need to embrace natureThe urbanisation and development of our cities, towns and villages is an unavoidable part of economic and population growth. However, it raises many questions about how we want to develop, the type of spaces in which we want to live and the legacy we want to leave for generations to come.

One development of concern is the Ursuline Gardens Strategic Housing Development. The developer, Glenveagh Properties PLC, plans to build 274 residential units adjacent to the Ursuline Convent building in Blackrock. The units proposed range from studio apartments to 3-bedroom apartments and intends to attract a range of habitants, including families, downsizers and single people. We believe that creating a sustainable development that protects and enhances biodiversity should be at the forefront of our objectives as we build housing for the future. But the impact that this development will have on biodiversity and natural heritage in the area is an issue.

The Hazard Evaluation/Condition Assessment and Plan of Remedial Works carried out on behalf of the developer recommends the removal of 17 mature trees to ground level. A mature tree is defined in the report as “[a] tree that has reached the expected height of the species in question, but still increasing in size.”
Only 4 of these 17 trees were evaluated as having a high hazard rating, which requires expeditious remedial action. The rest of the trees were judged as of a moderate hazard rating yet are still recommended to be removed to ground level. We would prefer to see other measures taken to render the trees safe, such as reducing the crown of the tree or removing overhanging branches and deadwood. 6 of the moderately rated trees are being removed to accommodate the design of the development. We would argue that removing mature trees that do not pose an imminent threat for the sole purpose of facilitating a design is unjustifiable habitat destruction.

urban development treesSome of the trees, as well as being mature, are native Irish species such as the Ash and the Cherry. Given the historical significance of the trees it is very disappointing that they are recommended for removal. The convent building dates from 1720 and the formal tree-lined garden from 1825 at the least according to the Architectural Heritage Impact Assessment Report. These trees have borne witness to many changes across the site, they provide both habitats and food sources for many species of flora and fauna, they clean the air we breathe and add to the pleasant, leafy character of Blackrock.

Another concern is that the planning documents for the Ursuline Gardens development do not include a biodiversity area within the site. This is another issue with modern development. Despite numerous studies linking time spent outdoors surrounded by nature with increased levels of happiness and health, there is an urge to manicure every square inch of new developments. The joy of wild, uncultivated spaces seems to have been completely lost, which is particularly poignant when thinking of the children and families that may live in this proposed development. Setting aside small areas and allowing them to grow wild can help to sustain and attract wildlife, while planting pollinator friendly wildflowers, building small wood piles and fitting bird nesting boxes would create a positive and flourishing living space for human and other inhabitants alike.

The housing spaces and urban places we create today speak volumes about the world in which we want to live and work in the future. We must make every effort to protect our precious biodiversity and natural heritage. Cork Nature Network has made a submission to an Bord Pleanála expressing the concerns raised above.

Post by Lauren Flynn