Tourmakeady

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What Now for the Wild Nephin Farce?

Coillte has exited, so what now for the ‘Wild Nephin’ farce?

Farce (n); a broadly humorous play based on … improbable situations; a ludicrous situation or action. [Collins]

And so, just 8 years on, Coillte has exited stage left.

Back in December 2009, Coillte’s internal Project Scope Document noted that Wild Nephin would provide “a real opportunity for Coillte to lead the way in a landscape scale transformation (and management) of lands”. The document further enthused that, thanks to its “considerable competencies in habitat restoration [and] its major land ownership in suitable areas”, Coillte had the potential to contribute to a response to the European Parliament’s call on member states to “look at setting aside lands as wilderness or ‘restoring’ lands to primitive qualities”. Indeed, one of the project goals was to “enhance Coillte’s environmental and social credentials”.

While it departs without having achieved anything of the sort, unfortunately the state-owned forestry company would appear to have managed to leave one tentacle inserted, apparently simply leasing the land to the NPWS, rather than selling it lock, stock and barrel.

Perhaps this might have something to do with the approximately 260,000 non-native conifers it has planted on the site over the last 3 or 4 years. One day, they might just want to harvest those trees. Heck, if they once more conveniently forget to seek a derogation from the Forest Service, sure they could re-plant conifers again thereafter. {1}

So, what now for the Wild Nephin farce? Here’s what I believe will happen over the coming years. Naturally, it’s only my opinion …

First, nothing will be done about invasive rhododendron, because the NPWS presumably doesn’t have the manpower, cash or equipment to do anything about it. Unless, that is, my suggestion below is taken up. Coillte would have had the resources, but never the interest. {2}

Second, having re-planted all the non-natives, the forestry company will indeed come knocking on the door in the future to harvest them. They will, presumably, be accommodated.

If you try to mix a timber harvesting, land owning monolith like Coillte with conservation, then sincerity and commitment are unlikely to be among the ingredients.

Here’s an excerpt from last month’s article in the Irish Environmental Network’s GreenNews.ie magazine (Dec 2017) :

In a statement, Coillte said that the removal of forestry has focused on “opening vistas onto the mountainous terrain and lakes” as well as improving boundaries between forests and adjacent open land and preparing areas for bog and riparian zone restoration.
“Forest regeneration, supported by tree planting, also aimed to encourage natural regeneration and harvesting activities which took place fitted within the overall objectives of improving landscape and habitat quality,” the statement continues.

Pure unadulterated rubbish.

Read the full article here.

In an article in the Irish Times earlier this month (Jan 2018), Michael Viney wrote that “some forest roads have been narrowed into backpacker trails”. I’m not aware of any that have. He notes, in what I would consider quite the understatement, that the “10- to 15-year conversion planned for Coillte’s forestry has been slow to get under way”.

Read this article here.

Not wanting to bore the reader by once again going over the details, suffice it to say that this area is now less wild than it was prior to this ‘project’. You can find such details in this previous post from 2015.

Ultimately, what we have here is institutional spin, Irish style. This spin emanates from the same gene pool that spawned Bord na Móna’s laughably cynical “Naturally Driven” advertising campaigns and Bord Bia’s “Origin Green” programme, recently described as a sham by the Irish Wildlife Trust.

We have a deep-rooted problem in Ireland with spin regarding the environment. I’m not sure what the reasons are. Does it have something to do with the almost total ignoring of the natural world in our primary and secondary school curriculums? Is it a legacy from the imperial days, manifested in an attitude of “now that we have possession of the land, we can abuse nature as we wish”? Is it the traditional man-is-superior-to-beast doctrine of the organised religions? Is it because of our inclement weather that people don’t interact with the outdoors much and are, therefore, oblivious to it?

So, what should happen now, if anything is to come of this joke?

Here are some suggestions :

Allow all local landowners and those with commonage and turbary rights within the area bounded by the bothy at Letterkeen – Keenagh crossroads – Bellacorick – Bangor Erris and down the spine of the Nephin Begs to harvest non-native trees for their own consumption only over the next, say, 100 years. With the sole exception of the nice Monterey Pines just beyond the bothy. But with two conditions. First, that all turf cutting within the same boundaries be 100% abandoned forever. Second, that the method and precise location of extraction be dictated to them by NPWS, e.g. using what I call the ‘waterdrop’ method to create open spaces within the plantation to allow in light and break up the stands. See image below. {3}

Remove immediately the 260,000 newly planted conifers, or let the ruminants in at them. Failing that, certainly don’t allow Coillte or any of its harvesting contractors back on site ever.

Remove all fencing, other than that which surrounds the pathetically small native tree stands and increase the number and variety of such stands.

Stop the building or installation of any further huts, shelters or other structures and let the ones in place rot over time (my personal preference would be to remove them immediately).

Ban the reinforcement of any existing tracks and the creation of any new ones.

Block all vehicular access, other than to locals only for the removal of felled timber under the conditions outlined above.

Restore the natural levels and behaviour of water on the site, by blocking artificial channels dug over the decades.

