Row Looms As Farmers Oppose Geopark Plans

Plans being supported by Newry Mourne and Down District Council going through a long, thorough vetting process.

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Plans being supported by Newry Mourne and Down District Council going through a long, thorough vetting process.

The plans aim to reach international Geopark status but are being challenged by the local Mourne’s farming community is showing its opposition. The farmers have the backing of the Ulster Farmers Union.

Progressing UNESCO Global Geopark plans is wrong, says UFU

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has expressed concern that despite Northern Ireland being in the middle of a world health pandemic, Newry Mourne and Down District Council continue to progress with UNESCO Global Geopark plans.

The UFU added the Council says it “intends to apply branding to a large area extending from just north of Killyleagh in County Down to Silverbridge in south Armagh.”

Commenting on the issue, UFU deputy president Victor Chestnutt said: “The UFU have expressed the dissatisfaction of our representatives who work and reside in the Newry Mourne and Down District Council area to the Council on many occasions about their plans to have the UNESCO Global Geopark branding applied to the district. However, it is evident that the Council are simply not listening.

There has been a chilling in the relations between the Ulster Farmers Union and Newry Mourne and Down District Council. The UFU have expressed concerns about the UNESCO Geopark proposal Council is backing.

“This is very worrying, especially when the Council need the support of our members to deliver this project. Progressing with these plans when UFU members who are key workers, are fully engaged in producing food to feed our nation and protecting their families from COVID-19, is nothing short of unacceptable.”

“The Council have failed to properly consult with rural communities. UFU members are aggrieved regarding the lucrative promises that the Council have made, claiming that they will benefit from the UNESCO Global Geopark branding.

“Branding will do little good for our members other than restrict their activities and farming practices. Imposing a designation on this area will affect farmers’ livelihoods having a knock-on effect on all ratepayers in the area.

“This is something that the Council should be considering greatly especially when their plans may severely restrict their rural based ratepayers’ ability to meet their rates demands which will impact the Council’s level of funding.

“The Council should plan to consult with our members correctly once the risk of COVID-19 has been minimised. It is vital that they do not turn down valuable opportunities to build bridges and gain the support of the Council areas’ rural-based constituents.”

“By engaging with UFU members appropriately, officials of the Council and Geological Survey for Northern Ireland, would hear first-hand the oppositional views our members hold on this project.

“I leave all officials involved in this project with a clear message, UNESCO Global Geopark status is a non-starter and rather than waste ratepayers’ funds progressing with this project, the Council should engage in activities to help develop the district’s existing tourist attractions and the infrastructure that serves these attractions,” said Mr Chestnutt. 

Newry Mourne and Down District Council Responds To UFU.

A spokesperson for Newry Mourne and Down District Council said: “Council developed its Tourism Strategy for the district in 2017, a priority project identified, was to achieve UNESCO Global Geopark status for the Mourne, Ring of Gullion and Strangford Lough and Lecale region.

From 2017 the Council has undertaken an extensive programme of engagement to raise awareness of what a Geopark is, highlighting that it is not a legislative designation and has no impact on planning, development or farming practices.

“A Geopark uses its geological heritage, relating to all other aspects of the area’s natural and cultural heritage, to enhance awareness and understanding of key issues facing society, such as using Earth’s resources sustainably and mitigating the effects of climate change which effects everybody in our community. 

“The comprehensive engagement programme has included press briefings, rural community roadshows, attendance at farmers marts, schools and community engagement programmes, meeting directly with the Ulster Farmers Union, partners across Government and businesses in the mmunity.  

“The Council will continue to engage with all sectors of the community through its development and communication plan once guidance enables this to be undertaken in the coming months. 

“The Council is mindful of resources and the importance of sustainability and will be incorporating Geopark messaging on existing signage where possible and primarily using digital solutions. 

“Our geological, natural and cultural heritage are integral to the messaging across many Council functions and will be profiled in existing programmes with no additional costs incurred.”

Check the UNESCO Geoparks website at:

http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/environment/earth-sciences/unesco-global-geoparks/