Enniskillen parkrun will no longer take place in Castle Coole because of the “conservation impact” the event is having on the property, the National Trust has said.

Around 200 runners were told last Saturday that the popular, free run will have to move back to the Lakeland Forum in four weeks, until a new location is found.

No more: Enniskillen parkrun no longer permitted to use Castle Coole

The announcement was met with shock and disappointment and local runners took to facebook to query the move.

Impartial Reporter:

The National Trust has denied asking park runners to pay to use the estate.

A spokesman told The Impartial Reporter: “We also understand the ethos of Parkrun as a free run, and we did not request that runners paid to have access to Castle Coole.”

He added: “This mutual decision was not taken in response to complaints. It was very much about the long term conservation impact on Castle Coole.”

Enniskillen parkrun has been told not to speak to the media. They are understood to be “devastated”.

Local parkrun volunteers are now in negotiations with a number of locations around the county to find a replacement location for the parkrun. There are no guarantees that a new location will be in Enniskillen.

A joint statement from the National Trust, parkrun Northern Ireland and parkrun Global was released to the press on Monday. It said “the mutually agreed decision” was taken “after the popularity of the event saw an increased conservation impact on the National Trust property.” 

Jim Chestnutt, the Manager of the National Trust in Fermanagh stated: “Over recent months the National Trust and Enniskillen parkrun have been discussing the increasing demand of the event at Castle Coole and the growing impact this will continue to have on our limited resources as a conservation charity. The cost of maintaining Castle Coole to its present standard of care is significant and the Trust needs to sustain the property’s long term future through the support of all visitors to the property.”

Matt Shields, Country Manager for parkrun in Northern Ireland stated: “The decision to change venues has been made in agreement with the National Trust. We would like to thank the National Trust for hosting us at Castle Coole over the past [two years], in which time we have had great support from ground staff on a weekly basis and seen a steady growth in the number of people participating. We look forward to continuing to grow the parkrun community in our new location.”

The Enniskillen parkrun was the only run permitted on a National Trust property in Northern Ireland. In England, 25 National Trust properties currently host free parkruns.

Tom Williams, Chief Operating Officer at parkrun Global said: “Although it’s always hard to leave such a beautiful location, we’ve decided to do so as, in this case, it’s best for the parkrun and the property. We remain great friends [with the National Trust] and will always be thankful for Castle Coole’s support during the early days of Enniskillen parkrun.”

Local runners were not so magnanimous. 

Writing on facebook, parkrunner Sonya Schofield Hamill said: “This is very disappointing news. The Enniskillen Park Run organisers do an excellent job, and the location truly complimented their efforts. If this is a decision forced by the National Trust then I am severely disappointed. I can’t see how the run was ever anything but great to see on a Saturday morning - families and individuals enjoying their site early on a weekend. It was something to be proud of! I normally renew my National Trust membership without question, but I will re-consider it this year. It was the park run which brought us to the site for all our visits this year.”

Mervyn Elliott, another National Trust member, stated: “Why wasn’t I consulted about this? Did they consider how paid members would feel about this? 
“More and more people were joining the National Trust and those people wouldn’t have joined had it not been for the parkrun.”
He added: “Parkrun will survive and I will always support it but we have this beautiful setting on our doorstep and we are not allowed to use it.”

The free, timed 5K run was initially established by Fermanagh District Council at the Lakeland Forum in 2012. The Council then supported parkrun volunteers with securing the use of Castle Coole as a venue in 2014. 

A spokeswoman for Fermanagh and Omagh District Council said that there was no formal agreement drawn up at the time, but “parkruns take place at many National Trust properties.”

She outlined that when the Council requests access to National Trust properties for specific activities or programmes, “agreement is at the discretion of the site or facility owners or Managers.”
The Council “continues to support and develop programmes and activities for people to become more physically active and has offered the use of the Fermanagh Lakeland Forum as a possible venue for Enniskillen parkrun.”