Community activists are calling on Galway City Council to honour pre-Covid budgetary commitments to substantially increase labour and financial resources in the city’s parks, as well as to immediately implement the lessons learnt from the lockdown that safe well-maintained biodiversity-rich urban green and blue spaces are vital to people’s health and that of the planet.
According to Brendan Smith of the Terryland Forest Park Alliance, there is a Zoom meeting at 7pm on Monday for volunteers to discuss the future direction of Terryland Forest Park and to take part in an ‘Adopt a Patch’ scheme whereby those people living and working along the perimeter of this huge 180 acre green area, which stretches from the Dyke Road to Castlegar, organise regular weekly clean-ups and social/nature activities. But anyone interested in doing something similar for their own neighbourhood park is also welcome to attend.
“We are asking City Hall to embrace the public once again as a fully-fledged partner in the Terryland Forest Park project which was born out of local residents campaigning in the 1990s for what became Ireland’s largest and most ambitious urban woodland when it opened on a Sunday in March 2000 under the auspices of a pioneering multi sectoral-local government steering committee when over 3000 volunteers turned up to plant trees.
“As a result of intense community campaigning, City Council last year appointed a number of on-the-ground staff for the city parks with funding also being allocated this year for additional ground staff, a Biodiversity Officer, Tree Officer, and engineering/crafts personnel. But all of these positions were frozen in March due to Covid,” he said.
Mr Smith said he fears that these posts will not now be filled.
“Council Parks’ Superintendent Stephen Walsh is implementing some excellent innovative programmes such as the ‘All Ireland Pollinator Plan’; the new grounds staff are undertaking magnificent work and showing themselves to be fully committed to the ethos of maintaining green spaces for both citizens and wildlife. But the latter are small in number and are overstretched trying to cover all of the city’s park.
Experienced a rebirth
“During the Lockdown when we were all confined to a 2km radius from our homes, so many people discovered for the first time their local green spaces as an alternative to a walk on the Salthill Prom or an excursion to some beauty spot in Connemara or Kerry. Terryland Forest Park with its woods, meadows and wetlands experienced a rebirth as unprecedented numbers of daily visitors practising social distancing came to walk their dogs, jog, practice yoga, have a family picnic or explore the wonders of nature on their doorsteps.
“While the council understandably stopped our organised group clean-ups due to Covid restrictions, nevertheless concerned individual supporters continued to undertake solo litter picks. Clean well-maintained parks that are full of the sights, sounds and aromas of bees, birds, wildflowers and trees were appreciated by and improved the health of so many,” added Mr Smith.
Local parks were literally a tonic and a breath of fresh natural air to urban dwellers during this period. Unfortunately the old problem of litter is back with a vengeance not helped by the amount of PPE masks/gloves that are being mindlessly discarded. Vandals have returned to Terryland to destroy furniture and dump large amounts of cans and bottles.
Over the last few years volunteers and city parks personnel have worked tirelessly in planting thousands of wildflowers and hundreds of trees, developing meadows, erecting flora/fauna information signage and creating unique sculpture trails dedicated to the ‘Extinct Animals of Ireland’ and to the ancient Celtic Ogham (tree alphabet script ).
Plea for council to deliver
These were to be unveiled during November’s Science and Technology Festival as part of an exciting ‘Outdoor Classroom’/’Outdoor Lab’ initiative for the schools of Galway as part of the park’s first twenty years celebrations.
“But some of the stone sculptures have recently being spray-painted,” said Mr Smith. “So we are asking council management and councillors not to renege on the promised investment for our urban parks and to once again embrace local communities, educators and environmentalists in their operations and management. We also want them to allow us to restart regular clean-ups, and to finally establish a volunteer Terryland Park Rangers unit to assist full-time ground wardens and which senior management agreed in principle to nearly ten years ago.
“For, as a matter of urgency, we need to follow the example of Dublin by having a permanent adequately resourced park warden unit. Covid has given Galway a unique opportunity to put in place a sustainable biodiversity-rich green, blue and safe walking/cycling city-wide infrastructure. Should this not happen, we are betraying future generations, ignoring the lessons of the Lockdown and are dishonouring all of those volunteers who have given time and energy to Terryland Forest Park and other green spaces since 2000,” he concluded.