Major volunteer cleanup shows need for full-time park rangers

Dozens of community volunteers as well a number of councillors and Mayor Niall McNelis undertook a great clean-up of Terryland Forest Park last Saturday which showed the urgent need for Galway city to follow the example of Dublin in establishing a Parks Rangers unit.

Dozens of community volunteers as well a number of councillors and Mayor Niall McNelis undertook a great clean-up of Terryland Forest Park last Saturday which showed the urgent need for Galway city to follow the example of Dublin in establishing a Parks Rangers unit.

The need for full-time park rangers to be deployed in the city area was highlighted last weekend when a group of volunteers filled almost 60 refuse bags with litter from the Terryland Forest Park Alone. The shocking recovery has led to calls for rangers to be deployed to ensure that people refrain from using the forests as handy dumping areas for their litter.

Dozens of volunteers took part last Saturday in a community litter pick of the Terryland Forest Park — a group which included members of Serve the City Galway, Galway Irish Wildlife Trust, Conservation Volunteers, as well as Councillors Mark Lohan and Cathal Ó Conchuir led by Mayor of Galway, Councillor Niall McNelis.

According to Brendan Smith of the Terryland Forest Park Alliance, in a single two-hour period, 59 bags of rubbish were collected from this park.

“Of these, four bags of bottles and fourteen bags of beverage cans were separated for delivering to the council recycling bank in Liosbaun this week. Because it was for a two hour period only, what we collected sadly was only a fraction of the refuse that lies in the grounds of Terryland Forest Park as indeed in other public parks and spaces across Galway.

“This refuse is largely produced by anti-social elements (drinkers etc ) who are also responsible for destroying public property in the form of seats and benches. In the process, they are undermining all the fantastic work done week in week out by volunteers on such initiatives such as the Outdoor Classroom for schools, the Outdoor Laboratory for third level researchers and the Green Prescription programme.

“Park volunteers are also creating pollinator-friendly meadows, developing Celtic heritage trails, repairing drystone walls, hand-scything grain fields, growing organic crops and planting trees and wildflowers,” he said.

What would happen to the Phoenix Park and St Stephen’s Green if there were no onsite staff?

Mr Smith went on to say that it is obvious that there is now an urgent need for onsite park rangers and maintenance crews in Terryland.

“Let’s follow the example of Dublin and Belfast on this issue where the benefits are obvious from a visitor safety and infrastructure maintenance perspective. For imagine what would happen to the Phoenix Park and St Stephen’s Green if there were no onsite staff? Working with community volunteers and implementing an ‘Adopt a Patch’ scheme with local residents and businesses that we will launch next month, we feel that this new council policy change will have a major positive impact on reclaiming the park for the people of Galway in order to fulfil its official designation as the “People’s Park” and the “Lungs of the City”.

Furthermore Terryland now has the potential to become a major green regional hub linking the Connemara Greenway over a new pedestrian bridge along the old railway pillars, to the Corrib waterways and to a large untapped walking/cycling ‘boreen’ network on the north and east sides of the city.

“We want Mayor McNelis to help City Hall rediscover the sense of shared ownership with the wider community that existed when the park opened on one Sunday in March 2000 when nearly 3,500 people turned up to plant an entire urban woodland in the heart of the city. So we have asked him to organise a meeting of the community sector with council officials and councillors around our key demands which also include reconvening Terryland’s multi-sectoral steering committee which was promised in February 2017 by CEO Brendan McGrath; to ring-fence the €50,000 allocated in last year’s council budget towards developing a Management Plan for Terryland park/river that was supposed to happen in 2018 and has not; to appoint a city Biodiversity Officer; and to review the possibility of building ‘green bridges’ to connect the different parts of the park separated by roads.

Mr Smith said that next month we intend to step up the campaign by organising protests outside City Hall during council meetings.

“This is a nightmare scenario to the visionaries drawn from council staff, politicians, state agencies, academia, local communities, schools and the environmental movement who came together in the 1990s to designate 180 acres of fields to develop a wonderful mosaic of parklands, farmland, wetlands, waterways, and woods that would serve the leisure needs of Galwegians of all ages as well as providing a ‘wildlife corridor’ linking the Corrib waterways to the farmlands of east Galway via the city.

“Even then they understood the importance of easy access to natural land/waterscapes for people’s physical and mental health as well in benefiting children’s learning experiences through contact with Nature. Since then the importance of forestry in combating Climate Change, maintaining soil fertility and structure as well as filtering toxic car emissions out of the atmosphere has being scientifically proven.

Not having park ground staff is ludicrous

“So we have written to Mayor McNelis a great friend of the Terryland Forest Park, for his help in re-establishing the great sense of unity of purpose that existed when the park opened on a Sunday in March 2000 as c3,500 people turned up to plant an entire urban woodland in the heart of the city. We have asked him to organise a meeting of community activists with the CEO, officials, and councillors of Galway city council around our key demands of the reconvening of the park’s multi-sectoral steering committee which was promised last February by CEO Brendan McGrath; to ring-fence the €50,000 allocated in last year’s council budget towards developing a Management Plan or Terryland park/river that was supposed to happen in 2018 and has not; to appoint a city Biodiversity Officer as is the case in Dublin; to consider building ‘green bridges’ to connect the different parts of the park separated by roads; and finally to appoint full time wardens and operative staff for this and other parks. The latter is crucial if we are to restore public confidence in Terryland. Not having park ground staff is ludicrous.

“Sadly years of council neglect due to a shrinking budget and other factors is destroying our city’s green spaces particularly in relation to Terryland Forest Park, a green facility that its founders in 1996 had hoped would become the equivalent of the Phoenix Park of Galway,” he said.

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