British comedian, Steve Coogan, in his Alan Partridge incarnation takes the starring role in an advertisement for a boat hire firm offering boating holidays on England’s canals. One of Alan’s lines uttered on board a boat sailing along the tranquil wooded canal bank is “Try pedestrianising this”.
In the real world of Waterways Ireland’s activities, this is their desired outcome. Grassy canal banks are being pedestrianised, with hard black tarmac poured over green walkways, which prior to their destruction, were ideal for strollers and casual cyclists alike. And for nature.
In 2018 Waterways Ireland was refused permission to build hard surfaces by Carlow County Council and was denied permission for part of their proposed walkway by two other planning authorities, Kildare and Laois County Councils. The councils did not accept Waterway Ireland’s assurances that their proposed development would not harm the habitats in the Special Area of Conservation along the River Barrow. One of the areas of contention was the negative impact on tree roots that would arise from preparing the ground for a walkway/cycleway by soil excavation and the laying of a hard surface. Waterways Ireland asserted their construction methods would not damage roots, opponents of their plan differed. Waterways Ireland has appealed the councils’ refusal to An Bord Pleanála.
However, recently Waterways Ireland clear-felled hundreds of trees along a stretch of the Barrow in Carlow. In a statement of apology published in the Carlow Nationalist, Waterways Ireland admitted that the work was carried out without taking the steps required by law. These steps are to prepare a habitat directive statement, in consultation with the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Waterways Ireland failed to follow this procedure.
It is very hard not to believe that Waterways Ireland removed the trees to remove a key argument against installing their hard surface.
Butterfly Conservation Ireland has written to Carlow County Council and An Bord Pleanála to notify them of the damage and ask what action will be taken. Butterfly Conservation Ireland also wrote to the National Parks and Wildlife Service asking what steps do the National Parks and Wildlife Service intend to take given Waterways Ireland’s failure to adhere to their obligations under the provisions of the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011.
The Barrow waterway and wooded and grassy banks are local and national treasures. These are beautiful places to relax as well as holding great habitats. The habitats are, in several areas, very rich in butterfly and moth populations. Well over a hundred of our larger moth species breed on trees as do three of our butterflies, the Brimstone, Brown Hairstreak and the Purple Hairstreak. Several moths and butterflies breed on the wild grasses along this river and more breed on the herbs. In short, these are great places for man and nature.
Waterways Ireland claims in its defence that the tree-felling was done for maintenance of the hedge and tree-line. But the ‘maintenance’ consists of fully removing the trees. For photographs of the damage see: https://www.facebook.com/243758302774965/posts/543811886102937/
When Waterways Ireland cover the towpath with tar and chop down all remaining trees, the areas under their remit would in future be maintenance-free and fully pedestrianised.
Would even the publicity obsessive Partridge agree to present an advert for Waterways Ireland in these circumstances? Bizarre he is, but I doubt it.