Coast Diary – June 25th

One last reminder that submissions in writing or by email re: Newtown Woods should reach Ian Ludlow, Staff Officer, Active Travel, Waterford City & County Council, Menapia Building, The Mall, Waterford  iludlow@waterfordcouncil.ie before 4p.m. on Tuesday 28th June, 2022. Submissions should be clearly marked with “Submission Part 8 Newtown Hill” in the subject line.

Now back to the beach. Sort of. Years ago, when I was working in a hotel Amsterdam, one of the male cleaners took a shine to me. He conveyed this burgeoning obsession in a sheaf of handwritten pages of foolscap that, among other things, compared me to Jesus Christ. At the time I thought he was crazy but these days I seriously wonder if he was on to something because these days I seem to be a magnet for every nut job, ignoramus, and asshole on the planet. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the beach.

Sunday

I walked down to Garrarus in the evening, the little beach about half an hour away. I didn’t go down onto the sand. Instead I went up on the cliff and stared morosely at the water which was like a millpond in the sunset. It was still relatively busy. I haven’t been swimming since January partly because of how annoyed busy beaches make me, but there and then, I decided this week I would tackle my misanthropy to the ground and plunge back in…

Monday

The weather is hot and, after spending some time out on the cliffs looking for basking sharks,(none) and watching the cormorants, shags, kittiwakes, pigeons and gulls – their fuzzy grey chicks tottering about – I walked down to Garrarus. The beach was quiet but by the time I got out of the water, a family of five were bringing their kayaks and boards down the beach and planting them near the water. To give them (me) space I moved up the beach to the large flat rock near the steps. But true to my christ-like magnetism, they followed me and set up camp within five feet. In the spirit of my new magnaminity, I just shifted my towel slightly, put on my shades and hat, turned off my hearing aids and gazed into the distance. I stayed that way until a handsome (well he thought so) muscular man, a long distant swimmer, emerged god-like from the water nearby and began to stare in my direction – god knows why. I am thankfully past my sell by date according to the patriarchy. A few decades ago this might have been exciting but a life time of experience of men and their carry-on behind me, it merely makes it really, really annoying so, before I gained an extra disciple I left. But it was a start.

Tuesday

Encouraged by my newly sprouting tolerance, I went back to the beach with my book. To my horror I realised, too late, that it was midsummer’s eve which meant there were a lot of people about including a band of teens camping and, worse, a circle of drumming meditators. The teens were fine actually and switching off the hearing aids dealt with the drumming, which was quieter than last year. Maybe they heard ‘someone’ giving out about it…There was a scatter of people about near the cliffs, which is where the regular swimmers sit so as not crowd the tiny low tide swim spot. I stopped at a respectful distance and planted my towel. ‘I can do this.’ I thought. Even the couple and their child, hogging the waters edge earned my forgiveness. They looked too large to be able to walk any distance without having heart attacks anyway. As I hobbled over the stones to the sea, two women with swimming gear came down the beach with a big black dog off the leash. This is a pet (ahem) hate of mine but I decided it was none of my business and hurried to take a quick dip in order to leave the water to them. Once in the sea however, I turned around to see the dog squatting near my towel. Rather than scold it, it’s two owners took his toilet to be a sign that they should park themselves right there too. It was at this point my obviously over-stretched magnaminity suddenly gave out and, despite the nearby child floating globularly on the water, I yelled…

For Fucks Sake!

I dashed (hobbled) out of the water and up the beach yelling things about manners and dogs off the lead but the women just looked as bemused as do all those dog owners who can’t comprehend that they aren’t the centre of everyone’s universe. I suppose I was lucky they weren’t the other sort of dog owner – the ones who attack hard on the heels of their mutts. I grabbed my stuff and took it around the cliff to the unfashionable but empty part of the beach. It was a longer hobble away from the swim spot but it was worth it not to end up trying to read my book at bollock-level to a big shitty dog and listen to two wittering idiots. Back in the water the globby child tried to catch my eye. She obviously wanted a sweary friend. She wasn’t going to get one.

Wednesday

Despite the previous evenings beach-bitching I headed to Garrarus once more. Leaving my house I spotted a sparrowhawk being chased by a tumble of swallows. There was a small, swallow shape clutched in its talons. Swooping across a garden it rose up and over a field and, flapping hard, disappeared into the distance. Thinking of how savage the world is for the little birds cast a shadow over my walk to Garrarus and I arrived expecting the worst but I was dumbfounded to find that I had the beach to myself. This emptiness continued for the bones of half an hour. It has been so many years since this happened that I began to think the world had ended, that aliens had invaded and decimated the population. And I found I didn’t care. If everyone was dead, like the little swallow, I would still have a glorious swim and, under the gimlet eye of the local heron, I did. Perhaps this was reward from the universe for my perserverance.

