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Burrow Beach with Ireland's Eye visible in the background. Alamy Stock Photo
Burrow Beach

Council investigating erection of fences on beach in apparent 'land-grab' by Sutton residents

It has become an increasingly common practice across Ireland’s beaches but can be ‘catastrophic’ for nature, according to Coast Watch Ireland.

THE APPARENT FENCING off of sections of one of Dublin’s most popular beaches in Howth by householders with back gardens leading down to the coast is being investigated by the local council.

Fingal County Council said it has received complaints and it is is now examining the “erection of fencing” near houses that back onto Burrow Beach in Sutton.

Measuring around 1.2 km in length, the popular beach connects Howth Head to the mainland. It was recently in the headlines due to a “mass brawl” and various public order incidents during the recent warm spell.

Examples seen by The Journal show that picket fences have been erected at the back of several private homes leading to the area’s sand dunes – providing more beach frontage to the householders as as result.

Some householders appear to have claimed metres of land beyond their back wall, erecting picket fences and, in some cases, erecting ‘PRIVATE NO ENTRY’ signs on the new barriers. 

By cross-referencing Google Earth satellite images with property boundaries submitted in planning applications, it appears that numerous homes along the beach – reaching into double figures – have claimed some of the public beach for themselves. 

Most homes along the beach still have the same footprint as outlined in the planning documents. 

Increasingly common practice

It has become an increasingly common practice across beaches around the country, according to coordinator for Coast Watch Ireland Karin Dubsky, but can have “catastrophic” consequences for nature.

“It’s typical right around the country. I have seen it in six, maybe seven, different beaches at least. Some holiday homes love stretching their arms,” she said.

“I think sometimes it is innocent but other times it’s pre-planned, and then slowly over years it develops.”

Speaking of examples from around the country, Dubsky added: “We also have these crazy situations where people are claiming land and they then wreck that land by planting something, or by importing soil or putting garden waste on it.”

Regarding Burrow Beach she said: “That area should be restored at the owners’ expense and overseen by experts on dunes.”

Conversely, she also said she was aware of one example in north Dublin where “somebody is doing the best dune management in the area and it’s in their own garden, because of the failures of the State in managing these correctly in the first place”.

“So not all land-grabs have a bad impact on nature. It’s what people do there that counts, but you have two issues here: how nature is impacted and how society is impacted because this is public land.”

According to the council, the area is a designated nature conservation site. 

When contacted, Fingal County Council said the “erection of fencing” in the area had recently been reported to its planning enforcement unit.

“The matter is currently subject to an ongoing investigation,” it said.

One local councillor said there is already a risk of significant erosion facing the beach and this risks worsening it – with less space available for the public visiting Burrow.

The Green Party’s David Healy also raised concerns that it risks “encroachment and trampling” on sensitive land.

“The council is going to have to establish this in terms of the exact legal boundaries for the properties,” he told The Journal.

“We need to protect the dunes from any encroachment ensuring that the natural sand dune system can continue to evolve.”

This “relies on them not being trampled”, so that nutrients from the seaweed that get washed up onto the beach can be allowed to flow through the dunes and help preserve them.

To help with this, the council already avoids clearing away seaweed at that part of the beach so the dunes can grow, Healy explained.

“But encroachment, where people are deciding to fence things off, or messing with the vegetation by trying to plant garden grass on the public land as has been happening recently, is undermining [the dunes] and contrary to the statutes of protection.”

Dubsky told The Journal that unless the State makes clear decisions on coastal and foreshore issues, there will be “serious implications for nature” in terms of erosion.

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