Wild Nephin

Posts tagged with: 'Wild Nephin'

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,



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…


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.

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

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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Review : Wild Nephin Map from EastWest Mapping

2015 saw the publication of its Wild Nephin Map by EastWest Mapping, employing a 1:25,000 scale to give greater detail than the 1:50,000 scale of OSI’s Discovery Series. So as a Christmas present to myself, I went out and bought it here in the Castle Book Shop. To be honest, I was disappointed.

OK, so what’s good about the map? The amount of work that must have gone into its production must be acknowledged. The naming of the most obscure little features, like tiny streams and flanks of low hills is outstanding. Also, I guess having just one map to cover the area is better than the three OSIs required (Sheets 23, 30, 31). But even that’s not quite true, as this map omits a large section of Birreencorragh, a major mountain of the Nephin Beg range. The space allocated to the furthest west 2 km on the Mulranny side of the map could instead have been devoted to Birreencorragh and its satelite Knockaffertagh. [In fairness, it should be admitted that Birreencorragh doesn’t strictly come within the “Wild Nephin” designated area]

Greater scale is generally a plus in any map you might like to use while out hiking, so the detail regarding forest tracks, bridges and the like can certainly be useful to visitors unfamiliar with the area.

The problems with this map, however, are essentially twofold : colouring and feature naming.

The colouring of this Wild Nephin map is not optimal, with too much dark toning, making the deciphering of many feature names unnecessarily difficult. The green representing Coillte plantation forestry and the blue for water are too dark, resulting in identification lettering being surrounded by a pale ‘shadow’ in an unsuccessful attempt to make them more easily readable. Indeed, the lettering is the same colour as water background. Compare the two photos below, with the OSI on the right hand side. I think it’s safe to say the OSI is significantly easier to read, although obviously much less detailed.

 wild nephin map

But the real issue of this Wild Nephin map is the naming of major features. For example, Glennamong mountain has been labeled “Mamer Dougher”,but also “Curranyarry” and “Glannamu Mountain”. The aforementioned Birreencorragh has become Birreen Corrough on the map itself and Birreen Corr, where given as an example on the Grid Reference System. Tirkslieve has morphed into Tirclieu, etc., etc.

Wild Nephin Map

Anyways, the detail in this map is excellent and I will carry it with me when out in these wonderful mountains and you should too. Just ignore the major feature names employed. You can buy online from East West Mapping.

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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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Wild Nephin – Wilderness or Wasteland ?

Wild Nephin is the title given to Coillte’s project to ‘rewild’ a large area of blanket bog and plantation forest to the east of the Nephin Beg Mountains of northwest Mayo. The State-owned forestry company aims to ‘create’ Ireland’s first wilderness over the next 10 – 15 years.

Indeed, the area would appear to have already gained the support of the internationally-renowned PAN Parks Foundation, as a “wilderness in a modified landscape”. [2014 update : PAN Parks has closed down, but the European Wilderness Society has taken the project on board. Read this article.] [2016 update : The above mentioned article has now been removed from the website of the European Wilderness Society, perhaps in the belief that the so-called ‘Wild Nephin’ is no more a rewilding project than the man in the moon …]

Lying immediately east of Ballycroy National Park, with which it shares the mountains of Slieve Carr and Nephin Beg, Wild Nephin occupies the second largest tract of roadless land in Ireland. Whether choosing here or the even larger area immediately to the north and across the Ballina to Belmullet road, this is the place in Ireland to come to, if it’s aloneness and wild country you seek.

Given the past history of aggressive afforestation in this area, however, it is valid to question whether this is, in fact, a wilderness or simply a rural wasteland.


Wild Nephin

The Wild Nephin Project, Mayo

Along with many other parts of the West of Ireland, the area to be rewilded was heavily planted with non-native conifer trees during the 1950s, 1960s and more recently. Of exceptionally poor quality, the land had to be extensively worked, digging ridges and trenches to help keep the densely-packed young trees somewhat dry. Chemical fertilisers were also employed in the early days, to supplement the nutrient-poor nature of the bog. While this work was carried out with the honourable aim of alleviating emigration from this very rural area, by providing employment in forestry, it has resulted in a vast area of wildness, certainly, but wilderness, hardly. What visitors observe today is a landscape massively impacted upon by modern-day humans. Much of the natural, barren Atlantic blanket bog landscape that will become Wild Nephin is smothered under a carpet of alien monoculture.

And yet, should today’s Coillte be blamed for the deeds of its predecessors ? Certainly not. Perhaps we should be grateful that a little sanity has come into the organisation – Ireland’s largest landowner, lest we forget. It should be acknowledged that Coillte has indeed managed a few environmental successes, notably the removal of many conifers at Clonbur Wood, in favour of the re-establishment of native woodland. Mind you, that job was only half-heartedly carried out, as many conifer stands were left in place. Neither should it be ignored that the organisation has singularly failed to eradicate or even control the invasive Rhododendron that chokes much of its lands, for example at the Tourmakeady Millennium Forest or here in Wild Nephin. Management of its felling sub-contractors also leaves a lot to be desired, as sites are often littered with hazardous waste post-intervention.


