The Mournes to be considered for National Park status
Environment Minister Alex Attwood has today announced the most likely candidate areas for designation as a National Park. The Mournes, the Causeway Coast and Antrim Glens and the Fermanagh Lakelands are the three areas identified – from a list of 12 through an independent assessment process. The Minister also confirmed that his plan is not for one, but two National Parks, when designation does happen.
Identification of suitable areas was based on the four proposed criteria outlined in the Consultation Paper on Enabling Legislation for National Parks issued in 2011. These were whether the area had special importance because of its natural heritage, or cultural and natural heritage.
It also included whether the area has distinctive character and coherent identity and whether the area is under special pressures that national park designation would address. Additionally, to be considered the area was assessed on whether it affords opportunity for recreation, enjoyment, education and understanding.
Attwood said: “The Built and Natural Heritage is a big part of the great quality of our lives and a big part of tourism and jobs in the future. Northern Ireland is the only part of these islands that does not have National Parks. It is time to grasp the opportunity. National Parks, modeled for our circumstances here, can be a strong way to protect our environment and secure jobs.
“Last Autumn, I asked a panel of experts to advise on ‘a league table’ of provisional National Park areas. Twelve were assessed – three came out on top – Causeway Coast/Antrim Glens, the Mournes and the Fermanagh Lakelands.”
The Minister said that he believed that now was the time for Northern Ireland legislation for National Parks. He continued, “I am circulating a paper to Executive Colleagues recommending they endorse the principle of National Parks legislation. I hope to achieve this before the July holidays.
“While this is my shortlist, if an exceptional argument is made elsewhere I will still listen. At the same time, I will work to create a model of National Parks, different from elsewhere, suitable for NI circumstances and I will work to reassure all that National Parks is an opportunity not a threat. I know some will have anxieties – I believe I can give reassurances that see the biggest buy-in possible to National Parks.”
The Minister added, “I hope to see not one but two National Parks created in the first instance. This would advertise the scale and wonder of our heritage and create jobs in times of need. The shortlist should excite interest and be a catalyst to move the argument on positively.”
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