Thursday & Friday

On Thursday the weather started to change and I wasn’t sure about a swim. I wasn’t feeling so good either. By nightfall my throat had closed up and I was coughing. The universe giveth and the universe taketh away. Perhaps it was too much cold water too late in the day or the stress of spending a week trying to be someone I am not. Or perhaps I was right and people are best avoided. No more people for me. I have learned my lesson. For the next seven days anyway.

Coast Diary – June 18th: Newtown Woods Resources

This post is a resource for those wanting to send a submission to Waterford Council in regards to Newtown Woods. It’s far from comprehensive but feel free to use this information and copy and paste what you need Submissions in writing or by email, to reach Ian Ludlow, Staff Officer, Active Travel, Waterford City & County Council, Menapia Building, The Mall, Waterford  iludlow@waterfordcouncil.ie before 4p.m. on Tuesday 28th June, 2022.

Old Wall, Summer 2022.

Back in 2007 a lot of locals here campaigned against a big development on our coast which is a Special Protected Area (SPA). At the centre of the campaign was the chough, a bird of the crow family that lives on cliffs. The campaign group was ignored by the County Council, who supported the development, with one councillor saying on local radio that ‘Choughs could go and live in trees’ for all she cared. To which I say ‘may a rat take up residence in your underpants’. 15 years on, in response to the current proposals at Newtown Woods, the Council Heritage Officer devotes a paragraph of her memo (See References and Links below) to choughs who, as noted, don’t live in trees. Perhaps in 15 years they will survey the trees to measure impacts on dolphins…

It’s true that the rest of that memo deals with use of modified lighting with regards to wildlife, particularly birds and bats, and the conservation of trees, but time and again it only commits to protect and preserve ‘where possible.’ And in their own proposal vis a vis lighting they add the rider that ‘PUBLIC LIGHTING TO BE RENEWED AND EXTENDED WHERE REQUIRED’ (Appendix 1). All of which leaves a lot of room for manoeuvre.

It should also be noted that in the memo, the developers have been asked to keep construction within the boundary fence and not store flammable chemicals outside it but as is obvious to all they have continuously stored construction materials outside the fence and under the trees, which is skating a bit close to the line if you ask me. That’s how much such agreements and conditions are valued.

Anyway the the main points of my submission are below.

  • Street lighting limited to the entrance of the housing development and not continue down the roads by and through the woods.
  • The containing wall is vital and needs to stay. 
  • Scrap the one way system.

Of specific concern in regarding the council’s proposals:

  • The proposed street lighting (even modified lighting) – disturbance to bird and bat life.
  • The possible planned removal of the containing wall – disturbance to flora and fauna, removal of food source, removal of insect habitat. Added light pollutions from passing cars.
  • The increase in traffic through the wood by the one-way system and by additional proposed apartments.
  • That these developments and proposals will pave the way for further developments including further lighting and impacts.
  • Lack of a proper survey of the woods itself, it’s flora and fauna and how they integrate.

I will also request a survey to benchmark the woods. In the best case, the woods will be ring fenced and managed for future generations. In the worst…well I have to try. As far as I am concerned, we cannot afford to lose the Newtown Woods habitat or have it changed even one iota. Below, some more information and links, including the Heritage Officers memo.

Next week I’ll be back to giving out about other stuff…

Appendix 1: Irish Woodlands and Newtown Woods in brief.

Ireland is one of the least wooded countries in Europe with only 9% wooded area and most of that being made up of commercial forests. Older woodlands are incredibly important and in fact are in an emergency situation. Newtown Woods contains Native trees such as oak and ash – which is under threat from ash dieback, a disease which came to Ireland in 2012 and is expected to wipe out most of our ash trees. Also present are sycamore and beech, considered non-natives but in fact long term resident on the island of Ireland.

Appendix 2: Heritage

Newtown Cove & Woods, Ordnance Survey Map, 1840.

This area is also part of our heritage, the woods and wall – which is also a habitat in itself as well as a provider of food for birds and a protection from traffic noise and light – being part of Lord Doneraile’s estates. Lord Doneraile was a title owned by the St. Ledger family who had estates in Cork and Waterford from the mid 1600s. Newtown House was built around 1750. By the early 1800s, Newtown was being managed by the Power family, still the dominant name in the area. Above is a map from 1840 which includes Newtown Woods. It was supposedly planted for commercial use – most likely for building carts, tools and out-buildings on the estate, and there is likely evidence of woods management from that period. It has not changed much since then however it has decreased to the northern edge where the developments are creeping in. But with the extra traffic this habitat will surely not last as long again.

