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Encampment at Belleek Wood

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Dog in Belleek

Encampment at Belleek Wood

Áine Ryan


BELLEEK  Wood, Ballina’s primary amenity area, was the subject of debate in a number of public fora in the last week, The Mayo News has learned.
It emerged at both a local Town Council meeting and at a sitting of the local district court that an encampment of new age travellers parked in its car park over the Christmas period, causing significant inconvenience to both locals and visitors attempting to access the historic  wood, which has been significantly restored in the last number of years.
Residents of the area have also expressed concerns about bonfires in the  wood, with plastic and disposable nappies being burned, while a large dog is also roaming freely.
“I have no problem with these people per se, and feel that the Town Council should be providing facilities for those who choose a transitory lifestyle,” said one resident, who declined to be identified.
In 1999, Coillte, the semi-state forestry company, made a proposal to the residents of Belleek and Faranoo regarding the joint-management of the scenic resource, resulting in the formation of the Belleek Forest Park Enhancement Committee. 
Since then, around 22,000 trees, of over 14 different species, mainly broadleaf, have been planted in the 78-hectare woodland, situated on the banks of the River Moy. The imminent introduction of a red squirrel colony was also recently publicised.
“The  wood is one of the town’s treasures and the committee has done amazing work in restoring it. The proposed introduction of the red squirrel, which is an endangered species,  will further heighten its attractiveness. Nothing should be done to stop this,” said Fianna Fáil General Election candidate, Mr Dara Calleary.
The Chairman of the Belleek Forest Park Enhancement Committee supported Mr Calleary’s stance. “This is an amenity area and it is vital to have it clean. We’re hoping after these people leave to erect barriers that will stop such a situation arising again,” said Mr Cyril Collins.
While, at present, the  wood does not come under the jurisdiction of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, after the introduction of the squirrel colony an ecologist will monitor their integration and proliferation in their new habitat.
According to one of the service’s Vertebrate Ecologists, Mr Ferdia Marnell, this translocation of red squirrels will only be the second to take place in the country.
“There is no record of red squirrels west of the Shannon. They never migrated because they didn’t have the [woodland] corridors to facilitate such a move,” said Mr Marnell.
He told The Mayo News that the grey squirrel was introduced to Ireland in 1911, after six were given as a wedding present to the ascendancy Forbes family of Longford. The species is now inhabiting woodlands from the Antrim Coast to Waterford Harbour. 
He also confirmed that the process would be implemented once a project ecologist was appointed but that it would involve a number of variables.
Meanwhile, a man was convicted in absentia at Ballina District Court last week of a number of offences under the Control of Dog Acts. Judge Mary Devins ordered that the man, with a UK address, be fined €800 and ordered the destruction of the dog, believed to be a German Shepherd, which is believed to be still roaming in Belleek  Wood.