Sunday 21 July 2019

Row over Mid Cork tree felling

Environmentalists raise concerns but owners say it's traditional forestry management

Maria Herlihy

The Department of Agriculture has confirmed to The Corkman that it suspended a licence for felling trees on privately owned land at Silvergrove, known locally as the Toon Woods in Mid Cork.

The Corkman put forward a number of queries to the DOA on the felling of trees and received a reply which its spokesperson in a statement outlined that the "felling licence for the site in question has been suspended by the Department pending the outcome of an inspection of tree felling operations at the site. No further comment may be made at this stage until a report of the inspection has been finalised".

Lorraine Costello, the owner of the land, told The Corkman that she has done nothing wrong and has followed the letter of the law, and the authorities are dealing with the issue.

Sean McGinnis of Ecoplan Forestry, which carried out the recent operations for Ms Costello, explained on his website that the aim was to establish the traditional land management practice of wood pasture, the mutually beneficial integration of trees, forages and livestock.

Donal O'Leary of Macroom District Environmental Group (MDEG) and fellow environmentalist Tom Jordan expressed concern about the felling of native trees on the land. However, Lorraine Costello and her husband, James, rejected the claims put forward by Mr O'Leary and Mr Jordan.

Mr Jordan claimed that the most recent felling at Silvergrove exceeded the licence.

In response, in a statement to The Corkman, the Costellos stated that only the forest service can determine if a licence has been breached. "We have heard nothing from them yet. The licence was suspended before, following complaints, but the Forest Service lifted the suspension following site visits and a review which found the complaints were baseless."

While both Mr O'Leary and Mr Jordan readily acknowledged that Silvergrove is not a SPA (Special Protection Area) both claim that the privately owned lands contain "the protected red squirrel along with the Horseshoe Bat". Mr Jordan and Mr O'Leary have said that both protected species have now been left "displaced" and claimed that "two dead squirrels were also seen on the road".

Again in reply, the Costellos stated that the protection of Ireland's protected species is the responsibility of the NPWS (National Parks and Wildlife Services).

"The licence was referred to the NPWS on two occasions and the NPWS had no issues with the work. Also, the site is not a SAC (Special Area of Conservation), SPA (Special Protection Areas), NHA (National Heritage Area) or PNHA (Proposed National Heritage Area) and is not within the 6km FPM(Freshwater Pearl Mussel) zone. If protected species have been killed in the area, whoever discovered them must report it, along with any evidence to the NPWS and the Gardai," stated their joint reply. Fisheries were consulted during the application process and had no objections, added the Costellos.

Mr Jordan further claimed that "most of the area under licence north of the public road at Silvergrove has been cleared using mechanical diggers, with grass seed planted in the large spaces between a few straggling trees."

But the Costellos replied that the licence was issued twice and it did not have any conditions attached on either occasion. "Grazing woodland is a traditional form of land management in Ireland and is not against any Forest Service rules for non-grant aided sites," they stated.

It was also claimed by Mr O'Leary and Mr Jordan that "up to 40 trucks of native wood" had been removed from the site and the structure of the woodland at Silvergrove "has been fundamentally altered."

Again the Costellos stated that while most of the wood that left the site is common birch, which is a native tree, "40 truck loads is a wild unfounded exaggeration".

Their statement continued that "Silvergrove Farm is private land. It is not designated as sensitive by the NPWS or Fisheries. The Forest Service have inspected the job five times prior to this suspension. Forest Service were aware of the site, species, stocking, spacing and intensity of the work, and advised the land-owner to continue as they were."