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Dublin: 19 °C Monday 25 May, 2020
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'We're terrified the bulldozers will move in': Locals fight to save animal habitat in Dublin park

New recreational facilities are set to be built in Dodder Valley Park.

20190929_142140 Machinery at the site Source: Save Dodder Valley Park

LOCALS IN SOUTH Dublin are trying to save an area of land in the Dodder Valley Park which is earmarked to be cleared to make way for recreational facilities including a football pitch and running track.

Members of the Save Dodder Valley Park group said the area is of great ecological importance and is home to many animals, including some protected species such as buzzards, bats, hedgehogs and pine martens.

Fencing has been placed around the area, located in Firhouse along the River Dodder, in recent days and machinery is on site, prompting locals to stage a protest last Sunday.

Organisers said over 100 people attended the demonstration, and more than 500 people have signed a petition calling for the area to be protected.

IMG-20190929-WA0004 The protest last Sunday Source: Save Dodder Valley Park

“The bulldozers are there, we’re terrified we’ll just go down tomorrow or the next day and it will be destroyed,” Eimear Coffey, a member of the group, said.

The animals that are not killed by the bulldozers won’t survive much longer after that.

“It’s a huge concern, it’s the worst possible time of year for animals to try to find new habitats, it’s hibernation time, winter time is coming, it’s getting cold,” Coffey told TheJournal.ie.

Coffey said the group is not against the development of amenities in Dodder Valley Park but object to “the destruction of an incredibly important wildlife habitat and ecological haven”. She said existing pitches in the locality should be upgraded, or an alternative site for the development should be found.

20190929_142124 The area in question Source: Save Dodder Valley Park

Coffey said the area in question is “an extremely important habitat for a huge array of wildlife”.

She noted that it is home to animals such as rabbits, foxes, mice and badgers, as well as hedgehogs, pygmy shrews, and pine martens – all of which are protected under the Wildlife Act. Irish buzzards and a number of bat species, both of which are also protected, use the area as a feeding ground.

A public consultation process was held on the future of the area from July to September. Some of the submissions raised concerns about the destruction of the habitat but others were in favour of the project. 

One woman wrote that she was a “big supporter” of the plan, stating: “We currently have no playspace within walking distance, along with many other families … this is a much needed addition to the community.”

Full assessment 

A spokesperson for SDCC confirmed that works will “commence shortly” in the Mount Carmel section of the park.

The spokesperson said the project “was subject to a full statutory public consultation and a Part 8 planning process was passed by South Dublin County Council in 2017″.

“The project proposes to provide recreational facilities over a number of phases to support active recreation within the park; and also recognises the ecology within Dodder Valley,” they told TheJournal.ie

sdcc-dodder-valley-park-development The protest last Sunday Source: Save Dodder Valley Park

The spokesperson said the current phase of the works is for a grass athletics track and grass playing pitch.

“The proposal for the track and pitch is within an area of the park that has been subject to intensive use by illegal scramblers, quad bikes and motorbikes in the past.

Aerial photos show the grassland area has been unfortunately disturbed quite significantly by this antisocial behaviour; though efforts by the Council in recent years to introduce some measure of activity into this area has resulted in increased passive surveillance in this part of the park, which in some cases displaces antisocial activity.

The spokesperson said the proposals for the area were appropriately assessed prior to being finalised, and that Environmental Impact Assessment Screening and an Ecological Impact Assessment were carried out.

“The plan was designed in consultation with the ecological consultants engaged for the project, which ensured sensitive species of flora and fauna are not impacted on,” they said.

The spokesperson added that though no lighting was proposed for the project, SDCC “undertook not to light the athletics track and pitch areas into the future as particular concerns were raised regarding future lighting in respect of bats and other nocturnal mammals”.

“Existing trees, hedges and the ecologically sensitive grasslands are being retained,” they added, noting that an ecologist “has been retained to advise on works, prior to and during the construction stage of the works”.

‘Another tragedy’ 

Despite what the council has said, Coffey stated that locals are “desperate to avoid another Tallaght wetlands tragedy”, adding: “We are begging the council to learn from that mistake and protect this incredible wild area.”

Last month there was outrage in Tallaght when part of a wetlands area in Sean Walsh Memorial Park was cleared. 

SDCC had been working with the Herpetological Society of Ireland to survey and protect the area, but it was flattened during works by the council.

download Before and after photos of the Tallaght wetlands area flattened in September Source: Collie Ennis

In a statement issued to TheJournal.ie last week, SDCC said: “As part of a planned process of removing built up silt and illegally dumped rubbish from the man-made lakes in Sean Walsh Park, South Dublin County Council carried out desilting works during the summer months.

The desilting and cleaning of the lakes is essential for improving the natural habitat of the park and for flood alleviation measures in the area.

SDCC said that while in excess of 40 tonnes of illegally dumped rubbish was removed from the site, the drained silt was placed in mounds on an “uncultivated area of the park to the north of the wetlands in Sean Walsh Park”.

“The council has habitually used this area for depositing silt and last did so when carrying out works on the larger lake in 2018,” it said.

“Following these works in Sean Walsh Park, the silt mounds were levelled. The council will immediately review the practice of the disposal of silt drained from lakes. However, best practice dictates that the material removed is placed as close to the origin as possible.”

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Órla Ryan

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