BEFORE AND AFTER Wildflowers growing on the islands in the Carrowbeg on Westport’s Mall (left), and the scene after one of the beds was removed by a group of locals last Friday.
The sight of a digger and its brutal destruction ploughing through the silt bank on the Mall, Westport – where only weeks previously the iconic banded demoiselle damselflies and dragonflies courted in beautiful display – was shocking to behold.
Native perennial wildflowers for the bumblebees gone. A sanctuary section of river bed along the wall, where hundreds of tiny trout foraged and hid, gone into the back of an earth remover.
Our biodiversity on the Mall was always a natural wonder to behold. Many people, delighted to be other side of the pandemic, have been showing an even greater appreciation for our wildlife. The amount of visitors trying to count the fish in the river was off the scale this year – the ducks feeding on their natural food were as big as the mallards at Westport House! The grey heron, of course, returned as usual this summer, always needing an audience – and getting it. The moorhens on the islands were lovely to see, as was the activity of numerous insects in full view from the Mall wall.
We were informed late in the season that the unsightly surface algae growth can reduce oxygen levels for the trout especially in drought conditions, and even yours truly may have been observed in the river helping to remove it.
In relation to the Carrowbeg River as it flows through the Mall, I’ve had many discussions with those who proposed that the larger cobble bank near the Fairgreen be completely removed. I heard no logical reasoning for this, when the biggest issue for the Carrowbeg isn’t tidiness, it’s the flooding.
On best advice about how a river system works – advice that should now be common knowledge – fast flow is good and slow flow is bad. Cobble banks create fast flow. On the Dodder River project, for example, they have constructed numerous cobble banks to continue the fast flow, deepening channels and creating significant pooling. There are also many proposed nature-based flood-risk-mitigation measures stretching from Knappaghbeg Lough to Westport that could be applied.
Is Westport ready for climate change and resulting increase and ferocity of storm events? I’m not really sure when it’s repeatedly erroneously claimed that a medium-sized cobble bank on the Mall (which has scoured out at least twice it’s own volume on the river bed to increase flow) is to blame for flooding in Ashwood, which is 37-foot higher than the Mall above sea level and ten minutes walk away.
My heart goes out to anyone in fear of flooding, it really does. Where we need to start is with the facts based on science. I do earnestly hope there is as much if not more interest in solving the flooding of our river now that the need to tidy has been satisfied in those who consider it priority number one. We can only hope.
Pat Fahy is Biodiversity Officer with Westport Tidy Towns.
*This article was originally published as a letter to the Editor