THE POPULATION of a protected snail, the Vertigo angustior, at the Greg Norman-designed Doonbeg golf course has increased six-fold to 60 million. With more of the snail living there than almost anywhere else, the conservation project can now be regarded as a model of its kind.
That is according to an expert in the subject, Dr Evelyn Moorkens, who has monitored the management by Doonbeg Golf Club of the 1.8mm snail at the west Co Clare links over the past 10 years.
She said yesterday: “The snail is thriving at the course, and what has occurred at Doonbeg is a model in terms of sustainable development, and I can’t think of another instance where the notion of sustainable development as understood in the EU habitats directive has been embraced so much.”
The presence of the snail at the course held up its construction in 2000 after Tony Lowes of the Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) took a High Court action seeking to ensure the conservation of the snail.
The protection of the animal was the subject of a High Court settlement with Mr Lowes, and also part of the planning conditions granted by An Bord Pleanála.
According to Dr Moorkens, the estimated snail population at the course has grown from 10 million in 2000 to 60 million last year.
“Last year was a phenomenal year for the snail at the course. The damp conditions, along with the management regime in place, were perfect for the snail. There are now more snails at the course than are present in most countries.”
Dr Moorkens, an independent ecological consultant, was commenting yesterday arising from a report on the snail just lodged by her at Clare County Council concerning a plan by Doonbeg Golf Club for the retention of a contentious wall.
She lodges annual reports with the Department of the Environment on the conservation status of the snail.
Dr Moorkens said: “The management by the golf club of the snail has been superb. You can’t fault them. It is nature as it should be.”
One of the conservation measures carried out by the golf club is “hiring” cattle to graze in a special area of conservation (SAC) during certain periods of the year, to ensure that the dunes do not become overgrown.
Dr Moorkens said: “You have to hand it to them. They are up for the challenge, and that is what people want to see.”
The general manager of Doonbeg Golf Club, Joe Russell, said: “I think wherever golf is played Doonbeg will always be identified with our snail, Vertigo angustior. Happily, since the golf club was established, the snail has thrived.”
Mr Lowes said: “Doonbeg Golf Club and the Parks and Wildlife Service both deserve great credit, but it’s worth remembering that this level of conservation was only achieved by a long struggle through An Bord Pleanála and the Irish courts.”