Appendix 3: Benefits for Humans

Connection to nature is important for humans and this is acknowledged by initiatives like An Coillte’s Woodlands for Health program. Without going into it too deeply, Here is a recent evaluation of the program. Another evaluation (2014) noted that participants mood and sleep was noticeable improved by the program (Nairn, R,. 2020, p.58).

Appendix 4: Impacts

However, Human interaction with the woods demands knowledge and for that we need it surveys. For instance the recent building of dirt bike ramps in Newtown Woods and using branches cut from trees is a serious threat to this fragile environment and the council and others need to work harder to make sure this environment is properly appreciated.

Two of three dirt bike ramps, Newtown Woods.

Traffic

Traffic has already increased hugely on the road through the woods. Visitors to Newtown Cove have swelled through lockdown and will increase more with the added developments. Every single visitor to Newtown Cove now leaves by car through the woods. This must have impact despite any surveys which were conducted, apparently without local consultation. As a local I would calculate the one way system could have increased traffic by the power of ten.

Knock on Effects on Wildlife

The lack of surveys of the specific area of Newtown in relation to developments means that we cannot tell what knock on effects there are because of those developments. In the past there was a badger sett at the north east corner of the woods. This has now been abandoned most likely due to the building of the Newtown Glen estate. It is also likely that the recent influx of rabbits to Westtown is a result of the new Newtown Cliff development. What impact will they have on the Westtown habitat – for hares for instance? And the increased traffic – what species will we lose? The owls, the nesting sparrowhawk? Some birds will stay but lighting has in other areas caused disruption to sleep and therefore breeding patterns. There’s some more species mentioned in previous posts.

***

Waterford City and County Council Memo including conservation recommendations for Newtown Woods

To: Anne Doyle, Executive Planner
From:Bernadette Guest, Heritage Officer
Re:21/836 Residential development of 27 houses comprising 24 no. detached two storey houses and 3 no. single storey terraced houses and ancillary site works. This development is an extension of the already complete Newtown Glen housing development in Tramore.
Date:16th October 2021

It is noted the proposed development is located adjacent to the northern section of Newtown Woods.

Under Section 6.2.3  New Residential Development in  the Tramore Local Area Plan 2014-2020 ; The Council will aim to protect and preserve mature and semi-mature trees where possible and will require new developments to be so designed as to integrate existing trees into any new schemes. Sufficient distance should be maintained between existing mature trees and new buildings

Policy GI 1  states; The Council will preserve and enhance the amenity and biodiversity value of Tramore by preserving as far as possible trees, woodlands and hedgerows and will consider Tree Preservation Orders in order to protect trees of significance in the Plan area.

To ensure compliance with these policies the following conditions are recommended;

The development shall establish a 5m buffer zone from the boundary of the existing treeline of Newtown Woods.

All trees within the development site shall be protected by way of a 2m high wire mesh fence and be continuous outside the canopy and root protection area. The fenced and root protection area shall be a construction exclusion zone with no storage of fuels or chemicals in this area. The RPA fence shall remain in place for the duration of construction works.

Public lighting in the area adjacent to the woodland shall be designed to avoid unnecessary light spill in the  interests of  wildlife such as birdlife and foraging bats. Lighting scheme shall comprise low-pressure sodium lights  on low height  columns  and shall minimise light spills  by use of shields or louvers. Lights shall be restricted in this area to ensure dark periods for foraging and commuting birds and bats.

The site is approximately 120m north  of the Mid-Waterford Coast SPA designated for Chough, Herring Gull, Peregrine and Cormorant. The proposed development will not incur loss of habitat  from within the ecological footprint of the SPA and does not have direct or hydrological connectivity to the  SPA being separated by Newtown Woods. The proposed development will not incur loss of grassland habitat within or close to the SPA essential for feeding Chough  or lead to  reduction in water quality. It is considered the proposed development does not have potential  for significant effects on the conservation objectives  of the qualifying interests of the Mid-Waterford Coast SPA and can be screened out for further assessment.

References & Links

Ancestry Network, (2022), Tenants of Lord Doneraile in Cork & Waterford. Available at https://www.ancestornetwork.ie/tenants-of-lord-doneraile-ck-wd-1765/ [accessed 17/06/2022]

Nairn, R., (2020), Wild Woods, Dublin: Gill Books.

Waterford Council, (2022), Active Travel Scheme, Newtown, Tramore, Available at https://waterfordcouncilnews.com/2022/06/17/active-travel-scheme-newtown-tramore-pedestrian-cyclist-scheme-3/amp/ [accessed 17/06/2022]

Planning Drawings https://waterfordcouncil.ie/media/projects/public-consultations/2022/newtown-hill/Newtown%20Hill%20-%20Part%208%20Planning%20Drawings.pdf

***Please note other plans and drawings are available on the Waterford Council Active Travel Proposal. Link in Reference section.

