Drumnaph is a community-owned nature reserve that has become an invaluable part of our local community infrastructure. Our innovative approach to building a sense of collective ownership has helped engender a powerful ethos of responsibility towards environmental conservation at all levels of our community.
The promotion of the sensitive year-round use and enjoyment of the reserve by the community has been one of the most important elements in building a sense of community guardianship of this important heritage asset. Community use of the reserve ranges from daily recreational use of the walking trails to organised events and activities including health and wellbeing activities, family picnics, our annual lantern walk, the family camp night, community gardening and conservation training.
An education and youth programme is also a key part of developing a sense of understanding of nature conservation and our volunteering programme allows the opportunity for young and old alike to help with conservation works and delivering the community events programme.
In the short space of time since the reserve has been in community ownership it has become central to our community programme, delivering a range of positive community benefits. These benefits include improved mental and physical health & wellbeing, increased community cohesion, education & youthwork benefits, Irish- language reinstatement, arts & culture promotion, all whilst supporting and promoting nature conservation and environmental sustainability. It is a truly innovative and exemplary project which demonstrates what can be achieved by encouraging community ownership of local natural heritage assets.
Carntogher Community Association was set up in 1992 to promote the regeneration of the local community – to halt rural depopulation and decline by improving community services and infrastructure, to develop a strong sense of community pride and to make Carntogher a more sustainable community.
From its inception, the preservation and reinstatement of our heritage has been central to the Association’s vision– be that the protection and enhancement of our natural heritage or the reinstatement of our indigenous language and culture. The wealth of Irish-language place-names, ancient laws, archaeology, folklore, recorded history, and our local traditions all help to enrich the understanding and preservation of our natural heritage and landscape.
When, in 1999, the opportunity arose to acquire a portion of ancient woodland and surrounding habitats we grasped it. In co-operation with The Woodland Trust, we negotiated the purchase of an 80-acre section of the reserve containing ancient woodland, bogland grazing fields and almost 1 KM of river habitats. Following the acquisition, the Woodland Trust undertook new planting and the construction of access paths for public access.
A further section of 130 acres of adjacent lands then came up for sale in 2012 – consisting of a patchwork of habitats including ancient woodland, fenland, bogland, ancient grazing lands and a further 1km of river habit. Carntogher Community Association was very fortunate in being able to secure the funding to acquire these lands (from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Environment and Heritage Service). Following acquisition, we set about undertaking a range of conservation actions on the site constructing pathways to provide public access and important public facilities on the reserve and the setting up of a small rare breed cattle herd to deliver the conservation grazing on the reserve.
Today the rich biodiversity of the reserve has been preserved and enhanced and it has become a central part of our community infrastructure delivering a wide range of community benefits.
The reserve represents a microcosm of our ancient landscape and contains the richness of the diversity that evolved over thousands of years. Very few areas have preserved such wide range of inter-connected habitats within a single site to allow such a diversity of plant and animal life to be preserved.
With the growing appreciation for the importance of nature conservation, biodiversity and sustainability this rich store of biodiversity could play an important role in increasing future biodiversity at a local, regional and national level.
Drumnaph could hold the key to helping to reinstate richly diverse habitats to surrounding lands and other sites. We have plans to work with partners including Universities, public-sector agencies, conservation groups and landowners to maximise the potential of the wealth of biodiversity that we have within the reserve to increase biodiversity on other sites. There is much potential in delivering this by using nature corridors to other nearby sites, new planting and natural regeneration on adjacent sites and through the ‘seeding’ on other regional or national sites that have perhaps lost their biodiversity.
We believe that our community-approach to nature conservation demonstrates an important model that could be of use for other communities who wish to take active steps to preserve their heritage assets whilst delivering a range of other community benefits. We would further like to increase the impact of our project by sharing our experience to any other communities who are interested in taking ownership of and/ or managing their local natural heritage assets.
The sense of the collective ownership and guardianship generated by this project is, we believe, the most effective way of ensuring the long-term protection and appreciation of this important heritage asset by this generations and the many generations still to come.