A large part of the Nephin Beg Range of North West Mayo has just been designated as Ireland's first wilderness area. The 11,000-hectare site will be systematically returned to a functioning wild ecosystem, in what's being called the first project of its kind in Western Europe.
The announcement follows the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between forestry company Coillte (which owns about 7% of Ireland's landmass) and the government Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. This commits both parties to working together to deliver the wilderness project, which includes forest lands and parts of the Ballycroy National Park.
The ambitious project will deliver a dedicated wilderness of forest, mountain, bog, river and lakes in the Nephin Beg Range. It will involve Coillte taking 4400 hectares out of their commercial forest operation and putting it through a process of 're-wilding' by improving habitat and landscape quality over a 15-year period. The eventual intention is to produce a protected landscape of significant scale with functioning ecosystems, while at the same time providing an authentic 'wilderness experience' for those that visit.
'Ireland is in the forefront of looking at modified landscapes, the challenges of rewilding and how these can contribute to wilderness in Europe'
Minister Jimmy Deenihan TD welcomed the signing of the memorandum:
'Wild Nephin is an ambitious project that is setting aside a significant parcel of land for the creation of a unique wilderness landscape. 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.'
As well as providing 'completely unique' recreational opportunities where challenge, solitude and remoteness are the hallmark, the project also aims to increase nature conservation and biodiversity, facilitating research and enhancing the status of natural ecosystems through a process of non-intervention.
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 rewilding and how these can contribute to wilderness in Europe.'