Saving Ireland’s Largest Urban Forest Park: Your Support is Needed to Establish a 100 Member Volunteer Club for Terryland Forest Park

Three community organisations in Galway city are part of an ambitious scheme to integrate the environmental, heritage, learning and neighbourhood aspects of the Terryland Forest Park in order to provide a Greenprint for its future development and that of other natural heritage areas across Ireland. Click here for an outline of a local community plan for the park's regeneration as unveiled a few months ago.

The ‘Conservation Volunteers Terryland Forest Park’, Cumann na bhFear and the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden are appealing for your help in securing a membership of 100 volunteers who will each give a few hours per month to get involved in park based events designed to increase public footfall within its perimeters and protect biodiversity.
‘Conservation Volunteers Terryland Forest Park’ want to establish a permanent presence in the park every weekend, with each volunteer that is working onsite wearing a identifiable jacket or badge, thus encouraging the general public to use and to enjoy what is officially known as the Citizen’s Park and the Green Lungs of the City
Activities include planting of trees, weeding in an organic garden, reconstruction of drystone walls and hedgerows, building a wildlife pond, litter clean-ups, repair of vintage (touring) bicycles, participation in guided nature walks and heritage cycle tours.
Exciting opportunities and support mechanisms now exist for transforming this man-made natural heritage resource into an asset even more important to the people of Galway than the Phoenix Park is to the population of Dublin.

Illegal Dumping
A fleet of High Nelly bicycles for park touring, a 7 castle Greenway trail, school-created arts murals, community willow sculptures, the restoration of traditional drystone walls/hedgerows, the installation of park-wide information signage, the development of a Poet’s (Cuairt)woodland and a corps of volunteer park rangers are amongst some of the proposals that should come to fruition over the next year. 

When it was first planted in early 2000, it was the largest urban neighbourhood forest project in the history of the Irish state. Initiated as a result of years of campaigning by local community groups, 120 acres were zoned by Galway City Council for a new woodland and riverine park. 

Over a five year period, approximately 100,000 native Irish trees were planted by the people and schools of Galway city, thus creating an expansive natural habitat for a wide variety of flora and fauna located not far from the city centre that connects into the vast Lough Corrib waterways, one of the most cherished areas of biodiversity in the country.
River Corrib wetlands near Terryland Forest Park
Within its grounds or on the park’s periphery, lies a rich fabric of our city’s history that includes working farmlands, the ruins of medieval castles, forgotten canals, the remains of a Georgian garden and WW2 urban allotments, Victorian railway lines and engineering waterworks. 
Abandoned Victorian Waterworks, at entrance to Terryland Forest Park
A few months ago, a multi-sectoral steering committee was re-established to help promote community engagement and to develop a long-term strategic plan for this wonderful green resource. Under the auspices of Galway City Council, it includes representatives from the City Parks’ department, Galway Education Centre, OPW, HSE, An Taisce, Galway City Community Forum, GMIT and NUIG.
In the early years of its formation, a programme of family picnic days, outdoor theatre, art workshops, community tree and school children bulb planting days took place in the park that often attracted thousands of participants. 
'Off the Beaten Track' Heritage Cycle Tour group, Castlegar Castle
2012: A Year of Progress
‘Conservation Volunteers Terryland Forest Park’ want to offer such activities once again to the students and pupils of our local schools as well as to the general public. Already, by working with other groups such as Cumann na bhFear (aka Men’s Shed), Castlegar Connect, GTU, Galway Civic Trust and the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden we held an initial series of events in 2012 that included heritage cycling tours, a multi-cultural picnic, nature detective walks, tree plantings, organic gardening digs and a harvest festival. Most notable was ‘Slí na gCaislain’, which is a pioneering pedestrian and cycling Greenway connecting Terryland Castle to six other castles that has the potential to become a world-renowned amenity to be shared by tourist and local alike.
'Off the Beaten Track' Heritage Cycle tour group near Cloonacauneen Castle

Trees are mankind’s best friend. They provide us with the oxygen for sustaining life on Earth and by absorbing the man-made carbon emissions that are the main factor in global warming today. They also act as a haven for a myriad of wildlife. A single oak tree for instance can be home to up to 450 different types of species, from fungi to large mammals. 

