COILLTE HAS defended its sale of prime forest and recreational land along the State's busiest walking route in south Dublin to a private landowner.
The State-owned forestry company said the sale of six hectares of land at Kilmashogue last year was unrelated to the rerouting of the Wicklow Way in the area shortly before.
The rerouting of the way, which has seen the existing narrow switchback track in the Dublin mountains replaced by a broad gravelled highway, has dismayed walking groups. The lands by which the walking route formerly passed have recently been fenced off and planted with trees.
A company spokesman confirmed that the fenced-off land was sold to a private landowner in the area in September 2007, but denied this was the reason for rerouting the Wicklow Way.
He said a short section of the way had been rerouted "as part of the planned upgrading of the forest road network in the area". However, much of the forestry in the area has already matured and been felled by machinery using the existing tracks.
"The Wicklow Way is clearly signposted along this new route and full access along it has been maintained at all times," the spokesman added.
He said the sale was conducted in accordance with the company's normal sale procedures after the landowner made an approach. The spokesman declined to state the purchase price, citing commercial reasons.
The landowner, Mark Turley, said he knew nothing about the rerouting of the Wicklow Way. His family has purchased the mountain land in order to protect the trees from Coillte's clear-felling policy in the area and give shelter to his house below. However, the trees, which had matured, fell down, knocked over fences and his herd of deer had escaped.
He had since fenced off the land and planted native Irish broadleafs rather than the conifers favoured by Coillte.
Coillte's action has angered walking groups in advance of the high-profile launch by Minister for Natural Resources Eamonn Ryan next week of the Dublin Mountains Partnership, a new management group for the mountains comprising Coillte, two local county councils, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Dublin Mountains Initiative.
The new organisation plans to improve access to the hills and develop walking, cycling and horseriding trails.
"Just when we should be opening the mountains up to public use, a State body sells off publicly-owned land on the most widely trafficked walking route in the country and a landowner fences off the land," one source told The Irish Times.
The Coillte spokesman said the company owned 445,000 hectares around the State. Its practice was to sell, lease or develop a limited area of land for purposes other than forestry. "Most sales are made in response to local demand and typically comprise house sites, isolated dwelling houses, sections of recently acquired farms, small outlying forest properties and gravel pits."
Coillte has sold about 12,000 hectares of land since 1989 and purchased 52,000 hectares. The company had done a lot of work in recent years upgrading trails and signs and improving walking and biking trails, its spokesman stated.
The Wicklow Way runs for 127km over mountains from south Dublin to Clonegal in Co Carlow.
The Irish Times