Campaigners say bus corridor threatens Galway 'green lung'

Merlin Woods an amenity for over 30 different nationalities on city’s eastern rim

Colin Stanley waited five days in Merlin Woods, Galway, to capture this video footage of the rare red squirrel, a protected species. A fox cub also gets in on the act. Video: Colin Stanley

 

Galway city could lose its largest, most biodiverse and oldest woodland if plans to build a €7 million “quality” bus corridor proceed, according to a residents’ environmental campaign.

Merlin Woods on the city’s eastern border is habitat to red squirrels, some 16 species of butterfly, five species of bat, the short-eared owl, the rare small white orchid and Burren-type limestone pavement and flora.

A campaign group, Friends of Merlin Woods, points out that it is one of the only amenities for more than 7,000 residents of Doughiska, Roscam and Ardaun.

Medieval wood
The woodland, which was “medieval” when surveyed in the 19th century, includes a 16th century castle associated with the Blake family. It is divided into the North Wood, owned by the city council, and the South Wood bordering Merlin Park Hospital, owned by the Health Service Executive (HSE).

The proposed 1.9km bus corridor through the area has been included in two successive city development plans since 2005. It aims to link the new town of Ardaun on the city/county border with the city centre, and provide a new entrance for Merlin Park Hospital.

Friends of Merlin Woods say a tree dating from 1845 lies directly on the route, as does the scarlet elf cup fungus, while red squirrels, which require up to 3 km of habitat, would be lost to tree felling. Spokeswoman Caroline Stanley says groups ranging from local primary school classes to Foróige, the Brownies and active retirement participants spend time there, while the community group runs litter-picking and tree planting events.

“The variety of flora and fauna in this area is any match for the woodlands at Cong in Connemara,”she says.

However, her group believes the city council wants to “downgrade” what is essentially a green lung, having made no effort to promote the woodland, and having taken little action to tackle contamination of the Merlin river by what it has acknowledged as “misconnections” from household appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines. No effort has been made to halt illegal tree felling and anti-social behaviour, she points out.

A survey and management plan for the Heritage Council and Galway City Council in 2009 recorded a range of habitats, including native oak-ash-hazel woodland, and noted that its limestone pavement was recognised as a “priority . . . of particular nature conservation significance” under the EU Habitats Directive.

Safeguarding habitats
The authors of the survey recommended a five-year management plan to safeguard the variety of natural habitats and the historical and cultural features.

Friends of Merlin Woods argued their case at a presentation to councillors and community representatives on four of the city council’s strategic policy committees last Friday.

Galway City Council has argued that the bus corridor would serve local schools and the hospital. It has confirmed that the joint meeting voted to recommend a variation of the city development plan to drop the corridor from that route.

However, this has to be considered by the full council and will require public and stakeholder consultation, along with a city manager’s report, before a final decision.