A cumulative allocation for Heritage of some €30.178 million has been provided in the 2019 Estimates provisions for my Department. In 2018 the equivalent expenditure figure was €26.287million and in 2017, the figure was €29.75million.
Through the National Parks and Wildlife Service, my Department manages some 87,000 ha across our national parks and nature reserve network. These parks annually attract 4 million visitors and support a broad range of enterprise and employment opportunities for the communities in which they are situated.
In July 2018, as part of our strategic investment partnership with Fáilte Ireland, which is aimed at enhancing and promoting the tourism offering at Ireland’s national parks and conserving and protecting the natural environments of the parks for the enjoyment of future generations, my Department published a document entitled Experiencing the Wild heart of Ireland, which is a tourism interpretative master plan for the national parks and nature reserves. The plan sets out a framework that will guide the phased development of enhanced visitor experiences and improved visitor facilities at our national parks and nature reserves, taking into account our conservational objectives and based upon research into international best practice.
The plan recommends a suite of capital projects of varying size from smaller scale interventions, such as the installation of viewing platforms, to larger projects such as the development of new boardwalks and trails and the construction of new visitor centres. From these proposals, projects will be funded jointly by my Department and Fáilte Ireland through a multimillion euro investment package over the coming years.
The first such project is a €2.1 million investment in the Wild Nephin-Ballycroy National Park, which was announced on 31 August 2018. The aim of the project is to develop a continuous 53 km walking and cycling trail from Newport to Ballycastle on the Wild Atlantic Way through the national park. The project will endeavour to provide more direct and safe routes on tracks through bogland, forests and challenging terrain.
The next project is a €1.9 million investment for developments in Connemara National Park, announced on 3rd December 2018. Works to be carried out are based on elements contained in Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland’s report Feasibility and Scoping Assessment Of Possible Links from Connemara National Park to Kylemore Abbey. In brief, the funding will provide opportunities for improvement and enhancement of recreational trails, increased accessibility of trails and development of new trails. This will dissipate the visitor load and improve the quality of the visitor experience.
Our historic buildings and structures are also a vital part of our heritage. While the primary responsibility to care for and maintain our built heritage structures rests with the owner, the built heritage investment scheme and the structures at risk fund invest essential capital in our built heritage and help the owners and custodians of historic structures to safeguard them into the future for the benefit and enjoyment of communities and the public. There are almost 50,000 protected structures around the country. Many of them are in great need of investment to ensure their preservation and continued use so that they remain a living part of our history and community life into the future. Last April, funding of some €3.3 million was allocated to 431 projects across every local authority area under the built heritage investment scheme and the structures at risk fund. These projects are well under way with funding due to be drawn down in the final quarter of the year. I am pleased to note the structures at risk fund will be revised and refreshed as the historic structures fund for 2019. This will offer improved supports to those who work hard in our communities to ensure our historic buildings remain alive and in use so that they are passed to future generations in better condition than we found them.