Ireland's first 'wilderness area' to be launched in Ballycroy

A Mayo project to create Ireland's only 'wilderness area' in the remote Nephin Beg range at Ballycroy National Park is to be formally launched in early September.

Wild Nephin, which has been more than five years in the planning, is a hugely ambitious joint project by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Coillte.

It aims to 're-wild' over 16,000 hectares of Coillte forestry and national parkland in northwest Mayo and make it a mecca for wilderness enthusiasts and adventurous souls seeking an authentic 'off the grid' experience.

An initial 15 year plan aims to return the massive expanse of ecologically unique blanket bog, forest, mountains, lakes and rivers, to a more natural state, free from human management.

The wilderness area will allow visitors to ramble, potentially for days at a time, in complete solitude.

Visitors will also be able to avail of wilderness camping in designated areas.

Similar wilderness areas and back country camp sites are a major visitor draw in national parks in Canada and the US.

Denis Strong, divisional manager with the NPWS, is based at Ballycroy National Park.

He said visitors to the area would have to go as far as Greenland to find such a unique landscape.

"This is the only project of its kind in Ireland," he outlined at a meeting of Mayo County Council's West Mayo Municipal District at Ballycroy National Park on Monday.

"It is a pristine Atlantic blanket bog and is quite spectacular, a real tundra like landscape. Most people won't see anything like this unless they travel to somewhere like Greenland."

"It is hugely important, both ecologically and in terms of nature conservation."

Mr Strong said the biggest challenge has always been to make this remote landscape more accessible to the public.

Now, Coillte and the NPWS plan to develop wilderness camp sites and nature trails and are also working with an expert cartographer to map the region and provide a guide for visitors.

Coillte and the NPWS are in the process of drawing up the management plans for the 15-year "conversion phase".

Mr Strong said people will be encouraged to explore the area in a way that protects the habitats and the wilderness experience.

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