Departments asked to provide funding for Mournes ranger

Departments asked to provide funding for Mournes ranger

27 March 2024

TWO key government departments have been asked to earmark funding to pave the way for the restoration of a vitally important service to help police the Mournes.

The appeal to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and Justice Department to help finance the return of the so-called Mourne engagement rangers as been made by South Down MP Chris Hazzard.

He said the service — established by Mourne Heritage Trust — has diminished as a result of the  loss of funding in recent times and must be reinstated to protect the Mournes

Mr Hazzard said post-Covid, visitor numbers to the Mournes has increased significantly, creating additional pressures on the natural landscape, especially the vulnerable upland heath and peatland habitat.

He explained the ranger service was established in 2021 with funding from the Environment Agency and described it as a “fantastic initiative” in meeting these challenges in a proactive manner that not only assisted visitors with general queries and advice but, undoubtedly, helped reduce antisocial and criminal behaviour.

“Bearing in mind the historically poor record of government agencies, PSNI and the wider criminal justice system in dealing effectively with environmental crime, a preventative community initiative like this was a positive development in protecting one of Ireland’s most sensitive natural areas,” said the MP.

“However, with funding withdrawn in recent times, this vital service has been greatly diminished and already we are seeing some unfortunate consequences across the Mourne area, including environmental destruction to protected habitat.”

The MP confirmed he has written to Stormont ministers Andrew Muir and Minister Naomi Long making the case for multi-agency funding, such as the Assets Recovery Scheme, to be made available to the Mourne Heritage Trust to restore the ranger service and ultimately help reduce the harm caused by environmental crime.

Mr Hazzard added: “I hope both departments will work constructively together in realising the importance for this vital service and deliver the investment needed to get this service back up and running.”