Exposing the Wild Nephin Charade from Coillte

Exposing the “Wild Nephin” Charade

Wild Nephin, states Coillte, would “involve taking 4,400 hectares out of … commercial forest operation and rewilding this land, improving habitat and landscape quality over a 15 year period. The eventual intention … protecting a landscape of scale with functioning ecosystems while providing an authentic ‘wilderness experience’ for those that visit.”

Minister Jimmy Deenihan TD, commented at the time that this project would “protect a large landscape from human artefacts”.

You can read this March 2013 press release.

The Wild Nephin area consists essentially of densely afforested and blanket bog Coillte lands to the East of Nephin Beg and Slieve Carr mountains in Mayo. These are huge non-native conifer plantations, typical of Coillte’s West of Ireland holdings.

Note that, contrary to Mr. Deenihan’s point, the Wild Nephin project team and associates have built human artefacts where previously there were none.

Wild Nephin steps

Steps in the forest : It doesn’t come any wilder than that !

This week I visited the area for the first time since last October. On my previous visit, I had not been surprised to see that felling of trees was ongoing and I was anxious to see if this was still the case in spring 2015.

Not only is tree felling still happening, but new non-native conifers (Lodgepole Pine) are still being planted. In addition, new fencing is being erected where previously there was none. Would you call this “re-wilding”? Does this sound like a true effort to develop an authentic wilderness experience?

Wild Nephin conifers

Bags of Lodgepole Pine waiting to be planted in Wild Nephin

Wild Nephin fencing

New fencing recently erected in Wild Nephin

Timber extraction machinery is also still on site.

Now, I never for a moment believed that Coillte was in some way going to simply abandon this site. The truth, I suspect, is that not the entire plantation is of such poor quality as to be uneconomical to extract. So it seems to me that they will continue to extract the parts they deem worthy of the work, while abandoning only the worst of it. But this week’s visit also suggests that they will, in fact, re-plant those areas that are capable of delivering a reasonable crop over future years.

Wild Nephin is, in my opinion, just a cynical PR exercise by Coillte. As somebody who’s hiked this area for 20 years, I can tell you that, in addition to the active forestry that has been going on for decades, the signs of human influence on this environment are in fact on the increase, rather than the other way around. There are now invasive huts and other structures, where previously there were none. Forest tracks for heavy machinery have been widened and strengthened over the last year.

Wild Nephin Beg Mountains

Our beautiful Nephin Beg Mountains have always been wild, but are now less so than before this project was devised. And the forestry operations continue. The European Wilderness Society, if it is serious, should review its ‘endorsement’ of what is going on here. [June 2016 Update : All references to this project have indeed been removed from the website of the European Wilderness Society.]

Read my previous post about Wild Nephin.

Posted in Blog, Ecotourism | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

10 Responses to Exposing the “Wild Nephin” Charade

  • Vincent Hyland said on March 24, 2015 at 12:18:

    Such a shame to see a beautiful resource being mis-managed. Promises are just that, ‘Vapour’. In the moment, a positive press feature is all that politicians and semi-state businesses need to keep the spin alive. I’m really sorry, especially since you have spent over 20 years walking this area and know it intimately. Your call for the Wilderness Society to review its endorsement is the correct one.
    Don’t give up – keep up the spirits.

  • henneke andreae said on March 24, 2015 at 16:51:

    i just did research and wrote up about this Irish rewilding project for my studies. I was happy to see some place being dedicated to rewilding, as so much is going on on the continent and Ireland seems to be lagging behind once more.
    So disappointed to see this now.

  • Des Houlihan said on March 25, 2015 at 09:33:

    Disgusted to hear about this. Minister should be forced to explain.

  • michael said on January 29, 2016 at 14:21:

    Could the fencing be to keep out deer/sheep Barry? That might be a necessary evil for new tree growth to get established. Although, why the hell they are planting lodge-pole pine is baffling. Talk about repeating the mistakes of the past.

    • Barry Murphy said on February 1, 2016 at 15:07:

      Absolutely, Michael, the fencing is presumably to keep deer and sheep out. But that’s not the point. Coillte states that existing legislation enforces re-planting of trees where clearfell has taken place. I think we can assume they knew that before declaring this wonderful “Wild Nephin” project. In other words, they knew full well that they would be re-planting non-native lodgepole pine and putting up new fencing where previously there was none …

  • Lucy Weir said on May 15, 2016 at 18:51:

    Thanks for highlighting this, Barry. I’m reading George Monbiot’s Feral at the moment and I think the deplorable state of Ireland’s attitude to wilderness is summed up well there. Hopefully, gradually but persistently, voices like yours (and I hope mine) will be acknowledged when we point out the lack of foresight and the hollow commitment to rewilding that is evident in current policy and practice. It must and will change. Don’t give up and thanks for all the good work you do.

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