Will customer numbers to many out of doors sights must be capped?


A LARGE number of people enjoyed the great outdoors during the May bank holiday, and with summer coming, many more are sure to move to the mountainous regions that are already under severe pressure.

On a recent visit to Mayo I was amazed at the eroded condition of Croagh Patrick. An already worn path to the top of the holy mountain has become an ugly scar that can be seen even through the fog.

A local advocacy group has built a new stone footpath up the mountain to prevent people from walking on the bare, soft ground.

If you’re looking for an example of a crowded mountain, Croagh Patrick, which is estimated to have 120,000 visitors annually, is a good example. It’s a classic case of the impact of an ever-increasing number of people participating in a growing variety of outdoor activities on peat soil.

The story is echoed in the similar terrain of Kerry’s MacGillycuddy Reeks, which includes Carrantuohill, our highest mountain. Local farmers and the MacGillycuddy Reeks Access Forum are busy with constant maintenance of trails and roads, while the influx of hillwalkers increases.

In 2018, more than 238,000 people hiked the Reeks. Numbers have been falling for the past two years due to the pandemic, but some locals expect the number to reach 300,000 or more this year.

A puffin on Skellig Michael

Recently, the Forum and the Unesco Kerry Biosphere Reserve hosted a training course on responsible outdoor recreation aimed at people working in the hospitality industry who regularly meet visitors in the mountains.

Gerald McEnery, the forum’s development officer, said the message they were trying to get across was that people should respect the mountains and the landowners whose goodwill provided access to them. Essentially, it is about getting visitors to act sustainably.

Meanwhile, Skellig Michael, the UNESCO World Heritage Site off the south-west coast, will open shortly to visitors, who are limited to a maximum of 180 per day by the Office of Public Works (OPW).

The impact of visitors on the site _ a spectacular cone-shaped rock with monastic beehive huts _ will be closely monitored over the coming years and will be reviewed annually by the OPW as part of a new ten-year plan.

The challenge is to find a balance between sustainable visitor numbers and the protection of a fragile, natural and built heritage. This begs the question: Is the day far away when the number of visitors to many outdoor attractions will be capped?

After climbing the 600 steps to the summit of Skellig Michael and wandering among the well-preserved monastic remains, I can vouch for what many consider a special experience. A truly spiritual place where you can enjoy the wonders of nature.