An area covering more than 11,000 hectares of the Nephin Beg range in North West Mayo has been designated as an official “Wilderness Area” following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Coillte (the Irish forestry service) and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
The document commits both parties to work together on the wilderness project, which includes forest lands and parts of the Ballycroy National Park. Described by the participants as “ambitious and innovative”, the project is the first of its kind in Western Europe, and will deliver a dedicated wilderness comprised of forest, mountain, bog, river and lakes in the Nephin Beg Range. It sees Coillte taking 4,400 hectares out of its commercial forestry operation and “re-wilding” the land, improving habitat and landscape quality over a 15 year period.
The goal is a challenging one: landscape-scale conservation that preserves the integrity of a fully functioning ecosystem and promotes biodiversity while simultaneously providing the infrastructure and facilities that deliver an authentic “wilderness experience” for visitors who want to get closer to nature.
“Wild Nephin is an ambitious project that is setting aside a significant parcel of land for the creation of a unique wilderness landscape,” commented Jimmy Deenihan, TD, Minister of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. “The project will complement Ballycroy National Park, which borders the Coillte lands, which is in itself a significant attraction of national importance comprising 11,000 hectares of blanket bog, mountainous terrain and unspoilt natural beauty.”
Coillte CEO David Gunning said: “The Memorandum will see us working with our partners the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to deliver a free-willed landscape here in North County Mayo. Coillte has considerable competencies in habitat restoration and managing recreation and this project forms part of our core purpose of enriching lives locally nationally and globally through the innovative and sustainable management of natural resources. We would very much like to thank Minister Deenihan, as his support was crucial in getting this project to where it is today and the Taoiseach for his commitment to this wonderful project in his home county.”
Bill Murphy, Wild Nephin Project Manager said “This is an important day not only for Ireland but also for Europe as this agreement is a key step along the way towards the goal of setting aside 1,000,000 ha of wilderness in Europe by 2020. Ireland is in the forefront of looking at modified landscapes, the challenges of re-wilding and how these can contribute to wilderness in Europe”.
To celebrate the unique designation and to advance the concept of wilderness in Europe Coillte and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht are hosting a conference this week in Mayo on the theme “Wilderness in a Modified European Landscape”. The conference brings together more than 100 delegates and thought leaders from Europe, the US and Ireland to discuss the concepts of wilderness and re-wilding in Europe.