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The Saker >>
Hazelwood Forest at threat from developers
Tuesday March 23, 2010 17:14 by Edward Durand
Developers plan to build a housing estate right in the middle of Sligo's deciduous forest. This would endanger the habitats of many rare and protected species of plants and animals and take away the magic of the forest which has provided inspiration for so many, including W.B. Yeats. The proposal was rejected but has been appealed.
Hazelwood forest, one of Sligo’s most precious tourist attractions, is at threat from developers, ForestHaze Developments, who plan to build 158 houses, a marina and 4 apartment blocks up to 5 stories high directly on the river’s edge. The proposal was rejected by the Council but it has been appealed.
The development, planned to concentrate around the old Saehan factory site, would stretch from the water’s edge to within 15 metres of the woodland path many people use to escape into nature. Instead of Sligo’s beautiful forest made famous by W.B. Yeats, they would see concrete. It is a Special Area of Conservation, which is home to many rare species of plants and animals. They planned for the houses to pay for the restoration of historic Hazelwood House but it needs saving from water damage as the roof is leaking.
The Hazelwood Action Group pointed out the plan would destroy a valuable habitat, reduce its recreational value and neglect Hazelwood house itself. The development would bring in up to 500 people requiring extra services and infrastructure. The entire housing project is contrary to the Sligo County Council Development Plan for the area. The Council has put off their decision on the proposal until 16th November.
A lot of rare trees are in the forest (many planted by John Arthur Wynne of Hazelwood House) including the Strawberry tree and the Bird Cherry tree, yet in the application mature native trees are described as ‘scrub’. There are many rare varieties of flowers there including Ivy-Leaf Broomrape and the endangered Three-Nerved Sandwort, whose name (wort) suggests medicinal properties. Rare animals also depend on the forest for their home, some protected by the E.U. Habitats Directive including badgers, pine martens, red squirrels whose population is declining and near-threatened Otters whose population is also falling. Protected birds such as the Barn Owl, Kingfisher and Tern nest in the forest. Six out of the nine Irish species of bats are in Hazelwood, they are protected and roost in deciduous trees. One of only a few alluvial woodlands in Ireland, Hazelwood is an ancient ecosystem. According to Coiltte it is of considerable nature conservation importance, it was even selected as a demonstration site for restoring priority woodlands.sof of - ---
The E.U. Habitats Directive requires member states to protect natural habitats and wild species. It introduces for protected areas the principle that development can only go ahead when they have ascertained no adverse effect on the integrity of the site. The Habitats Directive makes it an offence deliberately to kill, capture, or disturb a European Protected Species, or to damage or destroy the breeding site or resting place of such an animal, even accidentally.
At Lissadell when many trees were felled the ones behind them fell over as they weren’t supported. At Hazelwood they would leave 25 metres of trees with none behind them to protect them from river wind. There are many beech trees; beeches fall over when there are few other trees nearby as they have shallow roots.
The area of the Saehan factory has been identified as a contaminated site from pollution from the factory. The proposal has no houses on this part of the ground but it would be a green area in the middle where the children play. Development would increase the risk of contamination of Lough Gill and the Garavogue river. Hazelwood is the source of water supply for Sligo. The Integrated Pollution Prevention Control license was not transferred to the new owners. The original Environmental Impact Assessment ordered by Saehan said the land should not be built on.
Deciduous forests are needed for oxygen and to balance the ecosystem. They store carbon; if they were removed they would release carbon, which would contribute to the greenhouse effect. The Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t checked the site. Construction would produce air, noise and water pollution. A thin layer of subsoil in the development site puts groundwater at risk. Construction can leak heavy metals into the environment. An Environmental Impact Assessment was carried out but the report seems to lack a considerable degree of detail.
With so many uninhabited houses littered throughout the county do we really need another eyesore at the heart of one of our natural treasures? In Germany they are bulldozing empty houses as there is no demand for them.
Hazelwood is a Green Belt Area and acts as the lungs of Sligo. The extent of the development would take away the magic of the forest, which has provided inspiration for so many people including W.B.Yeats. In the words of Joni Mitchell, they want to ‘pave paradise’, or in the words of Yeats, in a few years shall we look out where Hazelwood used to be and say: ‘Transformed utterly: A terrible beauty is born’. Is Sligo the Land of House Desire or is the forest still the heart of Sligo?