New Unity of Purpose Between Galway City Council & Communities to Protect Biodiversity & Heritage

Over the last few years, the protection of biodiversity and preservation of areas of natural heritage has deteriorated in Galway city. Serious pollution in Lough Corrib; increases in litter and illegal dumping in bogs, parks and woodlands; the almost complete disappearance of community tree plantings events; the attempts by officialdom to build a new road through the Terryland Forest Park; the failure to implement the Galway City Habitats Inventory (which agreed on a management plan and an annual monitoring process for 28 important natural habitats) by City Hall; the failure to develop 'ecological corridors'; the failure to appoint a City Biodiversity Officer; the loss of lands to an ever-expanding housing/roads construction a la urban sprawl; the ongoing destruction of hedgerows and drystone walls as field and roadside boundaries; the daily killing of native mammals such as hedgehogs, badgers and foxes by car traffic have all impacted negatively on wildlife.

But thankfully there has been a corresponding fightback by courageous individuals and organisations who consider it their duty and responsibility to educate people on the need for each of us and of humanity collectively to safeguard what is left of our natural environment before its disappearance leads to our own annihilation. Groups and organisations such as Atlantaquaria, An Taisce, Birdwatch Galway, Galway Bat Group, Inland Waterways Ireland, Galway City Community Forum, Castlegar Connect, Galway Education Centre, NUIG's Martin Ryan Institute and Applied Ecology Unit, Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden and concerned individuals such as Kay Synott, Tom Cuffe, Gordan D'Arcy and Caitriona Nic Mhuiris; politicians such as Catherine Connolly, Niall O'Brolchain, Derek Nolan and Cllr. Frank Fahy (FG) as well as city officials such as Sharon Carroll, Rosie Webb, James Harrold and Stephen Walsh deserve credit for their herculean efforts on behalf of the other species that live amongst us.
Their efforts have led to many eco-awareness programmes being adopted by schools and communities.

Our own NGO - has also played its part in changing public opinion.

For the last few weeks have witnessed significant progress in a number of key areas that the ‘Friends of the Galway Forests’ initiated or have been closely identified with since the group’s inception in late 2007. These successes include a local authority ‘Cash for Cans’ scheme, funding for a Community Garden Harvest Festival and the resurrection of the Terryland Forest Park Steering Committee.

1. ‘Cash for Cans’ Scheme Launched by City Council
Galway City Council this week officially launched Ireland's first pay-back scheme for drink cans. Well done to Councillor Catherine Connolly and to city officials for pushing this community proposal towards a successful conclusion.
The idea was initiated by the 'Friends of Galway Forests' in 2007, when we began lobbying the then Minister for the Environment to introduce a national ‘cash for beverage cans and bottles’ programme in order to clean up our parks, fields and natural habitats. When no favourable response was forthcoming from Minister Gormley, we re-focused our efforts in persuading city council to introduce a local scheme that hopefully the new government may ultimately roll out nationwide with a more significant cash payback for both cans and bottles. After all such a scheme exists in many other European countries and existed in Ireland for bottles until a few decades ago. Well done also to Community Forum reps Kieran Cunnane and Eleanor Hough for keeping the issue alive at SPC meetings and to Delo Collier and Michael Quinn at CDB meetings.

2. New Conservation Volunteers Group Agreed for Terryland Forest Park
After a series of correspondence, discussions and meetings with Stephen Walsh of Galway City Parks, it has been agreed to establish a new Conservation Volunteers group to organise a programme of on-site activities and projects for the Terryland Forest Park.
Nollaig McGuinness (Galway City Partnership), Michael Tiernan (Friends of Galway Forests), Paul Gillen (HSE), myself and Stepehn Walsh are presently compiling a programme of works for 2011/2012.

3. Resurrection!- Terryland Forest Park Steering Committee
After years of direct action as well as intense lobbying through a series of council sub-groups, a very workmanlike meeting between senior city director Ciaran Hayes and myself agreed on the terms of reference and membership of a Terryland Forest Steering Committee Mark 2.
The new committee will have representation from relevant groups such as HSE West, GMIT, NUIG, Community Forum, OPW, schools etc. who together will support and advise City Hall in its implementation of biodiversity policies, formulate an annual calendar of events, promote the park as an outdoor classroom, an outdoor laboratory and as a recreational resource.

4. Men’s Skills Group Secure Workshop Premises
A Ballinfoile Mór Men’s Shed (Cumann na bhFearr) was established in early 2011 thanks to the herculean efforts of Michael McDonnell and Michael Tiernan supported by Caitriona Nic Mhuiris. Amongst its aims are the promotion/teaching of traditional Irish crafts and skills. Earlier this week it secured a one year lease from City Council for a large 2 storey workshop premises in the Sandy Road Business Park.
Since its inception, members have undertaken a range of activities in the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden that have included plumbing, electrics, carpentry and construction. A recruitment drive will commence in September for new members and to select appropriate built and natural heritage projects. Such a group could become a valuable long-term asset to the city, the local community, to the city's heritage and to the Terryland Forest Park in areas such as coppicing and hedgerow planting.

5. Community Harvest Festival
An important meeting will take place at 7.30pm on Tuesday next (July 26th) in the Menlo Park Hotel to coordinate the planning of a Harvest Festival and Community Celebration on September 10th in the Ballinfoile Mór community organic garden at which all interested groups and agencies are being invited to attend. The structure of the meeting will be based around a series of tables where different topics (arts, plantings, construction, biodiversity) will be discussed and agreed upon. The Sept 10th Festival will promote the work of a number of community and eco groups, will host an intercultural food fair and will be a celebration of the modern urban version of the traditional rural Irish Meitheal. This Harvest Festival has the potential to become an important annual neighbourhood gathering and celebration of ‘community’ within the Ballinfoile Mór locality. Hence it would be vital that as many people and organisations as is possible make an effort to attend the July 26th meeting. For we need ideas and people involvement in order to make this festival an outstanding success and to become a showcase for all local eco-communities.
Funding has been secured from City Hall for the Festival whilst RAPID and the Galway City Partnership have supported the garden project since its inception.

6. New Castlegar-Ballindooley-Clooncauneen Castle Walking Route
A very productive on-site investigation by Brian Smyth, Brendan Smith and Councillor Frank Fahey took on Sunday June 26th to check out the possibility of developing/mapping out a walking/cycling route connecting the Headford Road to the Tuam Road near the castle of Cloonacauneen Castle. The scenic trail studied was characterised by quiet hedgerows/drystone lined botharins, passing bogs, castles, and pasture lands. But there was a noticeable high level of industrial-scale illegal dumping. A few days later Councillor Fahey held very productive talks with local landowners regarding issues of access, botharín repairs etc.
It is quite possible that this new walking/cycling route could become operational by summer 2012 and would compliment the now popular ‘Off the Beaten Track’ Ballinfoile-Castelgar-Menlo cycle heritage trail thus forming the basis for developing a local community-based eco-heritage tourism strategy for Galway city.

As an update, 44 cyclists took apart in the last ‘Off the Beaten Track’ tour on June 19th.

1 comment:

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