THE DEPARTMENT of the Environment says the disappearance of a rare and protected butterfly from a site outside Ennis, earmarked for a €50 million retail park, is a matter of serious concern to be investigated by its heritage branch.
In a late bid to prevent Clare County Council from granting planning permission for the retail park proposal by Galway developer Stephen Harris, the department has lodged a fresh objection on environmental grounds, recommending that "planning permission not be granted".
The department's submission follows the developer's lodgement of a report last month with the planners stating that colonies of the protected Marsh Fritillary butterfly were now extinct at the 48-acre site.
Populations of the butterfly were moved in autumn 2004 to the site now earmarked for the retail park to make way for the Ennis bypass. This was done by the bypass contractors, Gama Construction Ltd.
A planning application for the retail park was lodged in 2006. The presence of the butterfly on the site resulted in the Department of the Environment lodging an initial submission with the council to state that the development would be contrary to the aims of the EU habitats directive.
Ken Bond of University College Cork, an expert employed by Mr Harris, drew up a report on the Marsh Fritillary and found populations of the only butterfly protected under the EU habitats directive at the site in 2006 and 2007.
However, Mr Bond said, in the report lodged last month with the council, it was his opinion that the butterfly had become extinct there due to heavy grazing last autumn and winter, combined with flooding over the past three winters.
The disappearance of the butterfly removes one of the few remaining planning hurdles for a development that has been in the planning process for two years.
The department said: "The apparent recent loss of an important population of the Marsh Fritillary, which is possibly linked to the failure of mitigation measures associated with the nearby Ennis bypass, is a matter of serious concern that has yet to be investigated and pursued by the National Parks and Wildlife Service."
It added that the reports provided did not address adequately the serious concerns raised in respect of key nature conservation issues at the site.
"A flood assessment of the site and the proposed development, taking into account cumulative effects of other development, is lacking," it said.
"The proposed development will result in significant biodiversity losses in terms of wetland habitats of ecological value and invertebrate populations, including permanent losses or local extinction of the EU habitats directive species, Marsh Fritillary."
The Irish Times