Wild Nephin, Mayo, Ireland

Lough Namroon in Wild Nephin

While the company moves into a phase of abandonment of the Wild Nephin area, it nevertheless has still been felling trees on a substantial scale in recent times. It appears to still retain one eye on extracting whatever it can, before letting go. It is, after all, a commercial semi-state. You see, the underlying reason for this new-found “commitment” to wilderness and recreation may well be nothing other than an admission that this forest is of almost zero commercial value. Basically, as I understand it, the timber is of terribly poor quality and its ongoing management too demanding. As they put it themselves, “Coillte owns large areas of underperforming crops in this area with … constraints … which add to management challenges”.

Nevertheless, let’s assume that the company is well-meaning in its intention to leave this landscape to the forces of nature, after successive decades of the polar opposite. Why then do they plan to build huts (bothys) and other infrastructure ? Surely, if they want to “develop a … wilderness” [sic], inserting new infrastructure should not be considered.

But let’s take a step back.

Which is preferable : ongoing management of the plantation forest or its abandonment ? Well, clearly the latter. However, is it preferable to put up signage, bothys and trails or not ? Again, I would argue that the latter is clearly better. The one thing they could do is try to, in some way or other, reduce the density of the conifers, in order to let some light in. Ideally, they could chop down every second row, but I appreciate that that would be nigh impossible to achieve on the scale required. Local landowners could be given permission to remove trees in this manner, for their own consumption. Sound riparian zone management should see the removal of non-native trees from along the banks of rivers, streams and lakes and the creation of a buffer zone. If they could do that, then at least there would be somewhat less the impression of wasteland to the whole place.

Wild Nephin – Get Out There

Is the Wild Nephin project exciting and positive ? Without doubt. Is there a beautiful feeling of aloneness while out hiking the hills ? For sure. Will I continue to walk and lead groups in the area ? Certainly and I would recommend you go there too. Just be aware of the history …

Read my follow-up article written after a visit in early 2015.

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Slieve Carr

Heading out on our 8-hour hike of Slieve Carr, deep in the north Mayo bogs, we were in great spirits. We would attack the mountain from the Bangor Trail, to its southwest and retreat later along the Western Way, to its southeast.

We were lucky with the weather throughout, being subjected to only one, poor quality rain shower. The ground was reasonably dry and, even at the summit cairn, the wind was almost non-existent.

This is a lovely mountain, very remote and with great views in all directions. The climb itself involves a pretty tough and steep ascent from the twin Scardaun Loughs, but the top of Slieve Carr is pretty much a plateau, albeit at three slightly different levels. There are great views out across Blacksod Bay to Achill, The Mullet and the various islands beyond. Inland, it is the vast swathes of plantation forest that lie below, with the Bellacorick wind turbines, Nephin and Lough Conn beyond. But it is the corrie lakes immediately below us on the eastern flanks of the mountain that make this day very special. Each is really beautiful.

Slieve Carr

Slieve Carr | Laghtdauhybawn Cairn

Slieve Carr corrie lake

Lough Adanacleveen, Slieve Carr

Of course, tackling Ireland’s wet western hills doesn’t always work out, as the following account of a different day’s hike recalls :

We parked the car at  F 95 10 on The Western Way and headed north along the forest track, with Lough Kilnabrinnia as our first target, on the SE flank of Slieve Carr. Our plan was to ascend the mountain from a direction we had not previously taken. From Kilnabrinnia, we intended to move northwards along the E side, up as far as Lough Drumderg and the small, unnamed lake to the NW beyond.

But it didn’t happen. Even as we left the car, the rain was pouring down and the sky was very low indeed. We couldn’t see much of Nephin Beg, which should have been looming above us immediately to the W.

By the time we got to the end of the disused forest track at F 936133, where it meets a stream, we were pretty deflated. Our gear was holding up with no problem, but the spirit was somewhat damaged. The unending rain can do that to you, especially when there’s no view.

We ploughed on, starting the gentle slope towards the lake above. By the stream, we came across an area of deer activity – the bracken had been crushed and trampled, leaving a space of some 6m x 4m flattened in the middle of the otherwise 60cm high undergrowth. With deer droppings all around, this was a wallowing site.

We eventually gave up and retreated, still dry after 3 1/2 hours, but disappointed that we had not achieved more. On our return to the car, we came across some conifers that had been ‘barked’ by the deer. Barking occurs where the deer remove strips of bark for food. We also saw an impressively large frog and lots and lots of rain!

Slieve Carr (721 m) Hike

From the Scardaun Loughs up and back down is 8 km and an ascent of 470 m. Depending on where you start and finish, you may need to allow for up to 18 km extra hiking in and out.

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