Rewild Wicklow Mountains National Park with Native Woodland
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A public consultation is due to be launched next week on a Masterplan for Glendalough and the Wicklow Mountains National Park by Fáilte Ireland in conjunction with the Office of Public Works (OPW), National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and Coillte along with the National Monuments Service and Wicklow County Council.
It states the Masterplan is to cover “the full range of visitor attractions and activities available in the area, with a particular focus on active outdoor activities – primarily walking and cycling, and the visitor experience in the Glendalough valley.”
The press release references “environmental impact management” but there is no mention of improving biodiversity or restoring habitats.
Anyone who regularly visits the Wicklow Mountains, will agree it is a National Park in name only, instead the landscape is dominated by Sitka spruce plantations that are regularly clear felled for commercial gain. Anyone who walks through the deathly silence of one of these monoculture woods will know that these plantations do not contribute to biodiversity or the ‘visitor experience.’
In January of this year Ireland joined an international coalition committed to protecting at least 30 percent of the world’s land and oceans by 2030 in an attempt to halt a global biodiversity crisis.
However as it stands just 13% of Ireland’s land and 2.5% of its seas are designated as ‘protected’. And even these ‘protected’ areas are not really such as the Wicklow Mountains (Ireland’s largest National Park) demonstrates. As does the fact that a mere 2% of Ireland is now covered in native woodland. Historically 80% of Ireland was once covered by forests of all types, now, at just 11%, we have the lowest forest cover of any country in Europe.
This has led to a very poor rate of biodiversity in Ireland, and it is getting worse. A 2019 report found that 85% of Ireland's habitats had "unfavourable" conservation status, and nearly half of habitats were in decline.
On joining the international coalition, Malcolm Noonan, Minister of State for Heritage, stated: “Reversing biodiversity loss is a major challenge for the coming decade that requires a profound transformation of value chains, business models and patterns of human behaviour and consumption. This challenge requires concerted action across sectors of society at all levels.”
Here now is our opportunity to act.
We, the undersigned, call on the Minister of State for Heritage to direct this Masterplan for the Wicklow Mountains National Park to prioritise the removal of Sitka spruce plantations from within the protected boundaries of the park and the restoration of native woodland and other native habitats.
We view this as the one of the best opportunities in Ireland to begin our commitment towards protecting 30% of the land for biodiversity by 2030. And that it will also allow us reverse climate change and offset our carbon emissions as native woodlands and bogs sequester more carbon from the atmosphere than single species plantations.
We note that the Dublin Mountains Makeover, to the north of the park, was announced last year by Coillte for the nine forests they manage there to do exactly this and call on this change in approach to be extended to the entire National Park.
We welcome other aspects of this proposed plan to improve the ‘visitor experience’ by building new infrastructure and dispersing visitors to different sites across the park, but the true ‘visitor experience’ begins with the condition of the land and its flora and fauna and integral to this process must be an active management plan for improving biodiversity.
“We are facing nothing less than the collapse of the living world. The very thing we rely upon for every element of the lives we lead. No one wants this to happen. None of us can afford for it to happen. To restore stability on our planet, we must restore its biodiversity, the very thing that we have removed. We must re-wild the wild. If we act now, we can yet put it right.”
David Attenborough, A Life On Our Planet, 2020
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