Allow volunteers in to remove the rhododendron, using uniquely environmentally sound means, i.e. no chemicals whatsoever, managed by experienced and competent people and insured by NPWS, Mayo County Council or other public body. Groundwork, perhaps?

Research the viability of introducing red squirrel and/or any other native species that can be shown through proper ecological research to be capable of establishing viable, sustainable populations.

Plant loads of native trees from local seed sources.

Otherwise, leave it alone.

Over to you, NPWS,

Notes

{1}

Coillte hid behind the Forest Service requirement to re-plant conifers where conifers have been felled and used this as its excuse for having re-planted conifers well after “Wild Nephin” was announced to the public back in 2013. This is bogus, because with both the People’s Millennium Forests of almost 20 years ago and the EU-Life Restoring Priority Woodland Habitats project of almost 10 years ago, they did not re-plant conifers where they had been felled. In other words, where there was a will, there was a way…
http://www.millenniumforests.com/about_intro.html
http://www.woodlandrestoration.ie/demonstration-sites-clonbur.php

{2}

Regarding Tourmakeady, one of the People’s Millennium Forests, Coillte stated that “rhododendron and laurel will be eradicated as they are invasive non-native plants.” This never happened.
http://www.millenniumforests.com/locationsite_tourmakeady.html

Gerard Murphy, MD at Coillte Forest, comically tweeted in 2017 that there’s a “significant invasive threat of rhododendron” at so-called Wild Nephin.

what now for the wild nephin farce - tweet
{3}

What I call the ‘waterdrop’ method involves removing some trees alongside tracks in a roughly semi-oval fashion to break up the wall of trees that is so typical of conifer plantations, then enough to create a ‘corridor’ a few metres wide into the deeper forest, then felling in a waterdrop shape within. Apart from allowing in light and breaking up the stands, this could also contribute to increased windfall of trees.

what now for the wild nephin farce

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Schizophrenic Coillte

I regularly bring groups walking on Coillte managed land. Although virtually exclusively non-native afforestation, nevertheless these habitats do support a range of wildlife and afford good long off-road walking routes. You can ‘get lost’ in these huge conifer plantations, forget about the world outside for a while and enjoy the fresh air. 

If lucky, you might spot Kestrel, Merlin, Red Deer, Pine Marten, Otter, Red Grouse and small birds, like Coat Tit, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Pipits, etc. These are not the ‘dead zones’ some would like us to believe. Low in biodiversity they are, but ‘dead’ they certainly are not.

I wrote a reasonably positive blog entry some weeks back about the good native forest restoration work ongoing under the EU-Life project. While I know that positive work is currently being done in places like Clonbur Wood and other sites, I also know that very little good is being done on the so-called Millenium Forest at nearby Tourmakeady Wood, where the site is severely infested with Rhododendron. A decade back, Coillte brazenly declared on the signage within Tourmakeady that the Rhododendron was to be eradicated. Nothing of the sort has happened.  

I am a pragmatist who realises that commercial conifer plantations play a role in Ireland’s rural economy and that the state-owned Coillte is not going to stop its main business any time soon. I avail of their open door policy to walkers, cyclists and so on and appreciate that.  

My gripe, however, has more to do with the way it behaves itself. While on the one hand waving its flag about Clonbur et al, on the other hand it seems to have abandoned Tourmakeady.  

Eskeragh, North Mayo

Eskeragh, North Mayo

On Wednesday, I visited another restoration project, this time at Eskeragh, north Mayo. This EU-Life project is about blanket bog restoration. Here, Coillte openly admits to having virtually destroyed the natural habitat, through drainage and conifer planting in the 1980s. It has removed the conifers, blocked up drains in order to allow the site to waterlog once more and has even installed a nice attractive boardwalk with accompanying explanatory panel for visitors. 

Good for them, I hear you cry. 

However, no more than a few kilometres away, I then visited a vast plantation at Carrowkilleen / Carrowgarve. Here, you see the ‘real’ Coillte at work, away from the PR and the public.  

Felling has recently taken place here on a vast scale, far greater than what might be considered reasonable. The destruction is terrible, leaving a landscape of mangled tree stumps, broken branches, churned up ground, compromised water quality and heavy machinery tracks. I hear you say “well, that’s the price you pay for commercial forestry on a large scale”. I reiterate that it does not have to be on such a massive scale all at once.  

The problem here is wanton environmental damage being perpetrated at these sites. I found this upturned drum of gearbox oil dumped in a water channel. You can clearly see that the spout is open. Further along, Pipits and Wagtails dipped their beaks in oil-polluted puddles. A large tyre was dumped in another water channel. This is disgraceful behaviour and demonstrates clear disregard for the environment Coillte claims to care for at other sites.  

So, Coillte, go ahead with your commercial non-native plantations, but why not carry out your business in a responsible and environmentally respectful manner. Oh yeah, and give us more native broadleaves. Oh yeah, and hand over your bogland and forest restoration project sites to an independent body that might actually care and be focussed on sustainability, environmental care and biodiversity.  

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