The Irish Farmers' Association's (IFA) hill farming chair Cailin Conneely has welcomed the announcement by Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys of a plan to develop 70 new trails on the Walks Scheme.

The major expansion of the Department’s Walks Scheme will see the number of outdoor trails increase significantly over the next two years.

Following the commitment outlined in the national outdoor recreation strategy 'Embracing Ireland's Outdoors', these 70 new trails will raise the scheme's total number of trails to 150 once they are all completed.

Trail plan

Increasing the number of trails on the Walks Scheme to 150 was previously set out in the IFA’s 2023 pre-budget submission.

Announcing the increased trail plan on the Lung Lough Gara Way in Castlerea, Co Roscommon, on Friday, Minister Humphreys said the Walks Scheme “has a significant impact on the development of recreational activities, boosting rural tourism and supporting farmers who provide access to their land".

“The additional €2.4m in funding will see the total number of farmers and landowners to benefit from the scheme increase to 2,500 over the next two years.”

Conneely said that the minister’s review of the number of rural recreation officers (RROs) is “essential” to ensure that staff are in place to assist farmers and landowners in the delivery of the scheme, especially where new trails are established.

“This is all about partnering with farmers and landowners to open up the countryside - benefitting our walkers, hikers, cyclists and tourists alike,” he said.

Currently, there are 2,200 farmers or landowners participating in the scheme.

Conneely called on the minister to guarantee that the labour wage for farmers who maintain the paths is increased in accordance with the updated TAMS costings.

“The increase must apply to both existing and new participants, including farmers in the middle of their current contracts,” he added.

The application process is now open to trail management committees, community groups and other similar entities for expressions of interest through local development companies until Friday 23 June.