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ASCENT – European upland areas

ASCENT – European upland areas

ASCENT, a new innovative project to collectively address the environmental challenges facing seven northern European upland areas, is a three year project and involves Donegal County Council as lead partner, working collaboratively with Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and the Mourne Heritage Trust in Northern Ireland, Metsähallitus Park and Wildlife in Finland, Hordaland County Council in Norway, and the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland along with associated partners including Údarás na Gaeltachta, Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust, Mossfellsbær Municipality and Skaftárhreppur.

Unregulated access to upland sites and natural erosion has meant that some areas of natural beauty have experienced degradation, loss of unique bio-diversity and bio-resources.  In response, the ASCENT project, an acronym for ‘Apply Skills and Conserve our Environment with New Tools’ sets out to develop management plans and implement innovative measures that will address future economic and environmental sustainability

The total budget for this project in Newry, Mourne and Down is €311,000

Project Updates

ASCENT website Launched in Iceland

Update published on: December 3, 2018


The Soil Conservation of Iceland recently hosted the 5th Project Steering Committee meeting and study visit for the ASCENT team.

The team made several site visits to view erosion and discussed the challenges faced due to increasing tourism numbers and complex threats facing the great lava field and its vulnerable moss.

A thematic Seminar was held at SCSI’s office in Reykjavik with speakers from SCSI, the Forestry Service of Iceland, the Environmental agency of Iceland and Mosfellsbaer. The new ASCENT website was then launched.

To read more about the Iceland visit please click here.

Getting woolly in Norway

Update published on: October 1, 2018


ASCENT Project Partners came together in Odda, Norway in September 2018 in order to share knowledge and discuss common challenges for upland management faced across all countries within the Northern Periphery and Arctic Circle.

Norwegian hosts from Hordaland County Council were particularly keen to learn about Irish ‘Sheep’s Wool’ paths, which were traditionally used to ‘float’ pathways over bogs and deep peat. This trip formed part of a wider aspiration to share knowledge and engage more closely with land management bodies on an international level.

This will help develop strategic solutions for conservation of upland areas in the face of widespread challenges such as habitat decline, increased tourism and climate change. The ASCENT project includes project partners from the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Iceland, Norway and Finland.

Closer to home, Horticulture Students from Clanrye Group have taken on a new challenge assisting the ASCENT Slieve Gullion Upland Path Team repair sections of erosion along the Slieve Gullion Summit Path using hand tools and traditional techniques. This work is being carried out as part of an Interreg IV funded project known as ASCENT, which aims to explore sustainable solutions to protecting upland areas.

It is hoped in 2019 that we will be creating a regular Thursday path days for volunteers with a training course in February to incentivise participants. Watch this space!

Visitors from the North to Gullion and Mourne

Update published on: May 10, 2018


The Ascent Project delivered another successful knowledge-sharing trip when partners from Donegal, Finland, Norway and Iceland visited the Ring of Gullion and the Mourne Mountains in April. The week took the partners to explore some of the sites where work is being carried out to encourage the sharing of knowledge and experience.

The group climbed Slieve Gullion to look at proposals for repairing the erosion around the route from the South Cairn to the lake. They also got their hands dirty doing some heavy lifting on the mountain and met the team from McGowan Upland Path Contractors who have been engaged to do the remedial work on the summit. The hard graft continued as the Scandinavians got involved in some excellent path work at the Glen River on Slieve Donard, where they also studied heathland regeneration.

A thematic seminar was held at Tory Bush Cottages where the ASCENT project members discussed the formation of desire lines and formal paths, how Northern Ireland can cope with rising demand for upland tourist infrastructure and how this can be funded. They also looked at the costs and benefits of machine built compared to hand built paths and how the work could be delivered most efficiently. However, the visit wasn’t all tough activity and hard thinking, the team was well entertained by local musician and Gullion Ambassador, Colleen Savage and friends, with an evening céilí featuring virtuoso uilleann piping, fiddle playing and singing, rounded off with Icelandic folk tunes and dancing.

Newry, Mourne and Down set to host international ASCENT Partners

Update published on: March 8, 2018


Every six months all the members of the ASCENT programme, with partners from five European countries, come together to review completed work and plan out the next six months; this April it’s South Armagh and the Mournes turn to play host. The partners will first stay with Padraig and Sharon Carragher at Bluebell Lane, and Mary Toal at Tí Chulainn, before they move on to David Maginn’s, Tory Bush Cottages in the Mournes.


