OVER 60 participants from across the Strabane and Lifford region have had the opportunity to engage with their local environment this month as part of the Riverine Environmental Champions project.
From learning about how long it takes plastic waste to breakdown to exploring wild and wonderful places and helping conserve fragile landscapes they have all become valuable Environmental Champions for the region.
This cross-border project has been managed by Derry City and Strabane District Council and delivered by Hummingbird NI (CIC) and Dennett Anglers, as part of the European Union's PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB).
Using nature to engage people from different backgrounds and communities has allowed the participants to learn from the environment they share.
Rivers and wildlife do not recognise difference or borders as they flow through the landscape connecting people and communities together.
Over the bank holiday weekend two celebration events were held at Silverbrook Mill close to Donemana and Ballyheather Trout Fisheries.
On Friday evening at Silverbrook Mill, Noelle Donnell from Hummingbird (NI) CIC commented: "It has been lovely to see people of different ages taking part in the project.
"We have had primary school children and older folk working alongside each other and having Joe Mahon here this evening to help celebrate our achievements has been a fabulous end to the project."
Joe Mahon has spent years helping tell stories and connecting people to different landscapes throughout Ireland.
The young participants were thrilled to receive their certificates from the TV star and at the end of the presentation Joe described how six year old Rosie had just taught him that some butterflies have eye patterns on their wings to scare away predators, noting that you are never too young to be interested in nature and you are never too old to learn new things.
He went on to say that no matter what barriers or borders we create, we are all connected through nature and our surroundings.
Dennett Angler's Damien Devine has spent a life time observing and caring for the environment. "Delivering this programme is just the start," he said.
"We have now got a group of people with the knowledge, skills and desire to continue actively engaging with our environment.
"I strongly believe that the Riverine Environmental Project will have a lasting legacy in the region.
"One particular bound that the project has made is between the Dennett and Deele Anglers.
"These two groups, on either side of the border have had the chance to share knowledge and experience to help protect their respective rivers".
Riverine Project officer, Allan Bogle added: "During this programme we have used the tagline - Learn More, Explore More and Do More.
"To me this is what environmental stewardship is all about.
"We have to understand the issues the environment is facing, we need to be able to see it first-hand and this will lead to more people actively doing something to improve things."
Allan finished by saying: "Our celebration events having been a fitting end to an unforgettable summer.
"Our Environmental Champions can all be very proud of what they have achieved."