Coastwatch issues warning over draining of Cork wetland

 

COASTWATCH HAS expressed serious concern about the draining of one of the south coast’s largest marshes near Youghal, Co Cork.

Ballyvergan marsh is the most extensive known-breeding site for reed warblers in Ireland, according to Coastwatch national co-ordinator Karin Dubsky.

She has called for immediate action from the relevant authorities, warning that the State faces European court fines over loss of wetland in breach of EU directives.

Cork County Council’s enforcement section has confirmed that the issue is under investigation, and a warning letter has been sent to the landowner over an “allegation of unauthorised development”.

A second separate letter has been sent under planning legislation, directing that development be halted. The Department of Environment’s foreshore section has issued a letter directing that all works be stopped.

Ms Dubsky says law enforcement is “cumbersome and limited” in such cases and there is a lack of public awareness of the value of such wetlands.

Ballyvergan marsh is zoned as special amenity and an important breeding site for migratory birds,including the reed warbler.

Ms Dubksy alerted the authorities when she discovered that an illegal pipe was laid through a seabank, causing damage to a traditional walk on one side of the bank and contributing to soil subsidence as the area began to drain. The pipe has been draining marsh water since April 19th, she says.

Such works normally require an environmental impact and foreshore licence.

Over this weekend, a temporary barrier was fitted to the drainage pipe, reducing the outflow significantly, she noted.

“Hopefully, this will hold until the authorities take action, but there is also a health and safety issue associated with the unauthorised works,” she said.

The fact that the works were initiated during the bird breeding season was also a matter of serious concern, she said.

Ms Dubsky said that it highlighted the lack of an integrated State policy on wetlands, linked to climate change adaptation. She said that training was required within local authorities and in the courts to raise awareness of the value of wetland ecosystems.

The situation was exacerbated by poor legislation, she said. “While several laws are being breached in Ballyvergan, the vast majority of land reclamation is actually sanctioned under the 1949 Act on land reclamation, and under planning law,” she noted.

She said that payments to farmers for land in “good agricultural condition” effectively offered no incentive to preserve wetlands which had much higher overall value in terms of flood water retention above a town or road, biodiversity and attraction for tourists.

Decision-making in the coastal zone remained “chaotic” for any civil servant trying to tackle wrong-doing, she said. The State required a “well thought-out and applied coastal zone and wetland management system”, she added.