remained involved over the years, successfully established the Wicklow Uplands Council.
I thank all involved then and over this past 20 years for working to establish and maintain the role of Wicklow Uplands Council in effectively representing the issues of our members and progressing so many successful projects with small resources.  I thank our funders, The Heritage Council, and in particular CEO Michael Starrett, who has supported us from the very start, in addition to Wicklow County Council and businessman Denis O’Brien.  I also wish to thank our member organisations and individual members, our Board of Directors past and present, former Chairmen, Dermot Hand, Declan O’Neill and Phillip Geoghegan, former CEO Colin Murphy who was an institution in himself steering us through those early and difficult days and our present staff, Cara Heraty, Margaret Murphy and Lenka Mulligan.
I am privileged to look forward to my role as Chair of the Wicklow Uplands Council which is a unique organisation in the Republic of Ireland.
Author: Sean Byrne, Chairman, Wicklow Uplands Council