Waterways Ireland wish to update our users, local communities, NGOs and Government Bodies with regard to recent tree removal, cutting and maintenance works undertaken along the Barrow Navigation. We hope this statement reassures our stakeholders and reaffirms our organisations commitment to openness, transparency and accountability.
To ensure safe navigation and bank stability on the Barrow Navigation, a combination of trimming, coppicing and removal of bankside vegetation was necessary over the winter period. The timing of these works was scheduled in accordance with the permitted season to minimise impacts to nesting birds, as per the Wildlife Act.
The Barrow Trackway is an artificial structure comprising raised banks which were originally developed to allow horses to tow barges. Whilst it is no longer needed for this function, its form and structure make it different to a natural river bank. The River Barrow is a very flashy catchment and Waterways Ireland continually have to manage the erosive nature of the river on the trackway banks. Along the Barrow at this location, the banks can slope outwards due to the build-up of silt deposits. This further restricts the available navigation channel which is approx 8-10m in width and not the full extent of the river channel as is often believed. As the branches overhang, or indeed as some trees grow out over the river at an angle, they restrict available navigation space within the river which runs along this bank.
Where works were not necessary, for example, on the landward side of the trackway, trees and hedges were retained. Furthermore, the trees on the far bank of the river were not touched (aside from a number of storm damaged trees in one small location). The trees here were left for both their intrinsic value and as wildlife refuges for a myriad of species. Waterways Ireland is proud to manage hundreds of kilometres of treelines and hedges – many of which form the finest examples of hedges to be found in the country.
Waterways Ireland is committed, in line with our Heritage Plan, to ensuring we manage, maintain and promote our waterways in an environmentally sustainable manner, thereby ensuring their enjoyment for this and future generations. This includes adopting best practices as well as adhering to all relevant legislation, conventions and Government policies.
The manner in which these necessary works were managed and assessed, prior to work taking place on site, did not meet with the high standards we set ourselves as a public authority. Indeed, given their location within a Special Area of Conservation meant these works would require a Habitats Directive Assessment, as is required under the law. This did not happen on this occasion, and for this Waterways Ireland offers the public and our stakeholders an unreserved apology for this error in our internal processes.
Waterways Ireland will work closely with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to agree an appropriate tree planting programme.