Friday 24 May 2019

50 years to return 28,000 acres to waters and the wild

HABITAT RESTORATION: Coillte staff block drains on a Co. Mayo bog as part of a habitat restoration project in the Nephin Beg wilderness
HABITAT RESTORATION: Coillte staff block drains on a Co. Mayo bog as part of a habitat restoration project in the Nephin Beg wilderness
Jerome Reilly

Jerome Reilly

It will become a wilderness of 28,000 acres almost unrivalled in Northern Europe where nature lovers will be able to roam for weeks without seeing another human being.

But first all signs of the human hand will have to be erased from the wild lands of the Nephin Beg area of Co. Mayo in a project that may take half a century to fully complete.

It is already a desolate and wonderful landscape once described by the Irish naturalist Robert Lloyd Praeger as the "loneliest place in Ireland...not depressing, but inspiring".

But hardy Mayo souls drained the bogs over millennia to harvest turf and one of the first jobs is to block those ancient and not so ancient drains so the boglands can rejuvenate.

The idea is to bring the water table back up to within 10cms of the surface. That will allow the bogs to grow with sphagnum mosses sucking up ground water like a sponge.

Wild Nephin will encompass lands controlled by both Coillte and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Bill Murphy of Coillte, which has some 4,600 hectares of Nephin forest, said the agency has begun a 15-year conversion plan to return "forestry to forest".

Forest regeneration will aim to encourage natural forest types.

Some forest roads will be re-engineered to create more authentic trails and provide a safe sanctuary for plants and animals.

"The overall vision is that Wild Nephin can be used in a number of ways by those who want to experience a real wilderness from those who want a gentle introduction with a two-hour walk on forest trails to those who want an authentic wilderness experience, perhaps spending several days in this unique landscape," Mr Murphy added.

The Wild Nephin Project forms part of a Europe-wide initiative designed to "re-wild" large areas across the EU.

A number of designated campsites will be built with the provision of primitive shelters, tent platforms, fire rings and toilet facilities.

Carpark sites will be carefully chosen at trailheads so they don't impact on the wilderness experience

The overall aim is to offer visitors an opportunity to experience a two to three-day backpack or long day hikes in remote and challenging country, free of vehicle traffic, houses, power lines and, at night, light pollution.

The project will complement Ballycroy National Park, which borders the Coillte lands, which is in itself a significant attraction of national importance comprising 11,000 hectares of blanket bog, mountainous terrain and unspoilt natural beauty.

But it will also be boon for wildlife and augment conservation measures to protect birds like the endangered Hen Harrier.

Last year the Government spent €1.75 million protecting the bird of prey in just 10 months. A recent national survey recorded between 128 and 172 breeding pairs across the country, giving an estimated total of 344 adult birds.

Sunday Independent

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