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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Coast Diary – February 19th

In the woods

It was a stormy week this week, though earlier on we had some blue skies. Out strolling I met a neighbour who always stops to chat. Recently we have both been bemoaning the increase in traffic – both on foot and in cars – due to lockdown and a temporary one way system that saw cars barrelling along the narrow road. All in a mad hurry to get from their swims down in the nearby cove back to civilisation I suppose. This time he told me ‘they’ will be tearing down an old wall that runs alongside the small woods before the road turns down to cove, in order to put in a footpath. However when I checked online I didn’t see any such plans so hopefully it’s just a rumour. Its a nice old wall and I know a footpath will depress me. Next it will be street lighting. And disco bars…the car park down at the cove is now like one on a saturday anyway.

The woods, which line the small glen that cuts down to the cove, are lovely, if a bit ragged now in early spring. Despite it only covering few of acres, there are beech trees, oak and poplar trees and I think horse chestnut too. In May the ground is carpeted with bluebells, in autumn the yellow and russet leaves spiral down to trim the path. There are the usual blue tits and robins, rooks and pigeons all about. There are wee goldcrest in there as well as coal tits too, if you stop and look for long enough. I once heard long-eared owls there, late in summer, the creaky call of their young sounding like an unoiled gate – but have never seen them. My neighbour told me that they are there still and I might see them as dusk comes on. I’d better get looking before the streetlights appear.

There’s an emergency access for the cove where a wide footpath splits off from the road and runs down through the woods. Beside the path, a river rushes over a series of tiny falls down to the stony cove at the sea’s edge. Until recently there were two wooden bridges spanning the stream, but they have now been replaced by one metal one. Locally the new bridge was seen as an ‘eyesore’ but I think its OK, probably safer too. And it’s been painted green, which helps. But I worry about the woods. The trees are tall and spindly, and, beset by ivy, they sway dangerously in the wind. Year on year I imagine they are thinning, that there are less and less of these rag-bag survivors from another era, hiding from the encroaching red roofs that can now be seen through the thin trunks up the side of the tiny glen. Maybe it’s my imagination.

Walking carefully back home – (I’ve been dizzy all week with an ear infection, which is why I have only taken you as far as the woods) – I saw the ‘Local Buzzard’ (Buzz) on a tree by the cliffs, his white breast shining in the sun. It wasn’t his usual hawthorn but as I watched he took off and flew low across the field towards me and swooped up to land in his thorny throne. Within seconds he was dive-bombed by a pair of hooded crows. You will often see buzzards picked on by crows. Their response is usually to move on, wings flapping heavily, like the large, plain child in the schoolyard, stumbling and bemused by the taunts of the more socially agile. Buzz took off, but for once he hesitated long enough to make a lunge at one of the crows before continuing on. It was gratifying to see. You’ve got to fight back.

Old wall and Homer Simpson Tree

Coast Diary – January 22nd

On the cliffs

This week was a busy week mostly spent in the city which meant I did not get out to the sea much but still I saw more than I dreamed I would in a life time as child. Monday a single whale – a couple of tall, spiralling blows and a long, black, rolling back letting me know it was a fin whale. And all week there were dolphins nearly every time I took out the binoculars. When I was growing up beside the sea I never saw dolphins. We were not the most salty of seaside dwellers and I never knew how to look for them or that I was supposed to. I thought if they were around they’d be right in your face. Dolphins were totally technicolour and utterly exotic and as far away as you could get from dreary grey-brown Ireland. Most of my assumptions were of course influenced by the TV show Flipper

“Flipper, Flipper, faster than lightning, ever so frightening, King of the Sea!!!!’ Maybe the frightening bit is just me because in fact bottlenose dolphins are thugs and would not think twice about beating you up.

But, as I have since found, there are dolphins galore off the Irish coast, predominantly common dolphins but quite a few bottlenose thugs too. I think January is my favourite time of year for whale and dolphin watching especially days like today which was grey, windless, dry and cool – though, not crisp. It was one of those days that had a muffled quality, the light diffused yet lingering, suggestive of all the light still to come so I went down to the cliffs again for a little bit as the light faded. Sure enough there were dolphins scattered about so I lay next to the cross for the boy who died in a fall here many years ago and watched for a while.

When I came back to the house I opened a parcel from my niece and godchild, the exceptional Charlie, who lives on the other side of the world. It was recently her 16th birthday and typically I have yet to send her a present. I usually get my act together by June. She has obviously decided to take matters into her own hands by sending me in a present instead (I like this development!). When I opened the packet out fell a beautiful charm bracelet and the first charm, cavorting among blue and crystal beads, a tiny silver dolphin.

