Cars parked illegally at beauty spots, rural roads impassable and shocking levels of litter were among the various issues brought about by thousands descending on the Mournes.
The problems prompted Newry, Mourne and Down Council to convene a meeting via video-conferencing to discuss what they have described as “critical” issues for the area.
The meeting on Monday was attended by key stakeholders and senior representatives from partner agencies and organisations that can take action and support the development of a plan to tackle the issues as lockdown eases.
The exceptionally good weather at the end of May, combined with the first-stage of restrictions being eased, resulted in people coming back out to enjoy the outdoor environment, and in a huge influx of visitors coming into the district, some for the first time.
Many of the visitors were responsible and considerate in their actions.
However, unfortunately there were many incidents and reports of cars parked illegally at beauty spots, rural roads being impassable with traffic jams, hordes of people gathering in coastal towns and villages, and shocking levels of litter left scattered across some of our most scenic and protected environments.
Whilst the Council welcomes the gradual easing of restrictions, led by the Northern Ireland Executive’s phased recovery plan, the scenes of overcrowding at the district’s beaches, towns and beauty spots has been concerning for residents, tourism businesses and Council members.
Further meetings will be held in the coming weeks with partner agencies to address critical issues immediately, and to put in place a plan that can deliver sustainable solutions to these problems in the longer-term.
The Chairperson of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, Councillor Laura Devlin commented: “The problems experienced over the past six weeks as restrictions have been eased have been very concerning and, if left unchecked, could result in damage to our environment, our communities, and our reputation as a tourism destination.
“The Council welcomes the support that residents, the emergency services, and businesses have shown in trying to deal with some of these challenges on the ground. However, it is acknowledged now that there must be a
planned approach put in place to safeguard our most important tourism assets, and to ensure our district is protected and preserved for the benefit of all when we fully remerge from the COVID-pandemic.
“The problems we are facing require a combined and sustained response from Council, statutory agencies, transport-bodies, environmental and heritage groups, tourism businesses, land-owners and from civic society. Each and every person that spends time at our beauty spots, or in our protected environments, also has an important role in acting responsibly and being considerate to other visitors and local residents.
“With the support and buy-in of our key partners from across these sectors I hope that we can establish sustainable solutions to addressing these challenges of protecting our environment, our communities and our reputation as a tourism destination for the benefit of all.”