Thursday, June 2, 2016

What can the Dublin Galway Greenway planners learn from the Sheep's Head Way in West Cork?



RTE's Nationwide show on Friday 27th May 2016 examined how the rural community on the Sheep's Head peninsula in West Cork are benefiting from walking and cycling routes. The RTE programme highlighted the benefits and some of the concerns of the communities but it also highlighted how the Sheep's Head way could serve as a model for encouraging community support for other national greenways.

The show mentioned that there are many positive impacts that accrue to communities that embrace tourism. But the presenter, Anne Cassin, also spoke about the opposition from landowners on other prominent greenway projects such as the the Dublin to Galway greenway route and the proposed greenway in Kerry.

The story of the Sheep's Head way goes back 20 years when the community and farmers decided to open their land under permissive access for a cycling and walking route. 260 farmers came together and gave their permission for their land to be used for a walking route. RTE's show pointed out that the trust was there from the start and it was the farmers themselves that decided to open their lands for the route. 

However there were initial concerns in a number of areas. The concerns about insurance were addressed by the government. In 2008 the government set up a insurance scheme as part of the national walk scheme.  There were also concerns around 'rights of way'which were surmounted by a system of 'permission access' where the route is closed for 1 day each year (on the 31st Jan every year) so no right of way can be established. There were also initially concerns about obstructio of productive farming by blocking of gateways and walkers dogs but these were resolved by more investment in parking areas and proper signage. 

One of the main reasons for the success of the Sheep's Head way is that the farmers have a say through the rural recreation officer and a system of committees. As such, the farmers do not have to deal with faceless bureaucrats and can have any issues or concerns addressed more quickly.

Now the whole Sheep's head community can see the benefits with many new tourism related business opportunities in the area and additional employment. Many farmers have branched into agri-tourism and self-catering and some have reported that their income from tourism is starting to exceed their income from their traditional farming. The report went on to say that even if a farmer does not directly benefit from the walks that they can indirectly benefit from greater choice in amenities in the area such as new restaurants and coffee shops. Since this scheme is such a success for all involved, now the good will of farmers adds to the experience of the walkers and cyclists.

According the Patrica Bevin, the rural recreation officer for the Sheep's Head way, these schemes have to come from the "bottom up and it is crucial that it starts from the community and the farmers themselves. The community needs to see the opportunity for something special themselves and only then can the walkways and cycle-ways can come from this."

This RTE's nationwide show can be found on the RTE player at the following location (time limited):

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