Environment Minister Edwin Poots has announced a further £2 million will be made available for projects through the Environment Fund.

Minister Poots announced the additional funding during a visit to Slieve Donard, the highest peak of the Mourne Mountains, Co.Down, where he helped the National Trust repair a strategic path from ‘the saddle’ to the summit using innovative and sustainable methods.

The project was one of 23 that benefited from funding through the 2020/21 Challenge Fund.

He said: “Visiting Slieve Donard with the National Trust and taking part in helping to repair pathways to the summit has enabled me to see at first-hand the excellent work undertaken by such organisations in protecting our environment.

"This project is an excellent example of the sustainable positive outcomes that can be achieved for biodiversity whilst promoting health and well-being through allowing responsible access to the outdoors.

“I am conscious of the significant negative impact that Covid-19 has had on organisations that work tirelessly to protect our environment, enhance access and enable visitors to experience our natural heritage and all of its diversity.

“I am, therefore, pleased to announce that I have allocated a further £2 million for a 2021/22 Challenge Competition (Challenge Fund), to complement the existing Environment Fund, which my department will launch in the coming weeks.

“This significant additional funding will assist Green Recovery from the Covid pandemic whilst providing further support for the delivery of key departmental strategic aims and the Programme for Government.

“I strongly support partnership working with environmental organisations and I acknowledge the significant contribution that volunteers make to projects such as the one on Slieve Donard. I look forward to visiting other projects in the near future to see the benefits of this collaboration.”

Do your bit - stick to the paths

Heather McLachlan, the National Trust's director for Northern Ireland, said: "We were delighted to be able to show Minister Poots the expert work we are doing to restore the footpaths which give thousands of people safe access into the Mournes.

"We also discussed our work to restore nature and wildlife on Slieve Donard and Commedagh. As a conservation charity, our focus is on looking after these really special places so that both people and nature can thrive.”

Acknowledging the importance of funding support from DAERA for this conservation work, she added: "As Northern Ireland emerges again from lockdown, we are very aware that access to the outdoors and nature has never been in greater demand.

"We would urge everyone to enjoy the fresh air and wonderful views at places local to them, and also to play their part in looking after nature by keeping to the paths and taking their litter home with them."