A volunteer group in Co. Leitrim has found a novel use for sheep wool – using it in the construction of footpaths and walking trails.

Mountain Meitheal North West, a trail building group, uses the locally-sourced wool to build paths on hillsides around the county.

The project forms part of ongoing upgrades along Co. Leitrim’s national waymarked trail ‘The Leitrim Way’.

Image source: Leitrim Development Company Wool

The wool is used as foundations for the trail, and acts as a barrier between the soft peatland and stoned-surface trail.

By using wool – rather than the common technique of a plastic membrane – a number of advantages have been noted, the group says.

The wool apparently prevents the path from sinking into the peat by essentially ‘floating the stone’ on the bog, while also allowing water to freely pass through unobstructed.

Image source: Leitrim Development Company Wool

The group describes the practice as “eco-friendly”. The wool – which is in “abundant supply” in the area – needs no treatment and can be taken straight off the sheep and used immediately in the construction of the trails.

The group notes that using wool for this purpose is “a reawakening of an ancient engineering technique” that was used as far back as the days of the Roman Empire for building roads over waterlogged grounds throughout Europe.

The group has partnered with Leitrim Development Company for the project.

Image source: Leitrim Development Company Wool

“This style of trail building is common in Scotland, but it’s the first time it has been tried in Ireland,” according to Mountain Meitheal North West representative Silvia Borbein.

The group is involved in projects to conserve mountain and forest areas in Ireland.

Bryan Fennell, rural recreation officer for Leitrim Development Company, said: “This is a game changer for trail building in Ireland.

Image source: Leitrim Development Company Wool

“As we have seen from the last year, the number of people discovering these upland areas has increased immensely and the need to protect these sensitive peatlands from erosion, while still encouraging active lifestyles, is now greater than ever,” Fennel added.

“This style of trail building will not only create robust trails fit for these sensitive environments but it will also give local farmers the opportunity to supply their wool for local projects. On this occasion, the fleece that is being used for the trail construction has come from the very sheep that have grazed this hillside.”

The project is receiving support from the Department of Rural and Community Development though Leitrim Development Company’s recreation programme.