Forests: Reclaiming Our Celtic Heritage
Ireland today has only 10% woodland cover, compared to an average of 40-45% in the rest of Europe. Yet before 16th century British colonisation destroyed our native forests to provide the raw materials for the English ship-building, iron and pipe staves industries, these habitats were an integral part of Irish culture and religion as well as of the physical landscape. 
Our mythology shows that the ancient Celts revered nature; the druids used oak groves to hold religious ceremonies; many of the early Christian saints had a close affinity with creatures of the forest such as wolves and deer. The Ogham alphabet, that was our first form of writing, was based on different varieties of native trees. Under Brehon law, trees even had a honour price that had to be met if cut down. The English invaders referred to the Gaelic warriors as ‘wood kerne’ (soldiers of the woods).
'Leafless Tree Detective' tour with Matthew O'Toole
In the process of nurturing this developing forest park, young people and the general public will have the opportunity to become ‘Citizen Scientists’ through a programme of nature studies, climate change reduction projects, tree planting days, biodiversity enhancement and annual wildlife monitoring schemes such as the ‘National Wildlife Atlas’ survey of mammals.
Scientific studies by experts such as Richard Louv in his book ‘Last Child in the Woods’ has shown that alienation from nature has caused diminished uses of the senses, serious concentration problems and higher rates of emotional and physical illness in children.
By expanding the woodlands area and overcoming habitat fragmentation, caused by an infrastructure of fast roads, through developing a network of cyclist/walker friendly botharíns and the building of ‘Green bridges over motorways (such as those that exist in the Netherlands where presently 800 are located), we can restore via the Terryland Forest Park a better quality of life to urban dwellers whilst at the same time protecting endangered indigenous species. 
Ballindooley Lough
A Green and Pleasant Land
So we have the pleasure of involving children and adults in re-creating an ancient landscape that will introduce the joys of walking through woodlands; of experiencing the sights of meadows populated with a vibrant cornucopia of insects, animals and birds; of hearing the natural sounds of the countryside; of cycling along rural laneways; of drawing portraits of wildlife in their natural settings; of picnicking in a park with friends; of downloading an apps to journey along a local nature trail;  of planting trees and hedgerows as well as in repairing traditional stonewalls.
Spellman's Botharín, Castlegar
Much needs to be done on issues such as signposting of woodland trails, combating illegal drinking in public green spaces, litter dumping and habitat fragmentation by roads. 
Wetlands along Terryland Forest Park

But these challenges can be overcome by a unity of purpose from all sectors of the local population. The Park can finally become a Green Jewel and a vital Ecological Corridor for the wildlife of Galway City.

Draft Terryland Forest Calendar for 2013
February: Willow Planting and Harvesting (Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden)
 Commencement of weekly Clean-Ups of park
March: Community Tree Planting Day
            Classic Bikes Repair workshop
April: Drystone Wall Repair (with Cumann na bhFear); Schools’ Mammal Survey (with Dr. Colin Lawton NUIG); Inauguration of Cuairt Tree Planting Fest (with Galway City Arts Office)
The Big Spring Clean-Up Day
May: Dawn Chorus (with Birdwatch Galway); Classic Bikes Rental launch scheme for Terryland Forest Park (Cumann na bhFear); Mammal Detective trail (with Dr. Colin Lawton NUIG): Eco-Art Mural of park container by Galway schools(with Galway City Arts Office)
June: The Seven Castles Cycle Trail(Slí na gCaislean); Completion of Online 7 Castles Cycle Mapping
JulyThe Seven Castles Cycle Trail(Slí na gCaislean) (with Cumann na bhFear)
Wildlife Pond Construction (Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden)
August: Drystone Wall Repair (Cumann na bhFear)
September: Harvest and Heritage Festival Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden
Scarecrow exhibition (by schools)
October: Leafless Tree Detective Walk (with Matthew O’Toole): Schools' Bulb Planting Day
November: Winter Wonderland Photographic and Arts challenge for Galway schools
December: Exhibition 'Poster Art of  Terryland Forest 2000-2005' by artist Lol Hardiman, City Hall 

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