Unauthorised land clearing work carried out in Inishowen during this year’s nesting season, is currently being investigated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), Donegal Live can reveal.
The land in question, at Carolina just outside the seaside town of Buncrana, fell within the Lough Swilly Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
In a statement to Inish Times, a spokesperson for the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, confirmed it was investigating the land clearing work as a “potential breach of the Birds and Habitats Regulations 2011.”
The Department said: “The works reported to the National Parks and Wildlife Service within Lough Swilly SAC are currently being investigated as a potential breach of the Birds and Habitats Regulations 2011.
“Sites which have been designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs), together form Natura 2000, a network of designated sites, which protects rare and important habitats and species across Europe.
“These habitats in Inishowen include oak woodlands, machairs and sand dunes, bogs and a significant part of Inishowen’s coastline.
“Landowners considering any works in designated areas are advised to first contact their local NPWS Conservation Ranger for advice and guidance by contacting: 1890 383 000 or by email at: email@example.com.
“NPWS continues to work with landowners and this is to ensure that potential works do not negatively impact on the habitats and species for which these sites have been designated.
“Any agricultural reclamation of environmentally sensitive or designated sites such as these may also require the consent of Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine under the Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) Regulations.”
As was previously reported in this paper (March 4, 2020), a NPWS Conservation Ranger visited the site on February 3, 2020 and instructed the works, which consisted of clearing trees and scrub (0.3 Hectares), be stopped.
This was followed by a letter from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, which overseas NPWS informing the owner the lands were within a designated site and works could not commence without the required prior consent of Donegal County Council.
However, Inish Times understands NPWS Conservation Rangers had to re-visit the Carolina site in relation to land clearing work.
One concerned local person said the land clearing work had “continued regardless.”
They said: “A lot of destruction has been carried out in what is an SAC.
“I would be worried that if one landowner gets away with such destruction without sanction, other landowners might be tempted to follow suit.
“The land has now been harrowed and left into grassland and that’s what some landowners do. They try and destroy the SAC. What has happened in Carolina is scandalous.
“I would like to know what ‘teeth’ have NPWS have. Are they going to prosecute the landowner for doing something he knew he was doing wrong. With the shift from two to five kilometres from your home for daily exercise, people are walking out in this direction and they are up in arms and saying it’s a disgrace,” they said.
It is believed the land clearing work affected the habitat of the indigenous Silver-washed fritillary and the Green hairstreak butterflies.
An Inishowen environmentalist has called on NPWS to compel the landowner to restore the land in question to its previous condition.
She said: “The land needs to be fenced off and allowed to regrow. There should be replanting to replace the destruction. This would send a clear message out to all landowners not to mess with a SAC.
“There are 90,000 hectares (247,000 acres) of land in Inishowen and there are only 146 acres of natural woodland left in the whole of Inishowen and the land at Carolina is part of that 146 acres. 70 or 80 acres of woodland in that area and a landowner has torn it down and destroyed it.”
Located in the Atlantic biogeographical region, Lough Swilly became an EU NATURA 2000 site in August 2000 and was designated a SAC in October 2018. It covers 93 km², of which 88 percent is marine area.
NATURA 2000 is the ecological network for the conservation of wild animals, plant species and natural habitats of importance within the EU. It consists of sites classified under the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive, collectively referred to as the Nature Directives.
Crucially, the Lough Swilly SAC protects 32 species of the Nature Directives, including: Cormorants, Golden Plovers, Brent Geese and Eurasian Otters.
It also protects six habitat types of the Habitats Directive, including: Estuaries, Coastal lagoons, and Atlantic salt meadows.
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