The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) has formally complained to Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, over the recent destruction of a broad-leaved woodland in Connemara National Park in Galway. The removal of the woodland, which was evaluated by independent ecologists as of ‘high biodiversity value in a local context’, was facilitated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) in a land transfer to Galway County Council with no public consultation process. The IWT believes that this sets a shocking precedent as it now seems that sections of National Parks can be hived off with virtually no due process. While an ecological impact report was prepared in advance of the road project, this was only after the NPWS had agreed to relinquish the land. The woodland, which contained Oak, Hazel, Ash, Beech, Willow, Birch and Alder, along with Bluebells and Ferns on the woodland floor and suitable roosts for bats, was cleared earlier this month. Native woodland is vanishingly rare in Ireland (only around 1% of our land area) and broad-leaved woodland of any kind – and especially in a National Park – is of significant value. The IWT understands that no compensatory land was sought by the NPWS from Galway County Council and so the public is now left with a smaller (and biologically poorer) National Park. The manner in which a section of a National Park can be given away highlights the poor levels of protection for these areas (National Parks have no legal status despite a decades-long commitment to introduce legislation).
IWT Campaigns Officer, Pádraic Fogarty says: “It’s really shocking to think that the NPWS, who are supposed to be the guardians of our natural heritage, can so easily sacrifice chunks of one of our country’s natural treasures. We’re disappointed, but not particularly surprised, that the Fine Gael government has signed off on this, given their poor regard for the environment. However, this incident also highlights the need for reform of the NPWS so that the Irish people can regain confidence that our natural heritage is being protected and defended – something which evidently is not happening at present”. END