I was 11 years old when I discovered the Old Mill and Ushers Lake down the valley in Swords.
The crumbling building of the old mill, dangerous sluice gates and the expanse of genuine wilderness right on our doorstep was an adventurous child’s dream.
Close to thirty years later and the amazing thing is how little has changed.
A recent trip down there with the council officials and we were greeted by a scene not unlike what was there in the 90s. Yes, the mill building is gone and the lake is sickly green ( I don’t remember from before) but the other strucutures are still there and the wilderness is still more or less untouched.
For a town that has changed massively in that time – it really is surprising.
The park in many ways is a bit of a basketcase. It’s both and an ecological gem and an environmental disaster zone.
The rampant domestic dumping around the site is a disgrace.
Much of this dumping is decades old and was never effectively dealt with. Even now the regular army of volunteers who regularly litter pick, (Swords Pickers, Fingal DOG, Swords Tidy Towns, and others) as well as the council efforts, can barely keep up with the volumes.
The plastic and domestic waste that make it to the site start a slow march to the river where eventually they outflow into the estuary.
The estuary itself is a protected site under European law yet we are allowing this dumping problem impact it. Studies of the estuary show that it is degrading. Meaning we are losing wildlife. It’s not good enough.
While there are really clear problems with the Ward River Valley Park it is also an incredible nature sanctuary.
The general lack of disturbance of the site over the years has seen many species flourish – with over 40 bird species recorded in a survey in 2015. The oak woodland is one of the very few I’m aware of in Fingal and the large water body supports key species like otter and bats.
A catchment study from 2012 identifies how the Ward River supports a small number of Atlantic Salmon in its lower reaches. It also explains how it supports populations of brown trout and eels.
What I would like to see is the protection for the estuary extended upstream to the Ward River Valley Park because of its clear ecological connection and the possiblity of negative impacts from dumping.
The estuary is protected under two European laws known collectively as the Bird and Habitats Directive.
One important element of the directive is Article 10 which allows local authorities to give protection to nearby sites that are important for wildlife.
I have submitted that designations under Article 10 should be made in Fingal. I think this could then be used to give the Ward River Valley Park much greater protection.
The decision on the inclusion of this in the next Development Plan will be made in the coming weeks. Given the fact that we are in an acute biodiversity crisis we need to use all the tools we have to protect, and restore, nature locally.
A new conservation status for the area would mandate Fingal County Council to deal with the historic, and ongoing, dumping at the site and to work to protect the water quality so we can perserve this site and the estuary for future generations.