If you see dolphins or whales be sure to report your sighting to the Irish Whale & Dolphin Group (IWDG) here.

Coast Diary – January 8th

Buzz in his tree

The temperature dropped this week. Monday it was deliciously chill, the air like a knife pressed lightly to my cheek. Tuesday it was more like having big daggers stuck in my face. I still like that though, that sharpness. Lets you know you’re alive anyway. I have been taking my binoculars (or bins) out, in the hope of whales and I always keep my eye out for wildlife – stoats, badgers, weasels, frogs – but I never see them. I did get excited on Tuesday when I saw what I thought was a toad in the muddy margins but it turned out to be an old kitchen sponge.

The birds though, are a constant. In the fields, fat wood pigeons fed or basked in the early sun -for once it was not raining. The rooks, the jackdaws marched about and some chough, hoarsely called from the old barbed fenceposts at the cliff edge. Along the road the bright-eyed robins patrolled, two punky blue tit faffed and chattered – I love their furry yellow elbows! – and a busy-bottomed wren threaded her way in and out of a hedge. I had been worried about the local buzzard who I had not seen in his usual hawthorn – bent double by the south westerlies – but there he was on Tuesday, embraced in its thorns, staring morosely out at the opposite headland. Or pehaps looking for rats. A pair of curlew flew overhead as I walked. You’ll see them them a lot here in the cold weather, usually in a large flock. I spotted a snipe this week too, one afternoon in a field by the cliffs, which was a treat as I had not seen one in a few years.

One morning I startled four goldfinch out of a tree and they took off in their looping flight that suggests they are flying on sheer will power, rising and dropping and rising again. The more I watch the little birds the more I am in awe of them. They live at such intensity, their tiny wings, and hearts, and lungs, beating constantly as they search for food. Snug in my bed as the wind got up on Monday night I tried to imagine where they were all sleeping. The sparrows huddled in a cosy gang in a hedge maybe, the blue and great tits and stonechat with their partners. The wren, the robin, alone, deep in some gorse, clinging to precarious shelter. If you had to live like a bird you would know you’re alive then.

I did see whales this week too – or perhaps just one. A fin whale, given away by two or three blows, spotted due south from the cliffs on Tuesday morning. The following afternoon, as the sun set in a stunningly peachy sky over sea fading to white, I saw numerous groups of common dolphins travelling and feeding, dark fins cutting the silky seas. Here and there a boisterous little calf leapt clean out of the water. I reported them to the IWDG which I sometimes neglect to do. They, the IWDG, published a map recently which marked all the areas important for ceteaceans. The coast off Waterford was notably left blank which surprised me as this is a migration route. In not reporting sightings we are leaving ourselves open to developments that may not take into account our ecology. So I will report everything from now on.

Later, on the whale day, I drove further west with my sister to see if we could spot more whales but saw none. It was a beautiful day to look at the sea spread before us from one end of the county to the other. On our way home we stopped at one of the small beaches which my sister had never visited and walked the rocks and looked at limpets and barnacles. I told her how one of my friends, out on the tear in a pub far away to the north and west, realised, as he was getting cigarettes, that the illuminated picture on the front of the machine was in fact this very beach. Nature, it gets everywhere.

The day after the dolphins it was raining again.

Winds of Change – An incomplete list of Irish Marine Life

In planning a post of our marine biodiversity, I had been envisioning a grid-like image representing all of our marine life so I was delighted to come across something called the The Sheldon Spectrum which suggests that the total mass of a marine population stays the same even as the individual size changes. So, even though a whale is trillions of trillions of times larger than a bacterium, its population size is smaller by the same order of magnitude, so the numbers even out. A grid image is the perfect way to represent this. To get more philosophical, one could wonder if the ordering of the squirmy, floating swimming, multicoloured, multilegged, finned, tentacly mass of sea life means there is some sort of intelligence at work…

With Ireland’s marine territory ten times the size of its land area, the waters surrounding Ireland are highly productive and provide a habitat for hundreds of species of invertebrates and fish including 35 species of sharks, 24 species of whales and dolphins, 192 species of echinodermata (starfish and sea urchins), 625 types of seaweed, 78 species of sea squirts, nearly 400 of ray-finned bony fish, 1,700 species of crustacean as well as hundred’s of species of sponges, anenomes and jellies. Oddly we only have 24 species of seabird but I suspect one of those species covers about a million different types of gulls.

