News 2017

Title:  Much to be learnt from experience at Cuilcagh
Date:  21/09/2017

Following media coverage of traffic congestion and parking problems on the Fermanagh side of Cuilcagh, Mountaineering Ireland representatives visited the mountain on Sunday 17th September with local journalist Rodney Edwards to see the impact that increased footfall is having on the summit plateau. Paul Kellagher, the honorary President of Mountaineering Ireland, who lives near Enniskillen, was accompanied by Mountaineering Ireland’s Hillwalking, Access & Conservation Officer, Helen Lawless.

Cuilcagh is on the border between County Fermanagh and County Cavan and at 665 metres is the highest mountain in both counties. During the winter of 2014/2015 a wooden boardwalk was constructed on the mountain to protect blanket bog habitat from the impact of walkers. The boardwalk is part of the Marbles Arch Caves Global Geopark, which is jointly managed by Fermanagh and Omagh District Council and Cavan County Council.

In April of this year a video of the boardwalk under the title of the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ went viral on social media, reaching 1.4 million views in a few weeks. This contributed to more than 3,000 people visiting Cuilcagh in the four-day period over the Easter weekend, similar to the total number of visitors for all of 2013.

The sudden popularity of Cuilcagh has exerted pressure on local residents, on the local road network and the Geopark management team. Last weekend’s visit showed that the parking situation has improved with the private landowner at the access point to the boardwalk providing parking for £5 per car. However the fragile habitat on the summit plateau remains under pressure.

Around the top of the boardwalk, virtually all the vegetation has been worn away leaving an area of messy, wet peat stretching almost 50 metres wide. Looking at the damage with the journalist Paul Kellagher said “We have effectively had 10 or 20 years of footfall compressed into a few months. We need a clear and urgent plan to address the continued damange.”

Between the top of the boardwalk and the summit, which lies more than 1km to the south east, the damage is not so obvious as there is less peat, but the lichens, mosses and heaths that make up the plateau’s rare montane heath habitat are trampled up to a width of 30 – 40 metres in places. Similar trampling on popular summits in the Lake District and Scotland has been addressed through light-touch path work which subtly guides walkers along a line without the cost or the visual impact of a constructed path.

“It is vital that all organisations with an interest in Cuilcagh, including ourselves in Mountaineering Ireland, Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the National Parks & Wildlife Service work with the Geopark to identify the most appropriate solution. It is clear too that we will need to involve people with experience of upland path management and visitor impacts in similar environments.” Paul added.

“Cuilcagh was the first mountain that I ever climbed, it has been changed completely in the last couple of years. The creep of tourism infrastructure into mountain areas takes from the wild feel and the sense of adventure in these places. I have given a huge amount of time to introducing young people to walking and climbing, I just hope that we can look after our mountains in a way that will still provide adventurous experiences for future generations.”

Mountaineering Ireland and Cuilcagh

  • Mountaineering Ireland wants to work with the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark and other organisations that share an interest in Ireland’s mountains, to make a case for greater policy support and investment, with the aim of achieving a positive and sustainable future for these important areas.
  • The challenges faced recently at Cuilcagh, particularly related to the role of social media, are unlikely to be unique. It is vital that the experiences from Cuilcagh are shared with other areas, and that Cuilcagh in turn benefits from expertise in upland management from other parts of Ireland, the UK and further afield.
  • Just 0.35% of Ireland’s land area lies at or above the height of the Cuilcagh plateau. Only a portion of this very scarce resource remains in a relatively wild or undeveloped condition. It is everybody’s responsibility to cherish and protect Ireland’s precious mountain landscapes for the benefit of future generations.
  • Mountaineering Ireland is committed to supporting increased participation in outdoor recreation activities and believes that this can be achieved by well-directed investment in infrastructure, education and recreation management, without adverse impact for the natural environment or local residents.

Mountaineering Ireland’s vision for the future of Ireland’s mountains and upland areas is:

That Ireland’s mountain landscapes will be valued and protected as environmental, cultural and recreational assets.

Link to the Impartial Reporter Reporter's special report on Cuilcagh - here 

Read more about the importance of Ireland’s mountains and Mountaineering Ireland’s Vision for future of Ireland's mountains

back...