Peer opposes Dublin-Navan route crossing his wild lands
A nobleman whose sprawling castle grounds have been transformed into a nature reserve has vowed to risk going to jail rather than let a railway be built through his estate.
Randal Plunkett, the Baron of Dunsany, is behind the country’s biggest rewilding project at historical Dunsany Castle in Co Meath.
However, the environmentally conscious peer was horrified to discover the proposed route for a Dublin-Navan rail line cuts right through the nature reserve that is a haven for wildlife, endangered birds and native trees.
For public infrastructure – such as the rail line that people in Navan have been demanding for 25 years – the baron’s land could be taken by compulsory purchase order (CPO).
Mr Plunkett, who has the formal title of Lord Plunkett, said: “They will have to CPO me and arrest me because I will tie myself to a tree.”
The rail line is a key part of the Greater Dublin Area Transport Strategy and has been welcomed in Co Meath after a decades-long campaign for a commuter rail service.
But the chosen route takes an almost straight line from the existing last station at the M3 Parkway through Dunsany and Kilmessan village and on to Navan rather than curving east through the fast-growing Ashbourne and Ratoath.
The route was first chosen by officials in 1998 in one of several plans that were put on the long finger, but the development of Co Meath has changed enormously since then.
“I’m not opposed to the rail line, but we’re going to do it in the most ineffective, lazy way, using an old plan that won’t serve most of the people who want it,” Mr Plunkett said. “It will split us in half. It will prevent the free movement of wildlife.
“It will take down the mature trees along the route – oaks, ash, beech – and the vibrations would damage many more. It would almost be the kiss of death for us.”
Mr Plunkett, a 38-year-old filmmaker who inherited the family estate in 2011, began the rewilding project eight years ago, leaving 750 acres of farmland to go wild.
The reserve was the first Irish project recognised by the European Rewilding Network.
Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin researchers carry out studies there, and the Irish Wildlife Hospital uses it to release rehabilitated animals.
Mr Plunkett said he was talking to the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation about support for his reserve, which gets no state funding, but he feared that would now be jeopardised. “I can’t tell them I have a wild place if there’s a trainload of commuters running through it,” he said.
“The Government is talking more about climate change now, but carbon isn’t the only issue – habitats and biodiversity have to be protected.”
A single-track rail line once ran through Dunsany, but it last carried passengers nearly 80 years ago.
Since then, much of the track has been removed, with just a narrow path marking the former route, while trees have grown over and around it.
Reports prepared for the transport strategy say the historical route is preferred for cost reasons. Alternative routes would require crossing over the M3 motorway.
Mr Plunkett said he was determined to fight the plan.
“I’ve been approached many times and offered a lot of money to sell for development, but some things are worth more than money,” he said.
“Rewilding doesn’t pay my bills. I drive a banger and my house is cold but I am not selling – not to private developers, not to the State.”
Public consultation on the transport strategy closed on Monday. Mr Plunkett made a formal submission, as did supporters of the reserve.
Irish Rail said: “Any new rail lines in the Greater Dublin Area would be developed in accordance with the final GDA strategy.
“However, all would be subject to public consultation prior to finalisation and decided upon through a Railway Order application to An Bord Pleanála.”
The National Transport Authority said: “The NTA has commenced the review of the submissions and, based on this review, will submit a revised draft strategy to the Minister for Transport.”