Greenways and the Barrow towpath


Sir, – I write in response to the “Save the Barrow Line” campaign to prevent Waterways Ireland from resurfacing the towpath along the Barrow river.

This campaign seems to believe that the faster traffic and increased usage that an improved surface are likely to attract will pose a threat to the environment and wildlife.

The issues raised are not new and have been addressed successfully all over Europe, including Britain, which has about 5,000km of towpaths used for amenity purposes. Both the UK Waterways Association and Sustrans have produced policy guidelines dealing with these issues.

Sustainable development of environmental resources for recreation and tourism must balance the needs of the users, the needs of the community and the protection of the environmental resource. Like thousands of others, I cycled the Great Western Greenway last summer. I was surprised both by the number and range of users. The users include walkers and cyclists. The cyclists can be best described by the Waterways Association term “sedate cyclists”. They were mostly cycling in groups and had a massive age range, from quite elderly couples to very young children using stabilisers on their little bikes.

We also met wheelchair users, including one person using a motorised wheelchair.

Towpaths in Britain contribute both socially and economically to local communities, just as the Great Western Greenway is contributing to west Mayo.

The beneficial impacts of greenways, including towpaths, are so obvious after they have been developed that they are rarely questioned. Germany, for example, keeps adding to its existing 70,000km of cycle paths, and Britain keeps adding to its 5,000km of towpaths.

The protection of the environmental resource is of vital importance. Without the protection of the resource, locals and visitors will no longer wish to use it and the local economy will suffer.

While cycling the Great Western Greenway I was impressed by how clean it is. There is no discarded rubbish, which is a tribute both to Mayo County Council and the greenway users.

I am confident that Waterways Ireland can develop the Barrow towpath so that it will be a great local amenity, contribute socially and economically to the community, and that visitors will join Olivia O’Leary in becoming advocates for the protection of the otters at Ballynagrane and kingfishers at Tinnehinch. – Yours, etc,