I FEEL VERY lucky to have grown up in the Wicklow Mountains, with the National Park on my doorstep. My family have farmed in the Roundwood area for five generations, and many people walk through our land.
Like farming, the outdoors is in my blood, which is why I was deeply concerned at the decision last year to award €40K to a walker for injuries she sustained after tripping over a boardwalk.
This week The High Court overturned the award. I welcome this. I say this as a farmer who allows a number of organisations access to my lands, and as a person who has always been a strong advocate of recreational walking. I also say this because we need to promote Wicklow as a county where natives and visitors alike have access to our beautiful countryside.
Had this decision gone the other way I very much fear we would have seen wholesale closure and restrictions of public access to both public and state lands.
It is particularly encouraging to note the immediate response of Mountaineering Ireland and other representative bodies of the outdoor recreation users. They have all welcomed this decision. The public and greater good was well served.
Here in Wicklow we have worked very hard to develop an open trails policy. Walking as a freely available recreational activity is one of the bedrocks of our tourism industry in the county. It is crucially important to the local economy.
It is my view that we can’t apply health and safety standards to the great outdoors. To hold the Irish National Parks and Wildlife Service responsible for injuries sustained on a hike or a walk would have set a dangerous precedent for walkers and landowners.
Economic benefits of walking routes
County Wicklow Partnership has a Trails Officer who has worked with landowners, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and Coillte to develop a range of great walking routes throughout the upland area.
New routes are being added all the time, such as the Avonmore walk that launched around this time last year. It’s a strikingly beautiful route that links Laragh village to Rathdrum, along the sides of the Avonmore River.
I have no doubt that this walking route will prove extremely popular and it’s planned to extend this trail, eventually linking from Kilmacanogue to Arklow and Shillelagh, utilising old railway lines on some parts of the route.
A walk such as this has huge potential for the local economy. Parts of the trails however pass over private lands, and I was very concerned if the award to the hillwalker had set a legal precedent it would have had very negative implications for the future of walks such as this one in Wicklow, and in other parts of the country.
In this beautiful county our countryside is one of our greatest assets and it’s vital for both walkers and locals that the open trails policy continues. Everyone must be free to enjoy all that Wicklow and Ireland has to offer.
Article Published in The Journal 26th February 2017