Step in the right direction
After years at war, farmers are finding a new path towards better relations with walkers
NOT too long ago you couldn't mention the words farmer and hill walker in the same sentence without causing a general outbreak of cold sweats and hypertension. The notion that landowners would let walkers onto their land was anathema to them, while, for walkers, the thought that they couldn't roam where they wanted bordered on a call to arms.
However, under the auspices of Eamon O'Cuiv's Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, an agreement known as the Walks Scheme offers a solution to this seemingly intractable problem.
The scheme makes landowners along specific walks enter into an agreement to allow walkers access to the route. They agree to maintain and enhance those parts of the walk on their land and in return they will receive a twice-yearly payment of €14.50/hr for work done in accordance with a work plan agreed with the local partnership company. It is a national scheme and open to all landholders on National Way-marked Ways, Looped Walking Routes, Heritage Routes and other trails that have been approved by the National Trails Office.
The 2008 initiative appears to have solved many contentious issues, such as access, insurance, private-property rights and income. Moreover, it is helping generate income for farmers and rural communities. This is particularly the case in areas with traditionally high tourist numbers.
James O'Mahony is employed as a rural recreation officer by the local partnership company to manage the walking scheme in Sheep's Head Peninsula in west Cork. Located to the east of the Beara Peninsula, Sheep's Head has become one of the more popular walking destinations in the country.
"The farmers drive the walking product around here," says James O'Mahony.
"They own the Walking Company and the chairman is a farmer, Gerard Burke. There are about 550 farmers signed up to the scheme between Beara and Sheep's Head, and the results are excellent.
"The B&Bs, the self-catering accommodation, the pubs and restaurants are doing very well. Many of the B&Bs and self-catering units are owned by farm families. Farmers have taken courses in guiding and have familiarised themselves with the history, heritage, geology and archaeology of the area."