Coast Diary – June 4th

Into the woods…

Apologies to those further afield but today’s post will again be about Newtown Woods on Tramore Bay and the possible impacts of recent and proposed developments. Perhaps it will be of use generally as a small case study.

This week I have noticed there is a further massive development planned nearby too, slightly further from the woods. 58 dwellings in apartment blocks of all things (marked in blue on the map below). However I am very late to that particular party (I admit it, I have been turning a blind eye in recent years. Environmental campaigns can be draining) and residents have organised to fight this. Last I heard its been given the go ahead but I am assuming there will be appeals, so while its worrying – the traffic alone would be impossible – I am ignoring it here. Any information or updates on that can be shared in the comments below.

I have three areas of concern around the Council proposals for the roads around Newtown woods.

Lighting: I am still unclear about what the council means to do re road lighting around Newtown Woods. Their plans only include a notice saying PUBLIC LIGHTING TO BE RENEWED AND EXTENDED WHERE REQUIRED [my bold italics] which gives them a lot of room to manoeuvre and could lead to lighting in the woods themselves. There are already lighting columns installed in the development – as marked on the first map above.

Boundary Wall: Regarding the old wall, I believe it is important for plant and insect life which in turn feeds the birds. And I suspect it also protects the lower part of the woodland from the elements and from light and car pollution. I had heard rumours months ago that it would be knocked down and as it is nowhere on the plans – even on the ‘before’ drawings – I am assuming now they are definitely going to knock it. I don’t think that should be allowed.

Traffic: The one way system introduced in late 2021 means that all the traffic leaving Newtown Cove – which is not inconsiderable – is channelled up through the woods. This is likely in preparation for the development of the apartment blocks. I think all of this should be scrapped.

I also have a concern about the so called environmental surveys and how they were conducted not only for the Council’s proposals but for the developments at Newtown Glen and Carrigeenlea. It seems likely that none of them took into account the local environment because it is not designated as a protected area. But Newtown Woods is an important habitat, deciduous woods are becoming rare and there will be species of plants and birds within the woods that are protected. However it seems those commissioning surveys only have to include areas on the Natura 2000 list which is on the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) site here. The sites for Waterford are below. They are either SPA (Special Protected Areas), SAC (Special Areas of Conservation). An additional categorization is an NHA (National Heritage Area).

Ardmore Head SAC (002123)
Blackwater Callows SPA (004094)
Blackwater Estuary SPA (004028)
Blackwater River (Cork/Waterford) SAC (002170)
Comeragh Mountains SAC (001952)
Dungarvan Harbour SPA (004032)
Glendine Wood SAC (002324)
Helvick Head SAC (000665)
Helvick Head to Ballyquin SPA (004192)
Lower River Suir SAC (002137)
Site Name: Mid-Waterford Coast SPA (004193)
Nire Valley Woodlands SAC (000668)
River Barrow and River Nore SAC (002162)
Tramore Back Strand SPA (004027)
Tramore Dunes and Backstrand SAC (000671)

It is notable that the only woodlands protected are in the west of the county.

Of course SPAs and SACs can quickly become irrelevant in the face of big money. In the case of proposed developments at Garrarus c. 2007 for instance, the council, surreptitiously passed an addition to a local law that allowed for construction along the Waterford Coast, an SPA that includes a UNESCO heritage site. That development didn’t happen most likely because of the crash of 2008 though there was a huge local campaign too.

So – I contacted the NPWS and explained the situation and asked how to begin the process of protecting the woods and I am waiting for further contact and have expressed interest in meeting with a local ranger. In the mean time I have been looking at what Newtown Woods actually is and why it is of value so that in my submssion can request that a proper environmental impact assessment to be done specific to Newtown Woods in relation to proposed and future developments. Questions I have asked myself are…

  1. What area does Newtown Woods cover? (with a view to including a clearance area for light etc.)
  2. What are the woods is made up of?
  3. Who lives there?

I reached out to some friends and interested parties, including Tramore Eco Group, to help with a preliminary survey of the woods and below are some results…

1. What area does Newtown Woods cover?

Using an online acreage calculator and guesstimating the woods at 400m by 100m (its wider than that at one point and narrower than that at others – I have come up with 9.88 or roughly 10 acres. Feel free to correct me.

2. What is the wood made up of?

Tramore Eco Group observations: ‘Good variety of broadleaved trees: Oak, ash, sycamore, alder, beech, horse chestnut.  Many elms regenerating and some quite established which is good given the devastating effects of Dutch Elm disease.  Not so good that some ash may be exhibiting signs of die back.  Dense cover of hawthorn, blackthorn and bramble and various species of ferns (worthy of a Victorian garden, but happily, wild!).’

3. Who Lives There?

Animals

There are foxes and rabbits in the area. Rabbits have increased suddenly in Westtown and this may be because developments have pushed them west.

Birds  

A bird watcher friends tells me there is a sparrowhawk (protected) currently nesting there. Another bird watcher friend tells me there are tree creepers there too as well as wrens, robins, tits and blackbirds and possibly barn owls. There were barn owls in Westtown previously but they left after some bog was cleared about a decade ago. Tramore Eco group observations: ‘Thrushes, chiffs-chaffs, chaffinches, blackbirds, wood pigeons & possibly a blackcap singing [during a 30 minute walk].’ Along with plentiful rooks and pigeons, I have seen a pair of coal tits (the only place I have ever seen them), a pair of bullfinch (once), a grey wagtail, gold crest and gold finches. I have heard young, long-eared owls here too – they sound like a squeaky gate.

