Irish News

Monday 28 July 2014

Urban sprawl is 'devastating' rural landscapes

Treacy HoganEnvironment Correspondent

Published 18/11/2004|00:11

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URBAN sprawl has devastated Ireland's former rural landscape, according to the first aerial survey of Europe's changing landscape.

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The sprawl - consisting of blocks of houses usually seen in housing estates - has spread to most of the country's small rural villages and towns over a 10-year period.

The housing estates, which are often driven by generous tax breaks for investors, have shot up beside tiny villages to accommodate long-distance commuters working in towns. The Celtic Tiger has also contributed to the boom in second 'holiday' homes.

The extent of the urban sprawl has "surprised" the top scientists at the European Environment Agency (EEA).

The EEA used satellite photographs, which were published yesterday, over the past four years to examine Ireland's landscape and compare it with the picture in 1990.

Ronan Uhel, EEA head of spatial planning, told the Irish Independent yesterday that they were very surprised at what they found when they analysed "before and after" Ireland.

They expected to find urban sprawl around cities, such as Dublin and Cork, and key coastal spots.

Instead the digital aerial map showed how urban sprawl had also extended to most parts of the country, including many hundreds of tiny villages and former rural areas.

The EEA warned the urban sprawl in rural areas will pose major future problems in the provision of roads and infrastructure, such as water and waste facilities.

The digital map allows planners and policy makers to see where fragmentation of the landscape due to road building and infrastructure is getting worse. The fragmentation of land increases the risk of sensitive ecosystems and habitats no longer connecting with each other. The map also shows where major changes are taking place in the field of agriculture.

Mr Uhel said the agency had believed urban sprawl was largely confined to urban areas with big populations and their hinterlands as well as coastal areas. "To our surprise we found it had taken place all over Ireland in the 10-year period," he said.

Mr Uhel said the digital map was designed to allow policy-makers learn from how their decisions in areas such as agriculture and transport are impacting on the land resources and the wider environment.

Meanwhile, the EEA has expressed concern at the number of peat bogs in the west of Ireland now covered by forests.

The digital map shows how extensive areas in the West are now covered in forestry - with much of it planted in the wrong places.

Farmers originally received grants to plant forests on marginal farmland. Instead they planted on bogs.

The agency disclosed there has been widespread plantation of forestry on bogs over a 10-year period from 1990 to the year 2000.

The bogs act as natural filters for groundwater and the forests will severely change the composition of soil, the agency warned yesterday.

The EEA presented the results to officials in Brussels yesterday.

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