From top: tress felled on the former rail line at The Marina, Cork; Dan Boyle
Over the past month environmental issues/controversies in Cork have involved all the elements: air (incineration), water (culverting rivers) and earth.
Our earth story involves removing trees and vegetation on the Blackrock/Passage greenway as part of an enhancement programme.
I’m aware my last sentence reads as an oxymoron. How is it possible to have an enhancing removal of trees and vegetation? There really isn’t. What it shows is that even with the best intentions considerable ecological damage can be caused.
The Blackrock/Passage greenway had until the 1930s been a working railway line. In the 1980s it was among the first former railways lines to be converted into an amenity walk.
Over the years it has acquired a popularity among many Cork people as a place to escape to, to exercise in, to commune with nature within.
Over time it has been determined that amenity walks should conform to designated standards. These standards are now deemed to be a walkway width of no less than five metres, with a need to ensure that access paths onto the walkway are accessible especially to those with mobility needs.
Before any action was taken a public consultation did take place. Often what is written on paper seems anodyne than what becomes physically experienced. No consultation process can avoid such a lack of nuance. So it proved when works began a number of weeks ago.
When the scale of the work was done it evoked a huge horror among the public. The number of trees taken down, the amount of vegetation removed was nothing like what was imagined.
Some of this should have been anticipated. Making omelettes and breaking eggs is a cliche that comes to mind. Even if the appearance of of a denuded area could have been expected, so should the negative public reaction that followed have been.
Part of the sadness of the reaction is as much about the methods used as it is about the devastation caused.
The tree removal began at the start of nesting season, applying a derogation to this work that in all other circumstances would be illegal.
Too much material and too many trees were removed far more than was necessary. It spoke to a ‘to be sure to be sure’ engineering perspective of having enough room.
The widespread use of mechanical diggers seemed to underpin this however the cards might fall attitude. How we do this work should matter as much as what is done. Sensitivity should be the sensibility.
Mitigation was factored into how the desertification would be addressed. New trees and growth would be planted subsequently.
Again good intentions can’t replace the damage that has been caused. Saplings and semi mature trees will take years of growth to replace the biodiversity that has been lost.
That loss includes insect life that fed birds and other wildlife. It will take years before what has been there will be restored.
This saddens rather than angers me. I don’t attach any blame onto officials whose motivation has been to improve an amenity. It’s the traditional approach to these works that is flawed and badly needs to change.
Cork City Council will be hiring a Trees Officer, something we Green councillors have campaigned for. Too late for this event but hopefully future events will be dealt with differently.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle
Pic via Dr Eoin Lettice