WDC to highlight ecotourism opportunities at Greenbox conference

The Western Development Commission (WDC) will today outline how rural communities can tap into the potential of ecotourism when it addresses the Greenbox All Island Ecotourism Conference.

Gillian Buckley, WDC Chief Executive, will outline the WDC’s experience of developing the Greenbox, Ireland’s only ecotourism destination, and will share ideas with delegates on how communities can use the WDC Model of Rural Development to help develop ecotourism and other innovative projects in their local area.

In her address, Regional Development through Innovative Delivery, Ms Buckley will also look at the policies and practices involved in developing successful tourism products, and will present case studies of where the WDC approach has delivered for rural communities.

Ms Buckley will explain how the WDC’s Model of Rural Development works and can be adopted by local communities. The approach involves a number of stages; bringing stakeholders together; establishing trust by developing a shared framework and strategy for development; building a knowledge base through research and analysis; and producing an action plan including priorities, actions and policy recommendations. It has been published in booklet form and is available from the WDC to anyone with an interest in regional or rural development.

Ms Buckley added, “The success of the Greenbox shows how much can be achieved when public agencies work in partnership with the private sector, community organisations and each other to deliver innovative, regional projects. This collaborative approach can deliver much needed economic benefit to rural areas, increasing enterprise and contributing to balanced regional development. Moreover, regional and national tourism plans now highlight ecotourism’s opportunities and potential and this is a reflection of the Greenbox’s achievements. It shows that a collaborative approach can lead to positive changes in policy.”

Sinéad Ní Mháille, Rural Development Executive at the WDC said “Tourism is very important to the West. 29% of all those employed in tourism are based in the BMW region (72,300 out

of a total of 249,338). Tourism is a major contributor to regional development, with income spent by visitors staying in the local area. Tourism benefits rural areas in particular by creating jobs in locations where other employment can sometimes be difficult to find. By nature it is a truly indigenous sector benefiting the local economy so we focus on improving on this to make it sustainable”.

Gillian Buckley said, “The idea for the Greenbox came about through our work in developing rural tourism products by making the best use of our natural resources, and thereby providing a vehicle for economic delivery to rural areas. In 2002, we worked with the local tourism industry in Leitrim and surrounding counties and the Organic Centre in Rossinver to develop the Greenbox as an integrated ecotourism destination. We consulted with people from the private, public and community sectors, and then we looked at ecotourism abroad to learn of examples where it works really well. The outcome was a framework and action plan to develop the Greenbox.

“Now the Greenbox has a network of 120 local businesses developing to the highest ecotourism standards, and the largest cluster of EU Flower approved accommodation providers on the island of Ireland. €1.4 million has been provided to tourism businesses in the Greenbox network through the capital development programme, and hundreds of tourism providers have received specialist ecotourism training. Work has also been completed on the first ecotourism label standard for tourism products which will give visitors a certified guide to ecotourism products and services,” Ms Buckley concluded.

The Western Development Commission is the lead sponsor of the conference which takes place at The Share Centre, Lisnaskea, Fermanagh on Wednesday 30th January.

Ends

For further information please contact:

Gillian Buckley (087 223 6985) / Sinead Ní Mhaille (086 856 5802) / Ian Brannigan (086 604 8012) WDC, or Angela Bane, Bane Mullarkey, 087 286 5217

Reducing the Western Region’s CO2 emissions could save the Government €7 million annually in carbon credits

Western Development Commission sets targets for the region’s wood energy sector

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has established that wood fuel has the potential to heat the region’s 900 primary schools by 2020 if its new report, Wood Energy Strategy and Action Plan, is implemented. The report estimates that by 2020 using wood to produce heat could be worth €15 million, create up to 900 jobs and provide €1.7 million each year to the West’s farming sector.

Increased use of wood fuel could also see a reduction in the Region’s carbon footprint by cutting 600,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per annum; a saving of nearly €7 million for the country by reducing the number of carbon credits needed to meet our Kyoto commitment.

Speaking at the start of European Sustainable Energy Week, Gillian Buckley said, “The wood energy market in Ireland is relatively underdeveloped compared to international levels. However the Western Region has a huge opportunity to exploit this renewable resource as we have 40% of Ireland’s wood resources in our region. If this report is implemented, the West could develop an indigenous, sustainable, renewable energy resource delivering 11% of the regions’ heat needs. A particularly interesting aspect, of reaching this target, is the economic impact, and the fact that wood could provide €1.7 million each year to the regions’ farmers and create up to 900 jobs in the rural economy.”

The report was commissioned as part of the WDC’s work to develop the renewable energy sector in the Western Region, and focuses on tapping into the demand from commercial and industrial heat users such as hotels, hospitals and schools.

Bernadette Phelan, the WDC’s project leader said, “The report recommends that the Western Region aims for a target of 477MW from wood energy, which would bring us in line with the 2020 national heat target for wood energy. When heat pumps and solar panels are included, then the region is well on track to exceed the 12% national target.”

“The task now is to secure funding to deliver on the three year action plan and we are working with partners to drive that forward to realise this valuable economic opportunity.

The WDC worked closely with the Regional Wood Energy Advisory Group (RWEAG) on this report and the next steps will continue on the basis of cooperation and partnership,” Ms Phelan concluded.

