Sites such as the Ward River Valley and pocket forests around the Swords area could get a protected status under new laws being proposed.
Community groups, environmental groups, public representatives, and biodiversity officers, will be able to propose areas of ecological value that if a new bill coming before the Oireachtas is passed.
The new laws will allow for the designation of areas ‘Locally Important for Ecology’, of LIFE sites, by the local authority. They will have to be managed in line with guidelines set by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and specific management requirements will have to be adhered to.
The Bill has been introduced to the Oireachtas by Green Party TD Steven Matthews, and it also includes improvements to tree protection order legislation.
The overarching goal of the Urban Tree Protection and Sites Locally Important for Ecology Bill 2023 is to protect more of the spaces and features which are important to people and nature, without hindering the development of much-needed housing and local infrastructure. This Bill does that by:
- Introducing ‘Sites Locally Important for Ecology’, which communities can designate to protect important local nature areas.
- Prioritising treatment and management of trees over cutting down. Where trees do have to be cut down, there will be a duty to replant, and an additional duty on public bodies to provide an arborist’s report.
- Changing the tree preservation order process. Stakeholders suggest that one of the primary reasons for the poor uptake in the current tree preservation orders process is that the order itself represents an ‘all-or-nothing’ decision; once it has been granted, it is very difficult to remove, which leads to more caution in granting them. People will be allowed to appeal decisions where there has been a refusal to allow for works involving the tree.
Cllr Ian Carey said:
“This is a very important new proposal for Swords. It’s important because much of the nature in the Swords area is without any protection status and this gives us a more direct route to preservation. Everyone in Swords is really clear that the Ward River Valley, in particular the area to the west needs to be preserved, this would be a perfect area for this new LIFE designation.
“There are two elements to this I find very postive. Firstly, it sets out clear management requirements with designations so that we can make sure that areas are maintained in a way that protects the ecology. And secondly, they allow for designations aimed at restoration of nature. This means we can aim not just to preserve but to rebuild the biodiversity in our town for future generations.”