Better coastal planning is required in Mayo in order to protect some of the county’s most attractive beaches and coastline areas which are under threat from coastal erosion, particularly in Clew Bay and along the Mullet Peninsula.
The issue is set to be discussed at a national coastal planning seminar to be held at NUI Galway later this month, at which a range of new scientific resources developed to facilitate better coastal planning as part of a €1.9 million three-year EU project, are to be launched. The Europe-wide project assessed the extent to which coastal risks are currently considered in development plans and noted that, across Europe’s Atlantic countries, despite guidance from policy documents at national and European level to include considerations of coastal risks, existing development plans are lacking in this area.
Mayo County Council senior planner Iain Douglas, who will be among the speakers addressing the seminar on February 21 next regarding protective measures for coastal areas on a national basis, told the Mayo Advertiser that the Clew Bay area and beaches along it, including Bertra and Old Head, as well as sea areas from Carne in Belmullet all along the Mullet Peninsula, are all under threat from coastal erosion.
Mr Douglas also asserted that rising sea levels are definitively impacting all along the Irish coast and could mean that, in 150 years time, parts of Clew Bay will be under water, a large part of Leinster and Dublin will be flooded, and the midlands and ‘high up on mountain tops’ could be the safest place to live.
Mr Douglas explained: “What happens will depend on the storm intensities that we get. While we’ve had a mild winter this year, on average we’re getting stronger winter storms in recent years.
“In Bertra this has hit the dunes there and once the dunes are breached it takes longer for the vegetation to recover, if it recovers at all. The work ongoing there at the moment is to try to sand the two together.
“The council has been doing a lot of remedial work, we put in sandtraps and brushwood fences the length of the dunes to stop the sand moving outside the fence.
“We are not asking the public to stay off all dunes but there is a defined path people keep to so human impact is s not the problem. It’s the wind and storm breaching we’re fighting by trying to trap the sand at the dunes.”
Rabbit Island, at the far end of Bertra Beach, is not itself under threat, stated Mr Douglas.
“This island, so named as it was kept as a rabbit warren for the big houses back in the day, is not suffering with much erosion. It’s the stretch of dunes over to it that is at risk. Once the spit out to the island is breached, it will become separated. This is not expected to happen before the next 10 years, it all depends on the weather and sea levels.”
The problem at Old Head beach is a more difficult one, because the cliffs there are collapsing, Mr Douglas explained.“Again it is not human pressure that is causing this but a natural process. We are trying to come up with some measure to ensure developments don’t pose these dangers. Eventually, if the cliff on the right hand side of the beach keeps eroding, at least one house will be in danger.”
Incursion by the sea through rising sea levels is possibly the biggest danger affecting the Clew Bay side of Mayo and parts of Belmullet, added Mr Douglas.
“All the dunes on the west side of the mullet will be vulnerable because they are all loose sand dune systems plus there is more erosion here due to exposure to storms from the Atlantic, so all the way south of Carne is vulnerable.
“Sea level is definitely rising and more parts of Ireland will be flooded; a map timeline into the next millennium plotting the sea level rises shows a good part of the country will be under water. In approximately 100-150 years, parts of Clew Bay will be under water, a huge part of Dublin and Leinster will also be flooded. The midlands, high mountain tops, these will be the safest place to live.”
The NUI seminar is aimed at all decision-makers involved in planning and managing the Irish coast, including county planners, managers, engineers and councillors. Also invited are individuals and organisations including county environmental and heritage officers, NGOs, local development groups, commercial enterprises and associations, as well as land and homeowners.
“Our main focus is to discuss what measures we can take to raise awareness and implement various planning policies to protect and make provision for the future for different users of the coastline. Examples of protective measures would include refusing planning for any building within 300 meters of the coast, installing sea defences in areas where perhaps a whole school or factory needs to be protected, and forbidding development on coastal areas where nobody is living because nature will take its own course there.
“It’s not too serious an issue at the moment but with sea level changes it will become a very serious issue and its better to be prepared in advance,” concluded Mr Douglas.
To register for the seminar go to the Atlantic Network for Coastal Risk Management National Seminar website at www.conference.ie