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Initiative will promote best practice in visitor safety management at 900 sites and 1,000km of navigable waterways in Ireland

A number of State and semi-State bodies responsible for the management of approximately 900 national monuments, parks, historic houses, recreation sites and 1,000km of inland navigable waterways across the island of Ireland, as well as for policy development, have joined forces for a new initiative to improve the safety of visitors to their sites.

Visitor Safety in the Countryside Group

The bodies have become members of the Visitor Safety in the Countryside Group (VSCG), which aims to enhance safe access to the countryside and hundreds of sites across the country in ways that do not spoil the landscape and heritage or lessen visitors’ sense of exploration and adventure.

The members of the group have committed to work together to enhance visitor safety by sharing their experiences and implementing best practice in the management of visitor safety.

Since its establishment in the UK in 1997, the VSCG has sought to address the lack of relevant guidance for landowners and land managers in this area by establishing a set of basic principles for visitor risk management and identifying and promoting best practice.

New Irish members

Irish bodies that have joined the group include:

  • The Office of Public Works (OPW)
  • Coillte
  • The State Claims Agency
  • Waterways Ireland
  • Department of Environment, Community and Local Government

The OPW oversees 740+ national monuments, with 3.8 million visitors to their sites in 2012. Coillte manages approximately 7% of the land cover of Ireland and its 160 forests, parks and recreation sites attract 18 million visitors annually. Waterways Ireland manages approximately 1,000km of navigable inland waterways.

Speaking at today’s inaugural meeting of the Irish members of the Group, VSCG Chairman Ken Dodd said:

“The new Irish member bodies share the aim of making visits to the Irish countryside as enjoyable and as safe an experience as possible, minimising the number of incidents that occur and the risk of litigation arising from injuries to visitors. By working towards a shared set of principles, the bodies aim to generate the added benefit of attracting both Irish and foreign tourists to explore the beautiful and unspoiled landscape and historical structures of Ireland.”

Brian Hayes TD, Minister of State for Public Service Reform, with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, welcomed the initiative.

Minister Hayes said:

“Tourism is a key strand of the Government’s economic policy and this year’s Gathering Initiative has helped attract many new visitors to our beautiful forests, waterways, historic parks and houses. As such, it is essential that these visitors have safe access to our valuable assets.

As Minister with responsibility for the Office of Public Works and many of the wonderful historic sites visited throughout the year, I am proud of its dual principle of conserving our heritage and improving public access – which is a perfect match to the guiding principles of the VSCG. I wish everyone well today in their deliberations and I am sure all will benefit greatly from this new initiative.”

The State Claims Agency (SCA) is the name used by the National Treasury Management Agency when carrying out its claims and risk management functions. The SCA provides risk management advice and assistance to State authorities with the aim of reducing future claims and litigation. Where claims do arise its objective is to manage these claims so as to ensure that the State’s liability and associated expenses are contained at the lowest achievable level.

‘Countryside’ is taken to include all areas where public access is invited and where activities are largely unsupervised. These include:

• moors, mountains and open countryside
• parks and gardens, historic properties and archaeological remains
• footpaths and waymarked trails
• forests, country parks and nature reserves
• waterways and coastlines
• urban green space
• visitor centres

VSCG members own or manage over:
1.5 million hectares of land
27 million trees
250 nature reserves
750 miles of coastline and over 400 islands and islets
a thousand historic properties
40 visitor centres
5 World Heritage Sites

Together they welcome over 106 million visitors every year.

Over 6 million people are signed-up members of a VSCG organisation.

VSCG members have almost 100,000 volunteers working on their properties, including fire fighters, pilots, and beekeepers.

National Monuments & Historic Properties
740+ Sites
3.8m visitors in 2012

445 Hectares of land = 7% of land cover of Ireland
10 forest parks, 150 recreation sites
18m visitors to forests annually

Waterways Ireland
1,000km of inland navigable waterways
4 in 10 overseas visitors visited Ireland specifically to make use of the waterways. This increases to 67% to those visiting from Europe.

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