The discovery of endangered freshwater pearl mussels in a mountain stream has delayed plans by a Co Carlow golf club to upgrade its course from nine to 18 holes.
Members of the club, in the village of Borris, had agreed plans to extend the course and applied to the Department of Agriculture for a licence to fell trees. But the area has now been designated a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) by Minister of State Mary Wallace, who has decided "no [tree] felling licence can be granted for this site at this time".
Carlow County Council had already granted planning permission for the development. Mary White, deputy leader of the Green Party, and newly-elected TD for the area, said it was "regrettable that the county council did not foresee that SAC status might be a stumbling block".
The nine-hole golf club operates on land leased from the Kavanagh family - owners of Borris House, ancestral home of the McMorrough Kavanaghs, High Kings of Leinster - and is set in over 650 acres of walled private park and woodlands. The course provides panoramic views of Mount Leinster and the Blackstairs.
The club had agreed to lease a further parcel of land and drawn up plans for a new course design that involved clearing an area of woodland. Honorary secretary Pat O'Neill said "the club spent €45,000 to carry out an environmental impact study to determine the impact on badgers, otters, bats and other wildlife".
He explained that divers had discovered some 400 pearl mussels in one of two mountain streams that flow through the land and "experts believe the pearl mussels are 100 years old but not breeding".
According to the Heritage Council of Ireland, the pearl mussel, which can live for 120 years, is facing extinction due to deteriorating water quality, despite being a protected species under Irish wildlife legislation and the EU habitats directive.
Mr O'Neill said the club will resubmit a request to the Department of Agriculture for a tree-felling licence. Mr O'Neill added that under the revised design proposal, "trees will not be felled in the area close to the stream".
© 2007 The Irish Times