Bats

According to local environmentalist who has completed bat surveys here, there are two types of bat here, the Pipistrelle and Leisler’s Bat.

Insects

Tramore Eco Group observations – ‘Saw 3 white butterflies, 1 seven-spot ladybird, 1 Buff-tailed Bumblebee, 2 Common Carder bees [during a 30 minute walk].’

Flora

Tramore Eco Group onservations – ‘Flowering wild plants also present: wood aven, common vetch, bush vetch, Germander speedwell, thyme-leaved speedwell, wood sage, figwort, common mouse ear, ground ivy, (native) bluebell, 3-cornered leek, bulbous buttercup, field buttercup, herb Robert, cut-leaved cranesbill, trefoil (hop?), yarrow, wild carrot, cleavers, woodrush, sorrel (sheep’s ?), pennywort, bindweed, woodbine & many grasses. The above is merely a taster of the more obvious flora and fauna –  there are many more species in this precious place!’

Containing Wall Tramore Eco Group observations –‘The old wall is a treasure trove of mosses, ferns and many other plants and neither it nor the woodland area on both sides of the road should be interfered with, in my opinion. ‘

This is preliminary stuff but already I have a better picture of what we have with Newtown Woods even though I have walked through it for years. I will update on any other information as it comes and on any submission I make and how to do it for yourselves. June 28th is the cut off point. Hopefully I will get some other coast stuff covered in the next posts. Have a good weekend.

Coast Diary – May 21st

I’m back – what did I miss?

May is in full swing – its been sunny and rainy and occasionally even warm. The big field below is a sea of green barley, the swallows are gaining strength and numbers while the rabbits continue to proliferate. I have found out that, as I suspected, rabbits are not usually so numerous here and there’s no real reason for the recent influx mentioned in a previous post. The foxes are still about according to a neighbour, as are the buzzards – though I have not seen Buzz in his tree in a while. Hatching eggs I suppose. The ditches, all a-twitter with wrens and tits and robins, are green and bursting and the whitethorn has blossomed, its flowers like exploding popcorn. It is even on the wane already in some places while I am still awaiting for the tree out the back to take off. When I was younger I used to think of summer as a time where everything stays at its peak for the set number of weeks we call ‘The Summer’. Now I know that change is constant and even as I watch this peaking I see the other side of it – the green yellowing, the flowers wilting, the swallows gathering and going. Nothing is constant.

And down the road the change is even faster than I had thought it would be when I started this diary. Recent roadworks have caused traffic havoc, but now the new storm drains are in, the local council have published further plans to cater to the latest wave of housing. If all this building I am seeing was solving the problem of where to live I’d probably keep my silence – but somehow none of us can afford these houses. Since the Celtic Tiger, successive governments have pushed the house as an investment opportunity rather than a necessity, and buying-to-let has pushed prices up to ensure profits for global investors. There has not been a concurrent evolution in renters rights either. But I digress – if you want to read more, you could do worse than follow Rory Hearne, a local lad, on these issues https://www.thejournal.ie/readme/ireland-investment-housing-5428746-May2021/

Anyway, once this side of Tramore bay was more or less rural but since the eighties the red roofs have spread like a rash that is now tipping the edge of the little woods I have mentioned here before. From afar you can see the tops of the trees of Newtown Wood springing from the narrow glen that runs down to Newtown Cove. Off to the left and right of the woods stand two tall pine trees, perhaps the remnants of a once larger forest. Down in the glen, the trees are ivy covered and tall and fragile looking. An unlit road curves picturesquely through it as the leaves above shiver and coo and croak with pigeons and rooks and robins, coal tits, grey wagtails, magpies, gold crest and others, many of them feeding on the insects living in the cracked, old wall that edges the woods. In May it is carpeted with bluebells. In summer you might hear the creak of an owl and in the evening, at dusk, you will see for certain the little bats whirling about.

As yet I have only skimmed the plans for the woods but I do know that streetlighting is planned for the road along the wall beside it and it is likely that that wall will come down to make way for the planned cycle paths and pavements – which are no use to bats or owls and just as well as the light will see them off. It is unclear whether trees will be taken down – the language is typically oblique. And I imagine, as the houses have approached the wood, the street-lighting will soon enough make its way down the road that runs through it. Apparently there will somehow be a reduction in traffic but how this will happen when there are more houses than ever is beyond me. There is a four week consultation period – which started this week – and I will be making a contribution. I suggest if you care about these woods you do something too.

Here is the link to the plans https://waterfordcouncilnews.com/2022/05/17/active-travel-scheme-newtown-tramore-pedestrian-cyclist-scheme/

Watching the rabbits this evening, I thought again of that book Watership Down and how a superstitious person might take their curious proliferation in a place they were once so scarce as an omen. The book begins just before high summer. The rabbits notice a new sign near their warren as the sun sets red, the field seeming to run with blood, and they know it means something, perhaps even something bad, but do not forsee the scale of the destruction that will be very shortly visited upon them to make way for the houses of men.

National Drawing Day: If you’re in Waterford city today, Saturday May 21st, myself and my artist pal Julie Cusack are hosting a Drawing Day at Garter Lane Arts Centre in the Courtyard. Drop in (and drop out) any time between 11 am and 4pm for as much or as little time as suits you and try your hand at drawing or mark making to salsa music, or just for a look. All levels welcome. Free tea and coffee (and biscuits!)

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