The small amount of reading of environmental surveys for windfarm developments I have done so far seems to suggest they focus on only a few species – one survey seemed to only account for two – the harbour porpoise and the grey seal – with most other species, larger ones anyway, disregarded because they are ‘migrants’. This would see the imposition of another sort of system, one that excludes rather than includes, that reduces sea life affected by ignoring the organic interconnectedness suggested by our picture grid and favouring an artificial seperation of species from their environment. However I may be unfair in this early judgement and need to read on. I will report in the new year. In the mean time, I have listed the names of some of the creatures who are part of the vast biodiversity of our shore below in no particular order. Most have been chosen for their descriptive or entertaining names..

…bell-shaped medusae, sprat, mackerel, cod, corkwing wrasse, blue shark, grey seal, common seal, fin whale, humpback whale, harbour porpoise, blue ray limpet, cuttlefish, brown crab, bottle nose dolphin, starfish, sea urchin, jewel anemone, ragworm, strawberry anemone, barnacle, kelp, bladderwrack, limpet, whelk, cockle, leafscale gulper shark, mussel, periwinkle, dilisk, herring gull, shag, cormorant, black backed gull, jackdaw, chough, kestrel, peregrine falcon, clun tunicate, stonechat, gannet, common gull, common stingray, undulate ray, common skate, heron, oystercatcher, noctiluca scintillans, daisy anemone, deadman’s fingers, spurdog, basking shark, sea lettuce, seven armed seastar, conger eel, sunfish, red boring sponge, yellow tit sponge, crumb-of-bread sponge, feather star, sea cucumber, Emiliania huxleyi, serpent’s table brittle star, oyster, scallop, left-handed hermit crab, puffin, broken-backed shrimp, Chinese mitten crab, spider crab, green sea turtle, sand hopper, lesser cylinder anemone, sand flea, pistol shrimp, bamboo worm, common lobster, soldier crab, gutweed, European green crab, one-spotted water louse, blood red mysid, goose neck barnacle, light-bulb sea squirt, kittiwake, smooth sunstar, sea potato, barrel jelly fish, Portuguese man of war, by-the-wind sailor, zig zag coral, sea grape, moon jelly, compass jellyfish, montagu’s stellate barnacle, pea urchin, Atlantic hagfish, European river lamprey, otter, spiny dogfish, ghost catshark, thresher shark, porbeagle,  thorny skate, small-eyed ray, common dolphin, striped dolphin, large eyed rabbit fish, guillemot, great northern diver, stormy petrel, narrow nose chimaera, firework anemone, European sea sturgeon, ailis shad, pilchard, European anchovy, muddy arrow tooth eel, small mouth spiny eel,  tench, gudgeon, stone loach, Murray’s smooth-head, hawksbill sea turtle, barrel-eye, sea trout, arctic char, Irish pollan, sparkle anglemouth, constellationfish, Irish moss, threelight dragonfish, blackfin waryfish, sharpchin barracudina, john dory, Norway pout, poor cod, blue ling, hollow snout grenadier, Bean’s bigscale, orange roughy, pudgy cusk eel, Spanish shawl, Jeffrey’s goby, worm pipefish, bullet tuna, bluefin tuna, largehead hairtail, silver scabbardfish, plaice, sole, flounder, turbot, brill, Norwegian topknot, thicklip grey mullet, thin-lipped grey mullet, montagus’s blenny, wreckfish, blackbelly rosefish, tub gunard, white eelpout, black seasnail, monkfish, boarfish, risso’s dolphin, minke whale, sei whale, leathery sea squirt, tigger pod…I could go on…

Images are a mix of my own photos and drawings along with images downloaded from the internet, mostly Wikipedia, but some from Birdwatch Ireland, National Geographic, and others. For attribution, please use the contact form on this blog. I will be back next year with a post on how the impact on marine life is surveyed. Have a good December all.

Winds of Change: Waterford v. France, French fishing protests and Shell surfing big waves in County Clare.

Today I am harking back to last Saturday’s post on the planned high voltage cable that will connect us to France. I thought it would be interesting to visually compare the developments at Waterford with one in Brittany. The two areas likely have differing geography and limitations but the French area, while maybe not as windy, seems to be a less problematic location for construction and maintenance. The French windfarm could fit into half the planned survey area off Waterford10 times over or more – 40%+ usage is predicted for our survey sites. So they tell us. There is one other 270 MW floating wind farm planned for the south coast of Brittany.

Wondering if there was a reason for the difference in what is planned for the respective coasts, I went looking for previous objections to wind farms in the Brittany area. Over a decade ago, local tourism, environmental, and monument protection groups at Mont Saint-Michel in France mounted legal bids to stop the construction of THREE wind turbines within sight of Mont Saint-Michel, but by 2011 all had failed. Their last hope was their UNESCO status. They won a legal battle in 2012 on that basis and the plan was withdrawn. In comparison, the whole of the Copper Coast is a UNESCO Global Geo Park. If even half of the wind farms go ahead here it will mean HUNDREDS of turbines, not just THREE. Food for thought.

