Located just 6km from Cork city, wildlife haven Harpur’s Island could become a mecca for tourism and education and attract ‘twitchers’ from all over the world.
Work on phase one of the development on a Cork County Council-owned site near Glounthaune, east of the city, involved the completion of a state-of-the-art bird hide.
Species such as the wigeon, a dabbling duck from Iceland as well as the Icelandic black-tailed godwits, together with six species of wading birds that breed mainly in the Arctic zone, confirm the importance of the island habitat.
Overall, 24 different waterbird species, several of which are declining in numbers nationally, have been recorded there.
Wildlife expert and nature writer Jim Wilson, whose works include, outlined developments to a meeting of the Cobh/Glanmire Municipal District Council.
He said BirdWatch Ireland and volunteers from Glounthaune Community Council proposed to build four more hides around the island along with looped walkways and a large education/interpretive centre.
To ensure the protection and maintenance of the site, the county council had, to date, invested €180,000 in the project, he said.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service has also assisted the council.
Mr Wilson said that funding requests for further development are being sought from other agencies including Secad (South-East Cork Area Development) which had already promised grant-aid.
He also told councillors: “Cork Institute of Technology and University College Cork have also agreed to get involved in research on the site.”
Mr Wilson said birds from all over the world arrive on Harpur’s Island.
“Up to 4% of the world’s population of Icelandic blacktailed godwits use the island during the year,” he said.
“This is what makes Harper’s Island internationally important for birds.”
It was also envisaged that a visitor centre could be situated in a 200-year-old farmhouse and lime kiln on the western side of the island which was “very restorable”.
“We hope to have the roof secured shortly,” said Mr Wilson. “The renovation of the old farmhouse as an education and visitor centre could include interactive displays, not only on aspects of the biodiversity on Harper’s Island but on all aspects of our environment.
“Furthermore, lecture/meeting areas and research laboratory facilities could be included. Courses could be run from the centre too. There’s a magnificent view over the island from the high ground near the old farm building.
“There’s potential for cafe and/or a hide with large windows taking in the magnificent views overlooking the wetland areas.”
Due to its location, just off the main Cork-Waterford route, the site could enrich national and local tourism products such as the Ancient East /Wild Atlantic Way/Ring of Cork and Cork Harbour.
Cork County Council currently own the site but municipal district officer Páraig Lynch said it had offered to hand it over to the National Parks & Wildlife Service which would further its development.
The amenity is open the public on weekends from 10am to 4pm.
Mr Wilson said: “Moving this project on shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg.”