The ESB, Cork County Council, Inland Fisheries Ireland, and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, have been meeting to devise a plan to possibly save an ancient river forest that was flooded 60 years ago.
The Gearagh, near Macroom, Co Cork, is one of four inland forest deltas in the world and is widely described as the most ecologically intact.
The land was controversially flooded by the ESB in the 1950s to make way for hydroelectric dams at Macroom and Inniscarra.
Thousands of ancient oak and yew trees, from what is described as Western Europe’s last post-glacial alluvial temperate rainforest, were destroyed.
However, a rebirth has been noted in the forest and it has “made a remarkable recovery”, according to Kevin Corcoran of the West Cork Ecology Centre.
However, the natural recovery is being undermined by nearby windfarms, afforestation and land reclamation projects, campaigners say, and there is a risk the forest could be washed away unless action is taken urgently.
They are hopeful an EU Habitats Directive can save the Gearagh if a management plan is agreed between the ESB, IFI, NPWS and the local authority on the state-owned land.
They believe it has huge eco tourism potential as a national nature reserve and special protection area.
The forest was an enormous natural soaking ground and flood barrier in the Upper Lee Valley and is a remnant of the temperate rain forest that once covered much of the Eurasian land mass, better known as Europe and Asia.
Mr Corcoran has been monitoring and studying the Gearagh for the last 35 years.
“The main focus has been to ensure this priceless gem is preserved for posterity.
“Up to now, the best way to achieving that has been through keeping it below radar, away from a public glare that could quickly wipe it out through mass intrusion. This has been incredibly difficult, almost like trying to hide the Cliffs of Moher, but somehow the centre has managed to pull that off,” he said.
A documentary, River Runner, made by Declan O’Mahony two years ago, brought the story of the Gearagh to an international audience when it was produced. In addition, 2,000 people signed a petition in support of the restoration of the Gearagh woodland.
An ESB spokesman said a working group has been established with stakeholders regarding the development of a management plan. He said: “Other interested parties will be consulted on these matters in due course.”
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