1,000 signatures reached
To: Minister of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht
Protection of Toon Valley Woodland
Sign off on the Proposed Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs) of Ireland
Why is this important?
Following the recent destruction of a significant portion of the old-growth oak woodlands at Silvergrove, Toon Valley, Macroom, Co. Cork, the vulnerability of this precious place has been highlighted.
In a 2008 native woodland survey conducted by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), Toon Woods, a patchwork mosaic of various woodland types, was deemed to be the highest scoring unprotected site in the country.
Yet in just a few weeks last December, large swathes of these woods were destroyed under license. In a classic Irish exaggeration, thinning became virtual clear-felling.
In addition, further sections of woodland have even been cleared and converted to grazing, with cattle seen amid the ruined trees. This is in direct contravention of the thinning licence which never mentioned stump removal or planting of grass-seed.
It is a mere example of what can happen when full legal protection is withheld.
Toon woods contain one of Ireland's strongest surviving colonies of critically endangered red squirrels, who were hibernating when their homes were cut down. They lost their shelter and their winter stores. How many will survive? There have already been reports of injuries and deaths, with one squirrel found in a ditch a few miles from the site likely a refugee from Silvergrove.
After Christmas, locals were traumatised to witness the destruction. What had always been a magnificently beautiful place, with moss-covered oaks and dozens of rare plants forming a magical scene for holiday walks, had become a war zone of broken trees, piles of debris, mud and stumps. The much-loved red squirrels, whose prominence brought such magic to the place, now wandered the roads in a dazed manner, a forlorn sight indeed.
The ancient oak woodland, ecologically an extension of the Gearagh, is well-known to sustain other critically endangered species aside from red squirrels. A nationally important lesser horseshoe bat maternity roost exists only a few hundred metres from the destroyed area, while the pristine Toon river provides habitat for freshwater pearl mussels, another red-listed species.
One ecologist who visited the site noted the absence of infrastructure to prevent soil run-off into the Toon river, threatening the freshwater mussel which cannot tolerate silt, as well as the nearby Gearagh, a Natura 2000 site into which the Toon flows.
I urge you to immediately sign the appropriate documentation supplied to you by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and confer full NHA status on the Toon woods, as was proposed by then Chief Scientist Dr John Cross in 2013, following a survey commissioned by NPWS.
To save what is left, it is imperative now that the felled portion of the wood is allowed to regenerate. All stumps must be left in situ and the area which has been converted into grassland must be replanted with locally sourced saplings.
As climate change poses such a major threat to our future well-being, the protection of our ancient oak woodlands is essential. They account for less than 2% of our forests and contain our most endangered species.
Most of Toon woods are still intact but they are in urgent need of your intervention.
As you are aware your office is presently in the process of accepting submissions to the National Heritage Plan. With that in mind, please note, there are numerous, scientifically outstanding proposed Natural Heritage Areas (pNHA) and candidate Special Area of Conservation (cSAC) still awaiting full designation, many since 1995.
I urge you to fast-track the required legislative process to ensure these sites, and particularly the Toon Woods, be fully protected as required under the Habitats Directive.
It is ludicrous that many of these outstanding Natural Heritage Sites have been left sitting in ‘unprotected limbo’ for over twenty five years.
I appeal to you to act now and fully implement the required protective legislation for all of these unprotected but proposed NHA sites, starting with the site at the very top of the list because of its outstanding scientific qualities, as well as cultural value, The Toon Woods.
Although a felling license was issued by the Forestry Service for thinning, tending and creation of open spaces at this site (No. GFL 20650) this was so abused that following a public outcry the license has been suspended.
Dr Jenni Roche, Senior Woodland Ecologist, Scientific Unit, at the NPWS is fully aware of the present situation and as her department is under the Minister’s remit she would be in a position to provide you with further detailed information.
Thanking you in anticipation of a positive response