Out of doors recreation: Additional protections within the pipeline for landowners in upland areas

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According to the Ministry of Rural and Community Development, work is underway to investigate what might be possible through legislation to protect landowners who provide recreational access to their land.

The public consultation on Ireland’s first-ever national outdoor leisure strategy will soon close on June 23, after being launched on June 2 by Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys.

The consultation seeks public opinion on the improvement and development of outdoor facilities such as hiking trails, bike paths, waterways, beaches, mountains, moors and forests.

The public is also encouraged to consider ways to develop active tourism and outdoor activities such as cycling, climbing, kayaking, surfing, windsurfing, sailing, paragliding and hang gliding.

Minister Humphreys said that “there is a growing interest in the great outdoors among tourists, both at home and abroad, and we are well positioned to respond to this demand.”

“Without a doubt, outdoor recreation will be the key to our recovery from Covid-19,” added the minister.

“A strategy like this will help us rethink and revitalize our rural areas.”

This is the first of a two-stage consultation process. In this first phase, interested stakeholders and individuals are encouraged to share their views on outdoor recreation through an online questionnaire.

‘Get Complicated’

The strategy is being developed in collaboration with Comhairle na Tuaithe (The Countryside Council).

Deputy Amon Ó Cuív previously told Minister Humphreys that “the genesis of the Comhairle na Tuaithe foundation and the most pressing problem it faced in its early years was the whole issue of access to farmland, particularly hill country and mountains”.

He asked the minister what progress had been made “in order to build a system that recognizes the rights of farmers and, on the other hand, enables broad access to the hills and mountains”.

“We don’t have to build hills or mountains. They are there. People want to be sure that they can access it and that they are welcome, ”said the MP.

“On the other hand, farmers want to be sure that there are no dogs on the hills, that fences will not be damaged and that the leave-behind policy is being followed.

“In 2008 a pilot project was launched. The farmers should be compensated in the unlikely event that someone tries to take over a case because they slipped on a rock or something on a mountain. “

Minister Humphreys acknowledged that compensation was “a long-standing issue for farmers in highland areas” and said that it was “far too complex to provide a lump sum compensation system”.

“We consulted the Attorney General about this and we did [government] should have made changes through several legal acts. The problem was that it got complicated. ”

Legal provisions for the protection of landowners in the plant

In an update this week on the matter, the Department of Rural and Community Development announced that over 800 trails are registered in the National Trails Register – and that “each of them is covered by some sort of insurance”.

“The region’s 440 off-road trails running through private land are covered by an insurance scheme operated by Sports Ireland Outdoors and co-funded by local authorities and the Department for Rural and Community Development,” said a department spokesman Agricultural land.

“The situation for highland areas is more difficult because the terrain is not suitable for defining paths or setting design standards.

“Establishing a state compensation system for highland areas is challenging given the legislative changes required, and successive governments have been investigating this issue for over 10 years without success.

“The goal of such a plan is to protect landowners who have access to their land as a recreational area, and there is still work to be done to see what legislation might make possible.

In the meantime, in order to find solutions that can offer landowners in mountainous regions additional protection, the department is examining the introduction of an insurance policy by a private insurance company in order to be able to insure private landowners to a defined extent in highland regions.

“This would be tentative in one or two specific areas. Discussions on this subject are ongoing, but once it is established it has the potential to offer an alternative solution for the areas of the Mountain Access Project, although the other approaches are still being explored. ”

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