Galway's "green lungs" are under threat from city council roadway plans, according to a new environmental campaign.
The Friends of the Forest campaign has been initiated to highlight the negative impact of a proposed new city relief road on the 120-acre Terryland forest park.
Terryland forest, which extends from the Corrib river to Castlegar, owes its origins to a residents' campaign in the mid-1990s to protect green areas close to the Corrib. As a result, the Corrib has one of the few undeveloped riverbank environments on the island.
The associated forest is a haven for hares, voles, foxes, rabbits, swans, kestrels, pheasants and bats.
Brendan Smith, spokesman for Friends of the Forest, said that Galway City Council had actively promoted Terryland as the most ambitious urban forest park development in Europe, with a target planting of 500,000 native Irish trees.
At the park's first one-day community planting in March 2001, more than 3,000 people turned up to plant trees, Mr Smith said, and schools began to use the area as an "outdoor classroom". The "eco-social experiment" had helped to engender civic pride, created a "carbon sink" to offset global warming and "produced oodles of good will towards City Hall".
However, the local authority, beset by the Eyre Square refurbishment controversy in recent years, began to lose interest in the Terryland park steering committee latterly, said Mr Smith.
"The few public events that did take place since 2005 did so with insufficient publicity, and therefore [ low] community participation, and the absence of park wardens has led to the woodlands becoming prone to litter and bush-drinking."
The proposed relief route from the Dyke Road, running by the forest park and the river Corrib to Quincentennial Road, is intended to reduce traffic congestion. However, the campaign said it would do the opposite and that it was "developer-led".
"The adjoining Headford Road/ Woodquay zone is already too congested, and the possibility of transforming the Dyke Road into a new major artery for pedestrians, cyclists and possibly public transport will be lost forever," Mr Smith said.
"At a time of rising global water levels, the Dyke Road lands are unsuitable for further development and should be preserved as wetlands and woodlands.
"Any such roadway would also undermine plans for sustainable recreational amenities, including an interpretative centre which would teach skills such as dry-stone-walling and coppicing.
"And a roadway would represent a betrayal of the tens of thousands of children and adults who planted trees and bulbs in Terryland since 2000," he said.
Mayor of Galway Tom Costello (Lab) and former mayor Niall Ó Brolcháin (Green Party) have both expressed support for the campaign, and representatives met senior city officials last week.
The campaign intends to initiate a petition in the new year.
Galway City Council was unavailable for comment.
The Irish Times