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£2m funding earmarked to protect and maintain NI's first dark sky reserve

By Annamay McNally

Published 08/11/2016

Beaghmore Stone Circle, one of the archaeological gems within the Heart of Ancient Ulster landscape
Beaghmore Stone Circle, one of the archaeological gems within the Heart of Ancient Ulster landscape

Northern Ireland's first ever dark sky reserve, at one of the country's most archaelogically significant sites, has been given a major boost after receiving funding of £2m.

The award from the Heritage Lottery Fund will also be used to restore and maintain over 25,000 hectares of blanket and raised bog, reduce carbon emissions from peatland, recruit volunteers to help plant 100,000 native trees and increase access to the landscape by installing over 10km of new trails and walks.

A dark sky reserve is an area, usually surrounding a park or observatory, that is kept free of artificial light pollution

The proposals have been made by Mid-Ulster District Council, in partnership with Fermanagh and Omagh District Council and a local stakeholder group.

They include plans to deliver a number of integrated projects under the the Heart of Ancient Ulster Landscape Partnership over a five-year period.

Paul Mullan, head of HLF Northern Ireland, said: "This extraordinary rural and isolated landscape has been preserved in time and allows us to step back 10,000 years to explore and experience it in the same way as our ancient ancestors.

"It is hugely important in local and national terms and we are delighted that money raised by National Lottery players is helping to protect and conserve it."

Councillor Trevor Wilson, chair of Mid-Ulster District Council, noted the great opportunities provided through the fund's support.

"This area is rich in archaeology which shows that communities have been living among its hills and valleys for at least 7,000 years," he said.

"We wish to protect a unique environment while also ensuring that an important part of our ancient heritage can be enjoyed.

"The initial funding of £85,000 from Heritage Lottery Fund is substantial in itself and will allow us to consider our plans in more detail.

"I'm delighted with the award."

One of the area's best known attractions is the Beaghmore Stone Circles. Discovered in the 1940s the site outside Cookstown consists of seven stone circles. All the rings are associated with cairns and a stone row runs towards these cairns.

Over the last decade, HLF's Landscape Partnership programme has provided £221m across the UK. The programme helps to forge new partnerships between public and community bodies, ensuring people are better equipped to understand and tackle the needs of their local landscapes. Grants range from £100,000 to £3m.

The HLF has so far invested almost £40m in Northern Ireland's natural heritage.

This funding is helping to conserve key species and habitats, restore historic built heritage and protect our precious green spaces right across Northern Ireland, from Lough Neagh to the Glens of Antrim, and the Sperrins to Faughan Valley.

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