Natural Environment Work 2018

28th January 2019
Report

WHAT ARE WE DOING?

Each Natural Environment Officer (NEO) that join’s An Taisce’s advocacy team comes with their own special contribution. Elaine McGoff has a strong background in WATER and has hit the ground running last year. We thought you’d be interested to hear of the breadth and depth of An Taisce’s work in this area.

In 2018 the unit dealt with 240 applications for forestry and picked up some particularly damaging projects in sensitive Freshwater Pearl Mussel catchments on the Iveragh Peninsula and others that would impact an area of hen harriers but for our appeals. Elaine is involved on a work package with Fintan Kelly from Birdwatch, looking at how to implement forestry in a more environmentally friendly way. The unit also dealt with 300 applications for aquaculture with the same again expected in 2019.

Another important project has begun in collaboration with other environmental organisations on the implementation: challenges and opportunities, of the Floods Directive, which works alongside exploring OPW work on the Bandon Flood alleviation project and other dredging works, such as in Tipperary, and in the Shannon. Strong submissions were made on 3 flood plans and on a new Abstraction Bill that appears to be weak. Work continues with SWAN on the Water Framework directive.

The detailed list of works below /attached illustrates is a fascinating account of how much we do on very limited funding…and how much we’d be missed if we don’t find ways to bring in more money!

  1. FORESTRY
  • 240 forestry responses from across the country.
  • There have been 4 Natural Environment interns to date, Annie, Laura, Kieran and Jane. Kieran is currently working and we’re in the process of recruiting an additional intern.
  • Elaine appealed one licence approval, in a Hen Harrier area, where they had failed to acknowledge that it was in a SPA referral zone.
  • Doireann and Elaine attended An Taisce’s first oral hearing in Portlaoise. This is a new structure which is in place. We presented our evidence and were notified that our appeal was upheld.
  • Our office has been in regular contact with Richard O’Callaghan from KerryLIFE regarding any forestry proposals in sensitive Freshwater Pearl Mussel catchments on the Iveragh Peninsula, where KerryLIFE is working. This helps to inform our response on the forestry applications in this area.
  • Elaine has met a few times with Kevin Collins, the senior environmental inspector in the Forest Service. This is helpful in establishing a dialogue, and allowing our organisations to work more effectively together.
  1. AQUACULTURE
    An Taisce had a deluge of aquaculture applications this year, the majority from March-July. This has slowed down considerably since then. We responded to > 300 of these. In one instance we received over 100 in a single day. This is a result of the Dept. trying to clear a backlog, and rush through licence applications. This follows on from a freeze in granting licences because of an ECJ ruling against Ireland. The grounds for this legal action have now been resolved, hence the slew of applications. We haven’t appealed any yet, but there was several for Castlemaine Harbour in Kerry which we would have, but they were refused by the Dept. In addition, there were a few for Wexford harbour which we are awaiting a decision on. If they are granted we have very strong grounds for appeal. The Dept. has announced that there will be a further 300 licence applications processed in 2019, so we can expect more of the same next year, although hopefully it won’t be so concentrated. This was a huge undertaking for the NEO office, and dominated a large amount of time.

  2. WORKING WITH OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL NGOS

  • Work continues on the Floods Directive implementation: challenges and opportunities, which Elaine got funding for from the IEN n collaboration with 5 other environmental NGOs.
  • Elaine is also involved on a work package with Fintan Kelly from Birdwatch, looking at how to implement forestry in a more environmentally friendly way.
  1. HERITAGE BILL This passed in to law, despite our best efforts.
  • An Taisce worked with Birdwatch, IWT, the Beekeepers and the Hedgelayers to lobby to prevent this becoming law, but we weren’t heeded.
  • The NEO did a couple of radio interviews and press releases on this, but to no avail.
  1. DREDGING AND FLOODING
  • In tandem with the project on the Floods directive the NEO office has been doing a lot of behind the scenes work on the Bandon Flood alleviation project. The OPW are carrying out work there which appears to be environmentally destructive. We are investigating this to try to establish how best to address it legally.
  • NEO has been chasing down data from the OPW for months, which they have been reluctant to share, via AIEs and by cc’ing the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on these emails. The NE office now has much of this monitoring data, and it has been digitised, but remains to be analysed. From a brief scan, it would appear that at least some of the suspended sediment loads were elevated, in keeping with the visual reports submitted by ECOFACT consultants
  • An Taisce are working with Will O’Connor from ECOFACT, who has been documenting these works by photos and videos, and with Sinead O’Brien from SWAN. These data will be analysed very early in the new year.
  • We are also investigating other dredging works, such as in Tipperary, and in the Shannon, again by means of AIE requests to the OPW. This will be further investigated in 2019.
  1. SUSTAINABLE WATER ACTION NETWORK (SWAN) WORK
  • Elaine was elected as a member of the Board of Directors of SWAN.
  • NEO has continued to work closely with SWAN regarding the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and other water issues.
  • Sinead and Elaine are working with Attracta from ELIG to establish what would be involved if legal action was necessary on WFD grounds. This may be necessary if any of the floods work will impact on the WFD status of rivers.
  • NEO has had 3 flood plans referred to her, and one of those was on a high status waterbody, so a robust submission was made on that. NEO has raised the issue of this high status waterbody in person with Martin Hehir, principle officer in the Dept. of Housing, who are charged with the implementation of the WFD. He promised to investigate it, and knew nothing of it.
  • The WFD is undergoing a fitness check. NEO is working with SWAN to engage in a European Environment Bureau (EEB) campaign around this. NEO attended an EEB water working group meeting, and EU water conference in the Autumn of 2018.
  • An Taisce and SWAN are working closely to ensure the protection of waters.
  1. SUBMISSIONS
  • Forestry and Freshwater Pearl Mussel (FPM) plan. Elaine sent in a detailed and damning submission on this. The Forest Service’s proposal was deemed to be entirely unfit for purpose by the leading FPM experts in Ireland, and as such An Taisce highlighted these flaws. (http://www.antaisce.org/articles/submission-on-draft-plan-for-forests-freshwater-pearl-mussel-in-ireland)
  • Abstraction Bill. The Dept. of Housing are pushing through some legislation regarding the licensing of abstraction in Ireland. Their proposed licencing system is very weak, and could be far more rigorous, in line with what is in place in Northern Ireland and Scotland. An Taisce’s submission highlighted this.
  • Marine Spatial Plan consultation. An Taisce have submitted a detailed response to this, with input largely from Ian Lumley, and with relevant sections by Elaine.
  1. PLANNING
    Doireann has sought Elaine’s input on certain planning applications with an ecological concern. These range from in-river works, the Kerry Greenway, windfarms, forest roads etc.

  2. OTHER
    NEO was elected to the Biodiversity Forum as the Environmental Pillar representative and elected to the Hen Harrier Consultative Committee, as the Environmental Pillar representative.