Members of the RWEAG include Sustainable Energy Ireland; Teagasc; LEADER Programme; Údarás na Gaeltachta; Regional Energy Agencies; Local Authorities (Donegal County Council); Sligo Institute of Technology (Department of Environmental Science); Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Department of Communications, Energy, and Natural Resources; The Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture and Food; IFA Farm Forestry; Rural Generation Ltd; Imperative Energy LtdGreen Belt Ltd; and Balcas Timber Ltd.

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For further information please contact:

Gillian Buckley (087 223 6982) / Bernadette Phelan (086 834 0279), Western Development Commission, or Angela Bane, Bane Mullarkey, 087 286 5217.

Notes to editors on wood energy in the Western region

The potential wood fuel supply projections are based on wood produced from private sector forestry and co-products. This forestry material is available in the region as the woodlands are young. The main harvesting activity over the next 20 years will be thinning of these planted private sector forests to allow the strongest trees to flourish and provide a valuable by-product. This material is ideal for energy use as: it is low value; small in diameter and thus suitable for chipping. Its low moisture content (c. 35% moisture content) can be achieved through conventional air drying processes resulting in a quality wood chip fuel. Critically this material is additional to current market demand and could be supplied into a wood energy market without a displacement impact on the supply of wood for other markets in the region and beyond.

RED C opinion poll for the Western Development Commission

41% of people under 35 who live in East would like to move West

43% of people believe economic gap between East and West has widened in the past 5 years

RED C opinion poll for the Western Development Commission

A new opinion poll taken on behalf of the Western Development Commission (WDC), the body charged with the economic and social development of counties Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo, Galway and Clare, shows that 36% of those living in the East, when asked, said they would like to live in the West, while an even higher number, 41%, of those under 35 expressed the same wish.

The poll, carried out by RED C, surveyed a representative sample of 400 people in western counties and 400 in Dublin, Kildare, Meath and Wicklow. The findings revealed that one of the main attractions of living in the Western region was ‘a superior quality of life relative to Dublin’ according to 54% of those in the East and 75% of those living in the West. The poll also shows a dramatic shift in the way Ireland works. Work practices are becoming more flexible, with 41% in West, and 43% in East saying that it is possible to work remotely in their job.

On the negative side, 42% of those in East and 46% of those in West believe the economic gap between East and West has widened in the past 5 years. This is an indication that despite high levels of investment and improvements in infrastructure, the perception remains that the West is falling behind the East.

Commenting on the findings, Gillian Buckley, CEO of the WDC, said, “These results show that a lot of people value the higher quality of life available outside the major urban areas on the East coast. This, of course, is not surprising to us who live in the West, but it underlines the importance of the Government policy of balanced regional development. The things that are holding people back from moving West is a perception that the quality of infrastructure (transport and broadband) is poorer than in the East, while a large number also believe that the type of work they seek is not available in the West.

“Around two thirds of those surveyed in the East believe that the quality and availability of transport is inferior in the West relative to Dublin and this is something that the Government can tackle immediately by ensuring the NDP commitments to the road routes, to and through, the West are delivered. The continuing upgrading of the quality and frequency of train services should mean that a large proportion of the population in the West are a maximum of three hours away from Dublin. The development of commuter rail routes within the region is also vital, as those interviewed in the east say access to public transport is an important factor in deciding where to live.”

Dr. Patricia O’Hara, Policy Manager with the WDC added, “The continuing successful rapid growth of international routes at Ireland West Airport Knock also means that any feeling of isolation on the part of industry wanting to locate in the more northern counties of the region will be dissipated. Given the congestion elsewhere, dynamic regional airports are proving more and more attractive to business and leisure travellers. Broadband continues to be the bug bear right around the country and the sooner that fast, reliable broadband is available, the sooner we’re likely to see population movements away from congested areas. With such a high number of young people willing to move, broadband provision will make it more attractive for these people to establish their own business ensuring the longterm vibrancy of the West.

“The good news is that the access issues are being tackled. The planned fourlane northsouth Atlantic Road Corridor will make an immense difference and the major East to West road routes are being upgraded. Broadband access outside of major centres remains a major issue and we need to see huge improvements so that businesses and individuals who choose to relocate to the

region are not disadvantaged. If we are to achieve balanced regional growth, which will help the Greater Dublin Area as much as those areas outside Dublin, access in all its guises must be THE priority in coming years.

Up to 70% of those asked also were of the opinion that job opportunities were poorer in the West relative to Dublin However, other work we have done in the WDC shows that there are a growing number of top level vacancies in high tech areas such as computer software, medical devices and internationally traded services. We will be raising all of these issues at a national conference on balanced regional development which the WDC will be running in late May.”

The poll was commissioned by the WDC to inform its policy making role and to help make those policies more relevant to encourage balanced regional development across the country.

Notes to editors About the poll

The RED C poll was carried out on behalf of the Western Development Commission (WDC) from the 3rd to 7th December 2007. The research was conducted via telephone among a random representative sample of 800 adults – 400 West and 400 East residents.

The WDC’s 4 strategic aims are:

  • Contribute to balanced regional development by ensuring that the Western Region maximises its full potential for economic and social development.
  • Promote the benefits of living, working and doing business in the Western Region.
  • Support the sustainable economic and social development of the rural economy.
  • Provide risk capital to businesses and community enterprises through the WDC Investment Fund

For further information please contact: Gillian Buckley, CEO, Western Development Commission, on 094 986 1441 or 087 2236982

Or Dr. Patricia O’Hara, Policy Manager, WDC, mobile: 087 686 2772 or work 094 986 1441 Or Conall O Móráin, The Media Group, 0872 463 111