May 14th, 2019
A wildlife conservation group has accused the Office of Public Works (OPW) of destroying the banks of the Newport River in Co Limerick and jeopardising the livelihood of its marine species.
The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) claims that the OPW had violated both Irish and European legislation in clearing a three-kilometer stretch of habitat along the River Newport as part of flood relief operations.
The Limerick stream is part of the Lower River Shannon Special Area of Conservation (SAC) marked for its ecological significance, hosting populations of salmon, otter and lamprey.
The IWT said that, due to the ecological importance of the river, the OPW was legally obliged to carry out a full Appropriate Assessment (AA) as the screening process did not rule out the possibility of damage to protected, conservation areas.
The screening report – released to the IWT follow a request under Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) Regulations – states that the area of proposed works contained three alien invasive species, as well as high-value wet willow woodland and acted as an otter habitat.
‘Largely inaccurate’ report
The screening report does not guarantee the environmental safety of the conservation area in the absence of meaningful mitigation measures determined by a full assessment process, according to IWT.
The report, IWT says, also estimates that the ecological damage and risk of sediment runoffs from any works would be “very minor” with no impact on the watercourse.
The IWT claims that this is “largely inaccurate” as long sections of the river’s banks have been reduced to “bare soil, leaving the river extremely vulnerable to sediment pollution and erosion”.
“There was no evidence of any mitigation measures having been employed either to avoid this pollution or to prevent the spread of alien invasive species,” the IWT said.
IWT’s campaigns officer Pádraic Fogarty rebuked the lack of oversight of the State agency adding that “the OPW is not above the law yet it seems to think that it can operate with impunity”.
“The damage [the OPW] has done to our rivers is incalculable, this instance at the Newport in Limerick is not untypical of the disdain they show for our natural heritage,” Mr Fogarty said.
The public body has been heavily criticised in recent years over its flood relief works. Last summer, it faced harsh criticism over how it dealt with fish species while carrying out works on the River Bandon in Co Cork.
The OPW did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Green News.
Rewilding Phoenix Park
The Green Party has also called on the OPW to revise the visitor experience strategic review for Phoenix Park to better ensure the preservation of the park’s wildlife. The review is open to public consultation until the end of May.
“Our government has just declared a Climate and Biodiversity Emergency. That means that at every level, from our own gardens to the incredible space of the Phoenix Park we should be looking to support and enhance nature and our Irish flora and fauna,” the Green Party’s Neasa Hourigan said.
Ms Hourigan added any redevelopment works should focus on “rewilding” the urban park, starting with the “simple act of planting mostly native plants”.
“They are critical to attracting native insects, which in turn attract birds and various animals back to the local ecosystem,” Ms Hourigan said.