The Irish Wildlife Trust has clashed with the Department of Heritage over the destruction of a patch of woodland in Connemara National Park.
The wildlife group said the public has lost out with the destruction of this forest, but the Department said their claims were “disingenuous” and “misleading”.
The Irish Wildlife Trust lodged a complain with Minister for Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan after a hectare of woodland in Connemara National Park was levelled.
The woodland, which IWT said was “evaluated by independent ecologists as of ‘high biodiversity value in a local context’,” was transferred from the National Parks and Wildlife Service to Galway County Council and subsequently levelled.
“The IWT understands that no compensatory land was sought by the NPWS from Galway County Council and so the public is now left with a smaller (and biologically poorer) National Park,” a statement said.
However the Department said that no additional land had been sought because the land was for use in an essential road safety project.
The hectare of woodland was levelled to make way for the straightening of a treacherous section of the N59 which also contains the entrance to Connemara National Park.
A department spokesperson said “the safety of our staff, visitors to our park in Connemara and the general public and local community remains paramount.”
The IWT said this was exchange was carried out without any public consultation process, and while an ecological impact report was prepared, “This was only after the NPWS had agreed to relinquish the land.”
The ecological impact report for the proposed realignment showed that the project would not impact on the conservation of any European site, the department said.
It was added that Padraig Fogarty, the IWT’s campaigns officer had been briefed “extensively” on the road and the necessary safety measures by officials from the NPWS.
Mr Fogarty disputed this, saying that he had to contact the NPWS himself.
The manner in which this exchange was carried out sets a bad precedent for sections of land from National Parks been cut off with no due process, according to the IWT.
“It’s really shocking to think that the NPWS, who are supposed to be the guardians of our natural heritage, can so easily sacrifice chunks of one of our country’s natural treasures,” said Padraig Fogarty.
“We’re disappointed, but not particularly surprised, that the Fine Gael government has signed off on this, given their poor regard for the environment.”
This was also disputed by the Department, which said it is committed to conserving 87,000 hectares of land across 80 national parks and other sites nationwide.