© Punto Studio Foto AG – Fotolia.c
Mont‑Saint‑Michel bay

The St. Brieuc wind farm (marked in red on the above map) is the biggest planned for France so far. 50km west of Mont Saint-Michel, at 496 MW and with 62 turbines it is smaller than any proposed for Waterford. It is set to be operational in 2023. There have been objections to Saint Brieuc, the last of which was quashed in 2020. The fishing community in Jersey, 40km off, is now saying the Saint Brieuc wind farm is already putting pressure on them and french fishing communities have staged protests.

Early this week [May 2021] Alain Coudray, president of the Côtes-d’Armor fisheries committee, warned the government through local news media that “the fight has only just begun, on land and at sea, actions will multiply so that the State understands that it is time to go green with its heart , by taking into consideration the uses and the society which define the territory and in a desire to respect them and the environment.”

French fishing vessels around the wind turbine installation vessel Aeolus during a May 7 (2021) protest at the Saint-Brieuc offshore wind project site off the Brittany coast. Maritime Prefecture/ATLANT command-in-chief photo.

All this is to give people an idea of what we are up against. France has had over a decade’s start on us. While they won an early victory for their UNESCO site, they are now losing battles. The climate has changed – in more ways than one – and governments will be under a lot more pressure now than they were 10 years ago. Developers like Energia are feeling safe enough that they do not make it a secret that they want to build close to our coast to save money – which will presumably be passed on to the American investors that own Energia.

But wind energy is not a cure-all. Take the supergrid for instance. It is intended to offset the unpredictable nature of wind but it seems that the more of our power is made up by renewables, the more unpredictable it may become and it is possible it will lead to massive power outages, like the one in the UK in 2019. That was blamed on a lightning strike but it seems that a nascent dependency on windpower may have contributed because wind power is less effective as a “shock absorber” to shifts in supply and demand. I would think also that wind farms getting bigger and bigger adds to this risk too.

So no one really knows if this is going to work. Some will say we have no choice but to opt for wind but I can’t help thinking, yet again, that the best approach to such an unpredictable power source is community or even individually owned and operated turbines or other wind harvesters, of which there are a few different types in development. But we need some substantial changes in planning frameworks.

The Power Pod, due to be on the market soon. Image fromEcoHome https://www.ecohome.net/guides/3605/small-wind-turbines-for-homes-which-are-best/

But this juggernaut that is industrial level wind investment is gathering speed. Possibly the best we can expect here in Waterford is to get these wind farms pushed further offshore. It will take a fight but we do know it’s possible. Shell has just bought into a floating wind farm 35km off the coast of Clare (we really will be surrounded) and Clare is one of the best places in the world for big wave surfing as we know. If they can do it there, they can do it here.

Aileens off County Clare. Photo: Mickey Smith.

I still want to look at the impact of cable routes, their surveying and construction, and landfall as well as the construction of substations. And, after that, it will be a few posts on marine life and how the impact on it is measured. And finally a look at our power usage and see what we as individuals can do to reduce the need for data banks which are expected to guzzle nearly a third of Ireland’s energy by 2029. I hope that will take me up to Christmas when I’ll finish this series. If you read one other article this week, make it the one linked directly below…

Tripe and Drisheen have published a very interesting article including interviews with residents of the area where the interconnector is making landfall in Youghal and with the people of Helvick. Check it out here…

See you next Saturday (and if I find anything interesting, maybe Wednesday too).

Links

https://www.iberdrola.com/about-us/lines-business/flagship-projects/saint-brieuc-offshore-wind-farm#:~:text=Saint%2DBrieuc%3A%20Iberdrola’s%20first%20large,Saint%2DBrieuc%20Bay%2C%20France
https://www.offshorewind.biz/2021/08/02/drilling-resumes-at-saint-brieuc-offshore-wind-farm/

https://www.nationalfisherman.com/national-international/french-fishermen-mount-protests-against-offshore-wind

https://www.ft.com/content/8b738eac-c024-11e9-89e2-41e555e96722

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-49305250

https://www.thejournal.ie/electricity-energy-demand-ireland-data-centres-climate-emissions-5566004-Oct2021/#:~:text=The%20demand%20from%20data%20centres,fabric%20of%2021st%20century%20living%E2%80%9D.

https://www.ecohome.net/guides/3605/small-wind-turbines-for-homes-which-are-best/

https://www.irishtimes.com/business/energy-and-resources/shell-takes-stake-in-simply-blue-floating-wind-farm-1.4732280

Waterford Wind Farms to power Europe?

