NPWS

Posts tagged with: 'NPWS'

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.

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White Tailed Eagle Weekend

On Friday last, I tweeted the following :

“Not 1 but 2 WT Eagles above me in Killarney NP ! I will die happy.”

I was out walking around the lakes in Kerry, under the cover of mostly oak trees. When I emerged from beneath early summer’s developing canopy, I looked up to see a pair of magnificent White Tailed Eagles soaring up in the thermals above my head. It was a beautiful, sunny, dry and warmish day. I lay down on my back on the forest track and had a wonderful view of these magnificent birds through my binoculars for quite a few minutes. They were huge – we’ve all heard they’re called “flying barndoors”. I had seen eagles before in France, Spain and Poland, but nothing as big as these guys, and to think they’re possibly still immature. Had they even grown to their maximum size ?

After a while, they disappeared over the nearest mountain and were gone. A little later, one of them reappeared on my side of the hill again, but a little further away.

Now I decided that I would visit Clare on the way home Saturday to see the nesting pair on Lough Derg. Unfortunately, I ddin’t manage that, as I ran out of time to swing by and witness what would have made for a perfect White Tailed Eagle Weekend down south. Anyway, I was going to “die happy”, so it was no big deal and I thought I would surely get down there at some point over the coming weeks **.

White Tailed Eagle

White Tailed Eagle (source: Commons Wikimedia)

Die happy ? I’m afraid I didn’t even end the weekend happy. Back in Mayo on Sunday, I was told that “our” White Tailed Eagle, Lochlann, had been found dead near Castlebar.

Lochlann (“Place of the Lakes”, a name of Viking origin) liked Mayo and its lakes, big time. He first came here at the end of April 2011, spent almost all summer 2011 here, with the odd foray into Galway and had returned from winter roosting in Kerry at the end of March for this coming Mayo season.

Last summer, I spent three full 8-hour days out in the mountains looking for Lochlann. In addition, I spent god-knows-how-many sets of 1, 2, or 3 hours trying to spot him, when on the way to or from somewhere up in the wilds of west Mayo. I’d check out his satellite fixes on http://www.goldeneagle.ie/, which are time-delay released (three days later) and discover he was maybe just 500m from me on such-and-such a date. Alas, I never got to see our very own White Tailed Eagle.

It is beyond my comprehension how a person could poison or raise a weapon, point it and deliberately shoot such a magnificent creature of our shared planet. But the fact that I can’t fathom such actions is not what is important. What is vital is that it become incomprehensible to the type of person who actually did this.

What is required here is education. People like the person who did this need to be educated. The Irish Farmers’ Association and other rural bodies should play an active role in educating people about these magnificent birds and the level of threat (or lack thereof) they pose to livestock.

I am well aware of the attitude of many country people to “environmental” bodies, like An Taisce and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). Frankly, many country people do not trust them. Some think these bodies would prefer if all farming and rural activity was stopped and the whole country turned into one big National Park.

The people who work on these projects are undoubtedly wonderful. I am terribly sorry for them and the obstacles they seem to so regularly be confronted with.

Here is what I think must be done.  NPWS, together with the IFA and other rural organisations (what about Leader?), should get Norwegian, Welsh and Scottish farmers and other rural dwellers, who live with these magnificent birds in their countries, in to talk to Irish rural communities and farmers. Get them to tell the Irish what, if any, threat is posed by eagles and other birds of prey. Brand the events “IFA”, not “NPWS”, for greater buy-in.

Do it now, before any more are needlessly slaughtered.

Two years ago, Conall, a Golden Eagle, was poisoned up in Leitrim. I blogged angrily about that here.

** Today, May 18th, I read that the nesting effort at Mountshannon has unfortunately failed. However, those are young birds and hopefully they will find success in 2013 or beyond.

White Tailed Eagle

Measuring up to 95 cm in length and with a wingspan up to 245 cm, the White Tailed Eagle is a massive bird. Also known as the Sea Eagle, or indeed the White Tailed Sea Eagle, it is the largest raptor of northern Europe. Ireland’s reintroduced birds were donated by Norway, which boasts the largest population in Europe. These eagles mostly eat fish, small mammals and other seabirds.

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Owenduff Bog, Co. Mayo

Beneath the Nephin Beg mountains lies the huge Owenduff / Nephin bog complex. Comprising some 26,000 ha of mostly wet Atlantic blanket bog, this is an outstanding area of national and European importance and a great place for hiking. The low-lying area to the west of the mountain peaks of Slieve Carr and Nephin Beg now mostly forms part of Ballycroy National Park. While this remains relatively untouched, the parts east of the mountains is almost entirely belonging to Coillte and has been much damaged by extensive plantations of non-native conifer trees.

I recently took a winter stroll up along the Owenduff River, which drains most of the western bog complex (Owenduff Bog proper). This makes for a pleasant 4 to 6-hour hike, depending on how far up the river you want to go. Typical of West of Ireland bogs, you will encounter some abandoned farmsteads and dying or dead Scots Pines. Unfortunately, you will also be surrounded, at times, by swathes of the invasive, dense and highly undesirable Rhododendron – a real West of Ireland pest.

Owenduff / Nephin, Ballycroy National Park

Abandoned farm house, Owenduff Bog Complex

The lowest lying areas of the complex are covered in gentle little hummocks of peat, with countless tiny ponds in the hollows. The area also boasts many small lakes, with their characteristic brown water glistening in the sunshine. Approaching these ponds and lakes is not recommended, as the bog is so wet it presents an obvious danger. Animal and bird species present in the National Park and Owenduff bog complex include Otter, Salmon, Golden Plover, Peregrine Falcon, Red Deer, Grey Heron, Kestrel, Merlin, White Fronted Geese, Raven, Irish Hare and others.

Owenduff

Owenduff Bog Complex, Co. Mayo

Owenduff Bog Complex – Visiting

If you haven’t yet visited it, I would recommend a day trip to the National Park Visitor Centre, located in Ballycroy village. See their website here. Do please note that The Bangor Trail, which skirts the Owenduff Bog, cannot be accessed from the Visitor Centre.

See the Conservation Plan for the Owenduff Nephin complex, from NPWS, here.

Posted in Blog, Walking in the West of Ireland | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment