The “Environmental Vandalism” of Tallaght’s Wetlands

A newly-discovered wetland is in peril after a dumping of silt by the local county council; Alex Hale investigates.

On a Saturday in September, Collie Ennis ventured to The Sean Walsh Memorial Park in Tallaght to check on a wetland he recently discovered. What he found didn’t resemble a habitat at all: the area had been completely decimated. Ennis, a research associate at Trinity College, and science officer at the Herpetological Society of Ireland, discovered an enormous amount of silt on top of the wetland, the workings of a dump by the local county government. The effects of this ill-considered disposal of silt on Tallaght’s natural wetlands will be felt for years to come, and for decades if action is not taken soon. 

The South Dublin County Council claimed responsibility for the dump, just months after committing to protect the area in coordination with the Herpetological Society. Ennis had presented his findings to the Council, and preservation plans for the wetlands were instituted into the Council’s six-year plan for Tallaght. Goodwill between the two sides’ cooperation was represented through an April tweet by the Herpetological Society, expressing support of the Council’s plan after a “productive meeting” about conserving the area. A more recent tweet on September 21 reflected that the society showed a change in tune to the Council’s actions, deeming the dump “environmental vandalism.”

Following local uproar over the discovery, the Council released a statement regarding the dump. It expressed dismay for what happened, but argued that it followed standard policy. “Following these works in Sean Walsh Park, the silt mounds were levelled. The council will immediately review the practice of the disposal of silt drained from lakes. However, best practice dictates that the material removed is placed as close to the origin as possible.”

The statement did not appease the criticism, drawing backlash from ecological leaders in the community. Green Party Councillor Liam Sinclair was “disappointed” with the Council’s statement, and said that the news of the destroyed wetland “was like getting a blow to the solar plexus.” He stated: “The response to it has been completely wrong. They should’ve put their hand up and admitted they made a mistake and got straight back in there and start to fix the problem.”

Councillor Mick Duff said in a tweet that a new statement will be made, while also saying that the Council admitted that “spreading the sieved silt removed from lakes across the Wetlands was a mistake.” Ennis told the University Observer: “The law has been clear about the protection of this habitat. It was heartbreaking for me.”

Ennis discovered the affected area in December 2018, reporting the undiscovered habitat to the Council and receiving the aforementioned protections. He called the area “unique” in The Times, most notably because of the rarity for this sort of habitat to develop in an urban area. “It was a miracle, a mosaic of habitats, with muds, grassy areas, reed beds, willow trees — everything you can imagine within a small space,” he told The Times.

Within the habitat, there lived the protected smooth newt and common frog species, as well as the endangered European eel. Jane Stout, professor of botany at Trinity College, commented on the impact of wetlands in a blog post. She said that wetlands are “important habitats for humans, contribute to immediate and vital solutions to climate change and provide an amazing place for wildlife to live.”

The dumped silt, according to Ennis’s estimation, covered about 80-90 percent of the wetland area with what the environmentalist called “waste” that “should’ve gone to landfill.” The destruction’s reach will run further than just these wetlands, as well. Since the damaged area connects to surrounding waterways, the destructive forces will spread throughout the ecosystem, causing a continuous cycle of corrosion.

“As we get rainfall, that filth is going to wash back into the same stream, back into the same pond and re-silt it. [Dumping here] just makes no sense at all.” Ennis said. Although damage to the area is inevitable at this point, acting quickly to remove the silt could potentially aid the wetland’s recovery time.

According to Ennis, if action to remove the silt was taken within days of the dumping, then the wetland “won’t be pretty initially,” but would recover within a couple of years. If action is not taken quickly, the effects can last 20-40 years. Along with many words regarding environmental degradation, Ennis pointed out a more political issue at hand, as well. “This is not just a biodiversity thing. I cannot see a more affluent area accepting their local council going down, dredging the river and pond, and then dumping much of that out onto their parks.”

Others’ responses to the dump labeled it political dysfunction, calling for better governance regarding the environment. Sinclair told GreenNews.ie that the Council did not “acknowledge the importance of the wetland area,” and Stout wrote that “it’s about time that nature was put first.”

“This incident is a classic illustration of our continuing failure, despite formal recognition of the biodiversity and climate crisis, to put coherent environmental policies into practice,” The Irish Times said in an editorial.

In terms of moving forward, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) investigation unit has reached out to the Council to try and find out more about the incident.