An environmental group has warned that a €7m tourism project to promote Dursey Island in west Cork will threaten the existence of an endangered species of bird.
Friends of the Irish Environment has called on Heritage Minister Josepha Madigan to intervene in the current plans by Cork County Council and Fáilte Ireland for a new cable car and visitor centre to Dursey in order to protect the future of choughs.
Dursey Island, which is located at the western tip of the Beara Peninsula, is considered an internationally important breeding site for the red-billed chough which are on Birdwatch Ireland’s amber list for conservation as well as being protected under the Wildlife Act.
Cork County Council and Fáilte Ireland want to replace the existing cable car, which has been in use since 1969, with two new cable cars with a capacity to carry up to 300 passengers per hour as part of a plan designed to attract up to 80,000 visitors to the area per annum.
The plans also provide for a new visitor centre on the mainland which will include a gift shop, café and outdoor terrace and parking space for 100 vehicles as well as the provision of 10 passing areas on the road between the Bealbarnish Gap and the cable car terminal.
FIE spokesperson, Tony Lowes, said planning documents filed by the council showed that chough numbers on Dursey have declined by 30% since 2003.
Mr Lowes pointed out that the FIE is calling on Ms Madigan to ensure the National Parks and Wildlife Service is aware of the concerns about the project as documents showed the local authority acknowledged that the potential impact of human behaviour arising from increased visitor numbers to Dursey could not be ruled out as a contributory factor in a decline in the number of breeding pairs of choughs on the island.
“We have no doubt that when her staff examines the scientific research and the nature of the development they will determine that exploiting Dursey Island like this will threaten the survival of the chough and set a precedent for future mass tourism in Ireland at the expense of our protected wildlife,” Mr Lowes said.
In an environmental impact statement Cork County Council claims the proposed development may increase the viability of farming on the island which would in turn contribute to the maintenance of a sufficient area of suitable foraging habitat for the red-billed chough.
It said the area of potential foraging lost by the proposed development was not significant, while trails on the island were designed to minimise footfall to prevent disturbance of choughs and other birds.
To prevent harmful levels of human disturbance, the council has proposed setting a maximum monthly capacity of 12,835 visitors to Dursey.
“This carrying capacity is based on findings of peer-reviewed research on disturbance of chough by tourists,” said the council.
However, the EIS acknowledged that potential negative effects may occur as a result of increased visitor numbers.
A ruling in the case is expected in March 2020.