By Tracey Denniss
Last Thursday, 10th of September, I visited Mourne Heritage Trust’s Active Lifestyle project which is funded under our Reaching Communities Northern Ireland programme.
The organisation are in their sixth year and I wanted to see the good work they are doing with the Reaching Communities grant and hear about the difference this project is making to the people in the area through volunteering opportunities.
I had only been to the Mournes once before, a very long time ago when I went with my late uncle for a walk around the Silent Valley. I remember very clearly the little bus that took visitors from the gate house up to the dam.
On Last Thursday’s visit, I met with Matthew Bushby and Alan Whitcroft who showed me around the Mourne Heritage Trust’s premises, in particular the garden where they are growing 1200 sapling trees for replanting, and the polytunnel where strawberries and tomatoes are growing.
I was very surprised by the 1200 saplings – it is hard to believe that one day they will be part of a forest! I was also surprised by how long a juniper sapling takes to grow.
They told me a lot about the native wildlife of the area, and about their work with the local residents in monitoring squirrel populations.
I sat in on an introductory health and safety talk Alan gave students from the South Eastern Regional College who were volunteering for path work.
The path provides a designated walkway through the beautiful and breathtaking scenery of Silent Valley. They showed me how important designated walkways are to protest the surrounding environment and limit and contain erosion.
Matthew kitted me out with walking boots and rain jacket and we went to the reservoir. They explained about using raw materials from the surrounding area to build the path as this is better for the environment and prevents the top soil being eroded. They want the path to blend into the surrounding scenery and based on what I saw, they are definitely doing a good job.
I also saw the damage caused by recent wildfires and Matthew and Alan explained to me how controlled fires used to limit the spread of wildfire and reduce damage to the surrounding area.
Part of our project is to fund youth wardens and these young people work over the summer months to map the area to monitor the damage and measure re-growth of the vegetation. This data is invaluable to environmental agencies.
They are also doing great partnership with other organisations including holding conservation days (tree nursery work, litter lifting) and family days. At a recent family day there was a presentation by the AMAL group that highlighted the geology of the Marrah Mountain Range in Darfur and the Mountains of Mourne. There was also a natural heritage and cultural quiz, games, Irish Dancing and a Sudanese BBQ.
The Mourne Heritage Trust are doing an excellent job of bringing people together to work on projects that contribute to the work of the environment agencies and enhance the natural beauty of the area.
I learned so much on this trip and it definitely makes our work more meaningful. I’m the funding officer who went up a mountain and came down… a bit more knowledgeable about dry stone walls!