The Owenashad River Walk in Lismore, Co. Waterford was once a beautiful, natural, meandering path, which has been regularly used by local people for many years. However, at the beginning of last week, the bulldozers moved in, and in just one or two short days, this breathtaking area was completely destroyed. As a herbalist, I value the opportunity to spend time in unspoilt areas such as this, to experience nature as the seasons progress, and to see which plants are emerging or flowering. But as I walked along beside the Owenashad River at the beginning of last week, I was appalled to see the devastation that had taken place.
Waterford County Council, acting in collaboration with the Lismore Tidy Towns Committee, and with no public consultation whatsoever, had completely destroyed the river walk beyond the area known locally as “the Strand”. The once unspoilt path by the river, which was completely safe, never waterlogged, and edged with all sorts of wild flowers, ferns and sedges, had been torn up and covered with a 6-7 foot wide path of rubble and waste tarmac. Many of the wildflowers which grew there are gone, including the rare blue wood anemone, which is known as the “Lismore Blue”, since this was one of the only places it grew wild in this country.
The work has also desecrated the habitat of many wild birds that are nesting in the bushes beside the path at this time of year, despite the fact that it is not permitted to cut hedges during the nesting season, which occurs between 1st March and 31st August. In fact, due to the abundance of wildlife surrounding the River Blackwater (of which the Owenashad is a tributary) this area has been designated as a Special Area of Conservation. However, this fact seems to have been completely overlooked by those responsible for this atrocity.
The Tidy Towns Committee have claimed the destruction of the river walk is due to “insurance reasons”, however, the path was not dangerous in any way, and local people regularly dive into the river a few feet away with no concern for insurance. Of course it is also important that there are accessible areas available so that people with impaired mobility can enjoy the outside environment, and fortunately we have numerous areas locally, such as the Millennium Park, Ballyrafter Woods, and Glenshelane, as well as countless quiet, tree-lined boreens, all of which are accessible to those with impaired mobility. However, we cannot tarmac or concrete over every wild place due to the damage that would be caused to wild flora and natural habitats. Local people are utterly outraged and saddened by the loss of such a beautiful, natural environment.
The tidy towns committee generally do an excellent job of keeping the town and surrounding urban areas looking good. They work extremely hard to remove litter from the streets, and to maintain urban flowerbeds and signage. However the nature of the tidy towns initiative is competitive – when everything that can be done to improve the town has been done, other ways have to be found to get one up on the competition. This has lead to the tidy towns turning their attention to the natural areas outside the centre of town.
Although the National Parks and Wildlife Service gave consent for this project before the work began, this was on the basis that there was a pre-existing path and that no woodland clearance was involved. They have stated that: “they would not have recommended that the path be changed”, however, the path has in fact been widened to at least twice its original width, and although no trees were felled, extensive clearance of woodland has taken place on either side.
If I wanted to make any alterations to my house, I would have to apply for permission, and local people would have an opportunity to voice their opinions and objections. However, this project did not go through the usual planning process, and no signs were erected to warn of the plans for the area, which meant that local people were given no opportunity to make submissions or objections.
If you don’t live in Lismore and think this doesn’t concern you, remember that this destruction could equally happen anywhere, at any time, and once the damage is done, it is often too late. If you are concerned about the damage done to the Owenashad River Walk, or any other unspoilt area, check out Save Our Wild Places, www.facebook.com/SaveOurWildPlaces a new resource for people who are concerned about the increasing urbanization of our wild and natural areas. Hopefully this will provide a useful forum for discussion, advice and support for anyone challenging the destruction of any unspoiled place.