The upper Lee Valley’s river forest could be transformed into an eco-park, and its salmon population returned, if the ESB were to work with environmental campaigners, says the West Cork Ecology Centre.
The ESB, Cork County Council, Inland Fisheries Ireland, and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) are next week to hold the latest in a series of meetings on the conservation of the site.
The Gearagh, near Macroom, Co Cork, is one of four inland forest deltas in the world and is widely acknowledged as the most ecologically intact.
It has been redeveloping naturally in recent years.
Kevin Corcoran is one of a number of environmentalists in the Macroom area who have drawn up a plan for the wider Gearagh area, which covers 1,500 acres. The aim is to turn it into a major, European eco-tourism initiative.
A biologist, he successfully petitioned Europe, under the EU Habitats Directive, that it wasn’t being sufficiently protected.
“Such a protected park would be a springboard for a whole new, sustainable, eco-tourism initiative, not just for Cork and the Lee Valley but the whole south-west,” said Mr Corcoran.
A similar project, at the primeval Bialowieza Forest, in eastern Poland, has brought significant economic benefits to the region.
Last month, Sinn Fein MEP Liadh Ní Riada met with ESB management to discuss how the forest, “this ancient woodland, and its fragile and unique eco-system”, could be restored. She is also confident that €2m could be secured from European funding channels.
The land, which includes a section of the River Lee, was controversially flooded by the ESB, in the 1950s, to make way for hydroelectric dams at Carrigadrohid 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, over the past 30 years, up to 60% of the area has started reverting back to forest, as seeds from the older forest germinate. Willow, birch, hazel, and oak have all started to grow.
According to Mr Corcoran, if the ESB were to agree to keep the water low at the Gearagh, salmon would once more begin to spawn on its gravel beds.
A restored Gearagh Lee Valley’s river forest could be transformed into an eco-parkLee Valley’s river forest could be transformed into an eco-park Lee Valley’s river forest could be transformed into an eco-park would also allow a resurgence in kingfishers and otters, and the wider area would be suited to cycling and walking routes, according to their blueprint.
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