5th June 2023

Mourne Heritage Trust celebrates 25 years of Caring for Mourne

Mourne Heritage Trust’s Annual General Meeting in November 2022 doubled as a celebration of the charity clocking up a quarter of a century of work to protect and enhance the special qualities of the Mourne Ares of outstanding natural Beauty.

Fittingly, Councillor Robert Burgess, Chair of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council’s Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism Committee, opened proceedings, recalling the role of the former Councils in the area, along with Environment and Heritage Service and NI Tourist Board, in establishing the Trust.

MHT Chairman David Maginn reflected on the past and present commenting ‘It is fair to say that in the early days of MHT, embarking on a new approach, no-one could really have predicted for how long the organisation’s services would be require.  That we are here 25 years later is testament to both the value of the community-based structure for landscape management and its adaptability. Noting in particular the levels of use of the landscape for outdoor recreation since the Covid pandemic the Chairman said ‘Ultimately, whether Mourne Heritage Trust will still be required to play a role in another 25 years’ time will need a crystal ball – but I can say with certainty that this special area will need robust measures for its care and that we stand ready to play our part’.

MP for South Down, Chris Hazzard, praised the ‘can-do approach’ of Mourne Heritage Trust. Referring to the increased pressures on the landscape he said ‘Pandemic, floods, fires & the cascading climate emergency have presented huge challenges in recent years but CEO Martin, David & the growing MHT team have been a real beacon of positivity’. Mr Hazzard went on to stress the importance of government evolving a strategic approach to our current challenges that adequately supports the local charity and landowners to care for what is a regional and national asset.

After an audit report from Una Cunningham of Purdy Quinn Ltd, CEO Martin Carey gave an operational review highlighting the significant growth of staff in the Trust with current levels double those of as recently as 18 months ago. He went on to explain that over half of the current staff team are funded by short term budgets awarded within the financial year and hence currently engaged only until 31st March 2023. He expressed his hope that, having demonstrated the value of the Trust’s approaches over 25 years and effectively scaled up functions including engagement rangering and erosion control in the last 18 months, more secure long-term support will be forthcoming in the new financial year and beyond. Mr Carey referred particularly to the importance of the examination of long-term management structures for the high Mournes by the Department for Finance, including ongoing consultations by the James Hutton Institute.

A pictorial review of 25 years of achievement followed the formal AGM, focusing on some traits considered to have guided and characterised the Trust’s work including innovation, partnership, community engagement and regeneration of the environment, economy and society.

The keynote speaker for the evening, Mr Michael Starrett, picked up on that theme. He recalled the beginnings of his working life as a ranger in the Mourne Mountains before Mourne Heritage Trust was established, going on to share insights to community-based landscape management gained through roles including Director of the Pentland Hills Regional Park near Edinburgh and Chief Executive of the Heritage Council of Ireland.

Mr Starrett highlighted both the urgency of the need to for sustain our environment and rural communities and the opportunities presented by growing awareness of both the climate emergency and the health and well-being benefits derived from recreation in the outdoors. Reflecting a common strand of agreement throughout the evening, he shared the hope that a new era will soon be embarked on in which statutory authorities and other stakeholders build fit for purpose structures on the solid base provided by the achievements of Mourne Heritage Trust.


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