Overall the ASCENT project is delivering at lightning speed:

  • habitat surveys have been carried out on Slieve Gullion and Slieve Donard;
  • a Strategic Path Review on Slieve Gullion is now complete;
  • plans have been drawn for Slieve Gullion Path repairs;
  • learning trips to Errigal and the Cuilcagh Boardwalk are finished and;
  • repairs to the Glen River Path and the Mourne Wall have begun.


One of the most significant actions to be carried out in this past six months was an Upland Management Ethics conference and workshop. The conference and workshop were held in November at the Tollymore National Outdoor Centre. It was attended by stakeholders from the ASCENT partner projects, as well as Mountaineering Ireland, Outdoor Recreation NI and representatives from local councils across Ireland, to name a few. The conference covered vital issues within upland recreation, such as the Cuilcagh Boardwalk and the sustainability of current principles of applied conservation.

Welcome to the Spring edition of ASCENT's digital newsletter!

Update published on: March 1, 2018


Check out what our partners are delivering on locally across their upland sites and also how activities are progressing on a multifaceted front, with key focus applied to ‘International Learning and Knowledge Development’, which culminating in the fully booked workshop ‘Managing Upland Paths – are Good Principles Enough’ held in the Tollymore Centre in the shadows of the Mourne Mountains last November.

Click here for the spring edition.

Passing on our learning

Update published on: October 1, 2017


As the ASCENT project reaches its first anniversary, the team are organising a workshop event to ‘Review upland path principles’. The workshop will be a space for land managers, practitioners and local communities, who are responding to increased erosion in protected upland landscapes to discuss these principles, their effectiveness and how they are implemented.

During the workshop, leaders in the field will facilitate discussion on common challenges, knowledge exchange, innovation and policy development.

This event will result in targeted best practice guidelines for rural community networks, landscape management bodies, path practitioners, outdoor recreation providers & participants, government agencies with a role in the rural landscape and protected area management and also for those promoting the outdoors for health and well-being, tourism and economic development.

Ascent trip to the Arctic

At the workshop some of the ASCENT project partners will discuss the recent ASCENT team trip to Finland; a week of meetings, site visits, thematic seminars and many project planning activities in the magnificent wilderness of the Hossa and Oulanka National Parks.

The ASCENT team visited Finland’s Oulanka National Park where officers from Mourne Heritage Trust and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council helped fix some trails, with the aim of sharing skills and knowledge. The team also explored some of Hossa National Park’s 90km of trails, winding easily through the spectacular lake scenery. The park was designated in 2017, and new paths and infrastructure were built for its opening.

The ASCENT team visited Julma Olkky by boat with the fieldwork manager and rangers from Metsähallitus, a state owned enterprise that manages one third of Finland’s surface area. The trip took the team to view a new suspension bridge, metal staircases, stone pitching on a fall line trail (a trail that goes straight up a slope) and extensive safety work carried out last winter. We look forward to welcoming the Finnish team to Slieve Gullion and Slieve Donard in March 2018.

South to North summit trail moves a step closer

Update published on: July 24, 2017


For anyone that has ever sunk up to their oxters in the peat mud on the top of Slieve Gullion, attempting to walk from the south cairn to the lake and beyond, the news that a new trail is a step closer will be welcome.

The existing, undefined track is seriously eroded and forms an unsightly scar on the top of this beautiful mountain. Walking the mountain can be quite risky in poor weather when the deep peat hags or holes loom up unexpectedly out of the mist. Even in dry weather, the worn surface, littered with large boulders, cracks and steep cuts does not make for pleasant walking.

Recently, experts from “Walking the Talk”, a company with many years of experience in designing upland trails, undertook an in-depth survey of the route. Their recommendations include relocating existing boulders to create safe steps and innovative techniques, such as, using sheep’s wool as a base for the new trail. It is hoped work will start in the autumn. Contractors will use modern techniques to reduce damage and disturbance to the mountain, including helicopter flights to bring aggregate to the precise spot it is needed. The end result will be a sustainable, ecologically sound and attractive path, that will safely allow the 31,000 walkers who brave the summit each year, to extend their walks and make the most of this lovely area.


Beginning our ASCENT

Update published on: October 20, 2016


ASCENT, a new innovative project to collectively address the environmental challenges facing seven northern European upland areas, including peaks in the Ring of Gullion and the Mournes was officially launched by the Cathaoirleach of Donegal County Council, Cllr Terence Slowey on Thursday, the 20th of October, 2016.

Read the full story here – Beginning our ASCENT.

Lottery Funded
NIEA DoE N&M DC Biodiversity

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