Did that get your attention? Yes, Eirgrid are planning a 500 metre wide 500km cable route (35km in Irish coastal waters) to France from Youghal for which they are going to pay two-thirds of the cost (after grant aid), with one-third being paid by France. It is usual for the cost, but not the profit, to be passed on to the end-user. From Eirgrid’s application…

“The proposed Celtic Interconnector, which is the subject of this Foreshore Licence Application, involves the pre-lay installation works, cable installation works, operation, and periodic maintenance of a submarine electricity interconnector between Ireland and France.”

The cable will have a life span of 40 years. Thats’s twice as long as the life span of the turbines.

The path of the planned connector plus the 7 wind farms planned for the Waterford and Cork coasts (total 5600 MW)and the two planned for the coast of Brittany (total 800MW)

This project has been underway since 2019 – planned since 2011 – with 4 or 6 public consultations taking place in east Cork where the cable makes landfall. There seem to have been no consultations with the larger community of the south or southeast, for whom the implications of this, when taken together with the other planned developments, are fairly massive. And what are the implications?

  • Well it looks like much of the wind farm development planned for our coast may be for private profit. They, the wind farms, are set to produce far more than we need and this interconnector cable will allow our (very) near shore proposed wind farms to power France and by extension, the landmass of Europe.
  • While the landfall at Youghal may have impacts on the beaches, the rivers Nore and Barrow and Blackwater, including the estuary, Capel Island and Knockadoon Head Nature Reserve, Ardmore and Ardmore Head among other areas that’s just the landfall end of the 500km cable. We know already that invasive surveying needs to take place for cable laying and this could be anywhere from 1km to 4km wide along the whole 500km route. And of course there’s the impacts of the 6 or 7 other windfarms, the survey of those areas and their 12 possible cable routes.

The French Connection will theoretically work both ways – i.e. we can get power from France too. But along the 2,700 kilometers coast of Brittany, which has a population of nearly 5 million, there are only two wind farms proposed: the Saint-Brieuc wind farm, 16km offshore, which, when it becomes operational in 2023, will have a total capacity of 496 MW, capable of powering 835,000 homes and a floating 270MW (max) wind farm planned for the south coast of Brittany. As Waterford and Cork counties have a combined population of 600,000, while the seven proposed farms have an output of 5600 MW (5.6 GW) it is likely then most of the power will be heading one way only: from Ireland to France. This is, incidentally, why we are paying the lion’s share of the cost for the cable – because we supposedly get the profits from the sale of our power. I suspect the profit won’t make it as far as the end-user even though the cost will.

Eirgrid’s proposed cable link making landfall at Youghal, is currently in planning stages. It is part of the Irish end of a 500km cable that will connect Ireland to France’s electric grid.

(Speaking of costs, wind farm costs are continuing to soar because of supply chain bottlenecks. As I currently(pun half intended) understand it, this is the result of only a few companies having invested in making components for wind energy ergo the demand is higher than supply so the price goes up. But that, along with the environmental impacts will have to wait for another post).

Re the French cable, it’s worth remembering that Energia in their public consultation less than a month ago, replied to a question about whether the power generated at Waterford would be used overseas with a definite no. I suppose they could argue that there are no plans to send energy abroad but if a 500km cable just happens to be developed, well sure they’d be mad not to use it right? But there’s two (more)things worth noting here:

  • Public consultations mean very little. Don’t expect real answers.
  • That it is likely we are looking at a project of gargantuan proportions with each element kept seperate, publicly at least, until it is too late to lodge any reasonable objections.

It may be that the turbines, being prone to shut downs – when it gets too windy, when the energy company decides to cap output, when there’s maintenance to be done – may be the things that spin least in this story.

There are links to more details below and I will be trying to make sense of this on the blog over the next while. Thanks to Tripe and Drisheen for the heads up. Give them a follow, they are independent journalists in a world where the media are owned by Big Biz.

Meanwhile the Green Party are holding a session next Wednesday in Dungarvan

For those of you in despair or who just don’t want to know about such portentous events, I will be starting a diary of our coast with illustrations next year. We might as well record it and enjoy it while we have it.

Links

Read more here from Tripe and Drisheen: https://tripeanddrisheen.substack.com/p/east-corks-celtic-interconnector?fbclid=IwAR1z21_b_faEWG1NRYzlHMW8o4voBEFkHVG5NIP7e2ODv5c4-_x7jEk_2Z4

https://renewablesnow.com/news/france-pre-selects-10-bidders-in-250-mw-floating-wind-auction-754176/

https://www.iberdrola.com/about-us/lines-business/flagship-projects/saint-brieuc-offshore-wind-farm

https://www.idom.com/en/project/saint-brieuc-496-mwe-offshore-wind-farm-on-the-coast-of-french-brittany/