Towpaths, greenways and butterflies
Sir, – I wish to congratulate Paddy Woodworth for highlighting the plans by Waterways Ireland to build a hard surface (tarmacadam in some areas) along the Barrow, Grand Canal and Royal Canal that will destroy the gentle, unspoiled sleepy atmosphere as well as removing wildlife and high-quality habitats (“Grass or tarmac? The towpath debate”, Weekend Review, June 10th).
The issue has shocked conservationists who have observed with amazement the wholesale obliteration of grassland along the Royal Canal at Kilcock towards Maynooth where, in some areas, tarmacadam surfaces four metres in width turned a grassy trail starred with wild flowers into a bland black road. Another destructive practice is the reseeding of remaining areas, formerly rich in native vegetation, with lawn seed.
There are few undamaged natural areas in many areas of Ireland today due to the devastation caused by modern agriculture. For some species, the grassy towpaths and banks are a final sanctuary. These linear habitats are also a wildlife infrastructure, playing a significant role in providing a corridor for species to move through an often-inhospitable landscape to reach the islands of biodiversity that remain. Many butterflies will not fly across unsuitable terrain to populate new areas and interact with other populations of their species; they move only through suitable habitat, feeding and breeding as they migrate.
As for tourism, we have a wonderfully natural-looking countryside to offer. An authentic experience requires a living landscape, not tarmac. Grass is also easier on our feet. I have cycled the grassy towpath of my local canal, and seen cyclists on the grassy track along the Barrow. These areas are already accessible, and the butterflies and other species that inhabit these areas need to be cared for, not cast out.
People from the localities involved and further afield are deeply concerned about the plans, which will damage the towpaths as yet unaffected. According to the Nationalist newspaper, a total of 443 submissions received by Carlow County Council saw 12 only in support of the proposed Barrow Blueway project. Anyone who walks the Barrow and who loves the quietness and nature found there will be horrified that these qualities will be destroyed if Waterways Ireland’s proposal is accepted.
I invite anyone to walk from Ballytiglea Bridge to St Mullins to see what beauty is there. Gerald Manley Hopkins can make the plea for nature better than my prose can:
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet. – Yours, etc,