Council Neglect of Public Parks is harming City Schools, People’s Health and Biodiversity

We are asking all lovers of nature and of community to join volunteers at 10am on this Saturday Dec 8th from the Quincentenary Bridge entrance to take part in a significant cleanup in Terryland Forest Park that we hope will highlight the unacceptable increased levels of anti-social behaviour occurring there over the last few months particularly in terms of litter and therefore the critical need for Galway City Council to follow the lead of other cities in appointing full-time parks’ grounds staff.
Working with community volunteers and implementing an ‘Adopt a Patch’ scheme with local residents and businesses that we will launch next month, we feel that this new suggested policy change by City Hall could have a major positive impact on reclaiming the park for the people of Galway in order to fulfil its official designation as the “People’s Park” and the “Lungs of the City” as well  as a urban wildlife sanctuary.  Terryland has the potential to become a major green regional hub linking the Connemara Greenway over a new pedestrian bridge along the old railway pillars, to the Corrib waterways and to a large untapped walking/cycling ‘boreen’ network on the north and east sides of the city.

Sadly years of council neglect due to a shrinking budget from government and other factors is destroying our city’s green spaces particularly in relation to Terryland Forest Park, a green facility that its founders in 1996 had hoped would become the equivalent of the Phoenix Park of Galway.
A dedicated team of volunteers from all walks of life have done so much over the last few years to successfully develop this natural heritage zone as an Outdoor Classroom for local schools; an Outdoor Laboratory for third level science research; a major ecological corridor and sanctuary for wildlife that research has shown contains at least 350 species; and a landscape for revitalising rural heritage skills and organic farming. But sadly the absence of on-the-ground park wardens and maintenance staff has led to an epidemic of litter and a surge in vandalism that is transforming Terryland and other public parks into ‘No Go Zones’ for the public as well as negatively impacting on the park’s biodiversity.
Sadly the visitor is now greeted with carcasses of blackened burnt tree trunks on abandoned night-time campfires; the wanton destruction of picnic benches; paint-peeled park seating; mounds of alcohol bottles/cans lying beside outdoor exercise equipment; overflowing uncollected ugly council blackbags beside every seat which are ripped open with their contents covering woodlands and killing wildlife in the process; the detritus of heroin drug use in the form of used needles and tin foil scattered across pathways; gates and boundary fences rotting away; a Terryland river that is being choked to death by nitrates and many large empty display boards deprived of their lovingly researched and artistically drawn biodiversity information signage that have been inexplicably kept for years in cold storage by the council.  This sorry state of affairs is destroying the morale of many of those who have given thousands of hours free of charge since March 2000 to plant tens of thousands of trees, to develop a network of wildflower bee haven meadows, to carve Celtic art into large stones in order to form a unique heritage trail and to install multiple bat boxes. Many veteran volunteers of all ages have understandingly recently given up collecting rubbish monthly when they see no reciprocal council system in place to ensure regular litter picking and bench/fence/seating maintenance. 
This is a nightmare scenario to the visionaries drawn from council staff, politicians, state agencies, academia, local communities, schools and the environmental movement who came together in the 1990s to designate 180 acres of fields to develop a wonderful mosaic of parklands, farmland, wetlands, waterways, and woods that would serve the leisure needs of Galwegians of all ages as well as providing a ‘wildlife corridor’ linking the Corrib waterways to the farmlands of east Galway via the city.  Even then they understood the importance of easy access to natural land/waterscapes for people’s physical and mental health as well in benefiting children’s learning experiences through contact with Nature. Since then the importance of forestry in combating Climate Change,  maintaining soil fertility and structure as well as filtering toxic car emissions out of the atmosphere has being scientifically proven.
So we have written to Mayor McNelis, a great friend of the Terryland Forest Park, for his help in re-establishing the great sense of unity of purpose that existed when the park opened on a Sunday in March 2000 as c3,500 people turned up to plant an entire urban woodland in the heart of the city. We have asked him to organise a meeting of community activists with the CEO, officials, and councillors of Galway city council around our key demands of the reconvening of the park’s multi-sectoral steering committee which was promised last February by CEO Brendan McGrath; to ring-fence the €50,000 allocated in last year’s council budget towards developing a Management Plan  or Terryland park/river that was supposed to happen in 2018 and has not; to appoint a city Biodiversity Officer as is the case in Dublin; to consider building ‘green bridges’ to connect the different parts of the park separated by  roads; and finally to appoint full time wardens and operative staff for this and other parks. The latter is crucial if we are to restore public confidence in Terryland. Not having park ground staff is ludicrous. For instance St Stephen’s Green and Phoenix Park would degenerate into a dangerous wasteland within weeks if Dublin City Council withdrew staff from its grounds.   
In February, doctors, teachers, students, scientists, resident associations, urban farmers, environmentalists, state agency representatives, politicians, artists and others will come together to launch the campaign for Galway to become Ireland’s first ‘National Park City’. We earnestly wish City Hall to be part of this initiative. Hence we hope their actions on Terryland Forest Park over the next month will make the council worthy partners in this project.

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