Sitting next to Ireland’s capital city of 1.4 million people, the communities of the Wicklow and Dublin Uplands are quite used to experiencing great numbers of visitors during holidays and periods of fine weather. Popular for its many walking trails, scenic drives, outdoor activities and heritage sites such as Glendalough and the Hellfire Club, the uplands welcome visitors from far and wide throughout the year.
Since measures to combat the spread of the Covid-19/ Coronavirus were first announced, and with schools, educational centres and many businesses now closed, the uplands have seen unprecedented numbers of visitors arrive on a daily basis.
Wicklow Uplands Council, an organisation formed to provide a voice to the upland communities, recently issued a number of guidelines to inform visitors of public health concerns such as social distancing and to reduce the impact of large numbers, by offering advice on topics such as appropriate parking, litter disposal and dog control.
However, the uplands reached a breaking point this weekend, with key stakeholders such as An Garda Síochána, Wicklow County Council, the Office of Public Works and the National Parks and Wildlife Service making a decision to close all car parks and facilities in the Glendalough Valley until further notice. This coordinated response was due to social distancing concerns and the impact of what was being described as a surge, was having to the area’s residents and the network of narrow roads that provides access for everyone.
Shops in the nearby village of Laragh, which sell essential supplies to local communities, collectively made the decision to also close for the day. The sheer volumes of people expected to descend on the area would have made it impossible to successfully implement the procedures they had put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Shortly afterwards, An Garda Síochána closed sections of the Sally Gap road close to the picturesque Luggala estate for a number of hours, due to what the service described as “traffic volumes and careless parking”. With garda resources being devoted to multiple locations, and a number of cars being towed, the message of staying at home, the need for social distancing and requests for visitors to act responsibly, seems to have been forgotten or ignored.
Anxious upland communities are now appealing directly to would-be visitors, to please stay at home and avail of recreational amenities within their own locality. Each visitor brings with them an increased chance of the virus spreading to the area. Each rest stop, each hand that touches a metal gate or stile, each person that engages another, potentially brings that daunting reality one step closer.
The message of avoiding the hills and rural settings during times of crisis, is nothing new. In the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak, the Irish community understood the challenges and heeded the call to avoid the hills. Accepting that once the crisis had passed, they would once again be open for all to enjoy and safe in the knowledge that they had positively contributed to protecting our important rural communities.
However, this time it’s different; it extends well beyond the need to protect rural economies – this is a public health crisis. As a global pandemic, we must all now understand the immense challenges ahead for each of us. We are all directly affected, and together we must pay heed to Tuesday’s measures which includes a request to avoid all unnecessary travel and restrictions on social gatherings. These unprecedented measures are designed to slow the spread of the virus following recommendations from the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan and the National Public Health Emergency Team.
In response, Wicklow Uplands Council is now asking that people stay at home and stay local. Travelling to the uplands for recreational and pleasure activities is considered unnecessary and irresponsible. It is contrary to government measures and exposes local communities to the risk of spreading the virus.
Brian Dunne, coordinator of Wicklow Uplands Council shared,
“The upland communities very much understand the desire for outdoor recreational activities, especially at this challenging time, however, the Council asks that people observe Government measures, stay at home, avoid unnecessary travel and maintain social distancing’
Mr. Dunne, continued,
“Many car parks, walking routes, toilet facilities, restaurants, cafe’s and other services in the Uplands are now all closed in an effort to discourage visitors, slow the spread of the virus and to protect local communities and we ask that people act responsibly and respect the seriousness of the situation”.