2023/05/23: Coillte’s plans for Murvagh forest and sand dunes

Plans to remove a section of forestry as part of a dune conservation and restoration project at Murvagh have been met with mixed reactions locally.

A number of people have expressed concern that one ecosystem is being sacrificed in the interests of another. Others have questioned the wisdom of removing trees if the goal is to create stable sand dunes. And many who enjoy the amenity are afraid that some of the beauty of the area will be lost.

However, Coillte, one of the organisations behind the project, is reassuring people that the project is good for coastal management and biodiversity. And they are allaying concerns that removal of trees could be damaging.

In response to queries by this paper, a spokesperson has outlined responses to a number of the questions raised locally.

Three Donegal locations - Murvagh, Ards Forest Park and Rinclevan, Horn Head are among four Irish projects in the EU-funded biodiversity project LIFE Insular. The fourth location is Raven Nature Reserve in Wexford where work is already underway.

Life Insular is a joint project between Ireland and Spain which will work to protect and restore important biodiversity areas in partnership with interested groups. In Ireland the project is being managed as a collaboration between the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and Coillte Nature.

The work at Murvagh will involve clearance of a section of plantation forestry on the road to the beach carpark.

A spokesperson for Coillte explained: “A small area of trees will be removed in an area which has been identified as having the best prospects for restoration of sand dune habitat.

There has been much commentary on this locally, with some people voicing concern that removal of trees would weaken rather than improve the dunes by removing a natural anchor. The Coillte spokesperson said: “Conifer forestry is not normally a natural feature on Irish sand dunes, but was planted in the past 100 years either to grow wood or to replace the natural vegetation that had been damaged. 

“In many cases, these trees grew well and suppressed native plants, butterflies, bees and ground-nesting birds which were adapted for dune habitats. In this project, the main benefit to these important dune habitats will be the restoration of natural conditions to promote nature and biodiversity.

“Traditional dune grasslands have provided stable dunes for recreation and livestock grazing for generations, and the Insular project sites have good vegetation cover outside of the forestry areas.

“The grasses, flowers and mosses that are already found in the unforested parts of the sites have roots that make a mat near the sand surface, preventing sand from blowing away and stabilising the dunes.

“After we have conducted the tree felling works we will use nature-friendly, temporary protection measures where required to reduce the impact of wind on the sand dunes until the natural vegetation is ready to take over.”

When asked if there were examples of where this type of project has been successful elsewhere in Ireland or in the EU, the spokesperson said that similar restoration efforts had been successful in the UK. This is particularly notable given the similarity in climate.

“Restoration of afforested sand dunes started in the 1980s, and in 1993 a paper documenting recovery at nine UK sites, including two detailed case studies (Whiteford and Ainsdale) was published,” said the spokesperson. “This paper found that it is possible to restore herbaceous vegetation but that some sites need extra time and restoration measures like removing pine needles or scattering native, local seeds to promote recovery.

“After these successful projects, felling and scrub clearance took place at more sites in Scotland, England and Wales, and continues today. “We are now in a good position to learn from projects in the UK to ensure that the dunes are restored to a natural mix of grasses and flowers, and that the best long-term management is implemented.”


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