Campaigners for wider access to countryside plan regional branch

 

Keep Ireland Open, an organisation which aims to keep hills, mountains and other scenic areas open to recreational walkers, is to set up a branch in the north-west.

This follows a number of incidents where landowners have clashed with walkers. In a notice advertising a meeting to be held in Sligo tomorrow the organisation states that "regrettably there is increasing incidence of unreasonable denial of access to hill areas of the north-west".

A branch of Keep Ireland Open, to cover Counties Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal, will "work towards the preservation of traditional access to our natural heritage in an atmosphere of harmony and understanding with farming interests and landowners".

Mr Michael Murphy, the honorary secretary of the western branch of Keep Ireland Open, stressed the group wanted to work in partnership with farmers. He said the new north-west branch would talk to farmers' organisations to try to resolve difficulties.

The group will also campaign to stop the fencing-off of large areas of open land throughout the west of Ireland, which he said was the result of a "misguided section of the REPS scheme".

The EU-initiated REPS scheme aims to halt the destruction of the environment and gives financial incentives to farmers to use environmentally friendly methods.

"There is wire everywhere now. It's nearly impossible to sit down beside a stream for a picnic because there are wire fences everywhere. It is destroying the whole look of the west of Ireland, and they are still inviting tourists in to look at this.

"They are fencing off what was formerly commonage and it is totally unnecessary," Mr Murphy said.

He blamed the Department of Agriculture for this section of the REPS scheme and said the Government had on numerous occasions tried to stall on environmental directives from the EU.

Last year, the European Commission condemned the Irish authorities' failure to curb overgrazing by sheep on the Nephin Beg complex in Co Mayo which is destroying heather and the habitat of a rare bird, the red grouse. The Commission also said that "overgrazing is so severe that it has led to serious erosion of the fragile peat soils".

Mr Murphy said the authorities were cutting back on sheep grazing at a much slower pace than demanded by the EU. "An awful lot of damage has been done to the environment, but walkers have caused none of it," he said.

The meeting of Keep Ireland Open is due to be held in the Sligo Park Hotel tomorrow at 11.30 a.m.