Article first published in:
Wicklow Mountain Views – The Newsletter of the Wicklow Uplands Council.
Issue No. 30 – Summer 2019
National Walks Scheme Open For Applications
The National Walks Scheme has opened to applicants for the first time in nearly a decade. The scheme, which is funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development, assists in the provision of high-quality walking trails for the benefit of recreational users.
This is achieved by contracting private landholders, or their nominees, to undertake maintenance work on sections of National Waymarked Ways and other priority walks that traverse their lands. The landholders receive payments for maintenance work undertaken, in line with an agreed work plan between the landowner and the Department of Rural and Community Development.
The scheme currently covers 39 trails nationwide, with payments made to approximately 1,900 landholders to maintain those trails. In Wicklow, there are currently over 60 landowners engaged in the scheme, with the majority of those involved on the Wicklow Way.
The Walks Scheme was launched by Minister of Community Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Éamon Ó Cuív, in March 2008 and has since been rolled out to cover 39 trails. The nationwide scheme will now see its annual budget of just under €2 Million double to close to €4 Million in 2019 to accommodate the scheme’s expansion. County Wicklow Partnership administers the Walk Scheme for this region through its Recreation Programme and is overseen by the Rural Recreation Officer, Bryan Fennell.
The scheme is now open for new participants to join, provided they reach the criteria set out by the Department. Qualifying trails will:
- Be available to the public,
- Be of a suitable standard to be included in Sport Ireland’s trail register, and
- Have all private landowners along the entire route willing to allow access to the public and to join the scheme.
In order for landowners to join the scheme, the relevant management body of the trail must submit an expression of interest to County Wicklow Partnership as soon as possible to be considered. The Rural Recreation Officer will then work with the committee to establish that the trail in question meets the set criteria. Once this confirmation is complete, an application will be made to the Department to seek the relevant trail’s inclusion to the National Walks Scheme.
The trail will be open to recreational users under a ‘permissive access’ arrangement with no possibility of rights of way being established. Under the scheme, participants can leave the scheme at any stage, provided 6 months of notice is given to allow time for alternative arrangements to be made. All participants of the Walks Scheme are covered under the Sports Ireland Trails insurance indemnity scheme.
The Rural Recreation Officer is particularly keen to see more participants join the scheme on existing routes where it would facilitate removing trails from public roads, such as is the case in the southern section of the Wicklow Way or along western sections of St Kevin’s Way.
Walkers are always grateful when allowed to cross farmland/private property to avoid dangerous road sections. The Walks Scheme actively encourages recreational users to participate in the Leave No Trace principles when enjoying countryside walks.
In Wicklow, the average contracted hours per participant for maintenance works on the walks scheme is between 60-80 hours per year, however, this will depend on the level of work required on an individual’s property. The maximum allowable hours under the scheme is 200 hours for each participant. Examples of maintenance work include vegetation management, drain clearing, litter picking, painting and so forth.
Additionally, Minister for Rural and Community Development, Michael Ring, also announced that the rate of pay for new and current landowners on the scheme will increase from €12.40/hr to €13.50/hr in 2019, with increases to take effect with the next round of payments.
Primarily, the Walks Scheme was designed to ensure Ireland’s long-distance walking routes remain open to the public and are maintained to the highest standards. Areas that are rich in quality recreational trails, provide welcomed health benefits to local people and offer tourism opportunities to benefit rural communities.
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This newsletter and many of the previous publications are available online to view and download as PDF files directly from the Wicklow Uplands Council website.
CLICK HERE for this issue – Summer 2019.
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