More than 150 hardy volunteers have braved chilly conditions to clean up the Mourne Mountains.
Staff and pupils from Belfast Royal Academy cleared away tonnes of rubbish blighting the beauty spot on Saturday for the 23rd year of their annual Mournes Clean-up.
During previous efforts they have uncovered abandoned cars and dumped household goods — and this time the 119 pupils cleared more than 40 tyres, a pram and an old tube television set that had been dumped. It means they have cleared more than 140 tonnes of rubbish since starting 23 years ago.
The school has undertaken the mammoth task every December because its Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Centre makes use of the mountains for expeditions on 12 to 15 weekends a year.
The sponsored clean-up is a way to raise money for the centre, as well as giving something back to the host area. This year South Down MP Margaret Ritchie was joined by Chris Hazzard MLA and chairman of Newry and Mourne Council, Mickey Coogan, who were on hand to welcome the school volunteers before they set off into the mountains and beaches of the area.
Ms Ritchie commended the work of the school.
“The Mourne Mountains are one of Northern Ireland’s areas of outstanding natural beauty. As such, they are increasingly important to the South Down area because of the tourism they attract,” she said.
“Visitors come to the area because they are interested in the natural heritage, rich environment, or inspiration the mountains have lent to poets like Percy French or author C.S Lewis.
“I’m pleased that the pupils and volunteers from Belfast Royal Academy continue to make the effort to protect the area, and clean up after those who are less respectful of what is a beautiful environment.”
Master in charge John Reilly has been organising the clean-up since its inception 23 years ago and said that since then they have cleared more than 140 tonnes of rubbish.
“Belfast Royal Academy’s Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Centre makes use of the Mourne Mountains for expedition work on 12-15 weekends per year,” he said.
“Our pupils have benefited so much from taking part in The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and the Mournes are a particular favourite amongst our pupils. They are always delighted to be giving something back and showing their appreciation for this stunning beauty spot.
“The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award promotes a sense of responsibility amongst its participants and we see this every year when we have around 150 volunteers who give up their Saturday morning and afternoon to take part.”
The clean-up is supported by Down District Council, Newry and Mourne District Council and The National Trust, and is aided faithfully each year in its detailed planning and operation by The Mourne Heritage Trust.
Clean-up areas include Murlough Bay to Newcastle beach front; the Glen River; Donard Wood; Fofanny Dam Forest; Ott Track; Bloodybridge and Bog of Donard; Chimney Rock; Pigeon Rock car park and Slievenaman Road; Hen Track; Kilbroney Park; Shanky’s Hollow; Kilkeel Beach; Trassey Track, and Annalong River.