Compliance promotion, governance, and legal issues,
7 February, 2012
Re: Implementation in Ireland of Habitats Directive: protocols for scientific opinion
I am sorry to write to you again in relation to issues that we are having here in Ireland implementing European environment law.
As you know, it is established that a project can not normally proceed unless the best scientific evidence establishes beyond reasonable scientific doubt that the actions would not result in adverse impacts on the integrity of a Natura 2000 site.
We attach a Report that we have prepared and will be publishing shortly that demonstrates that Ireland has failed to put in place a protocol that will ensure that the relevant scientific opinion is adhered to.
We have had an increasing number of similar examples of this failing brought to our attention confidentially by Rangers employed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service [NPWS] over recent years. We provide this case as an example because it relates to one of our most critical endangered species and it is clearly documented.
The proposal was to repair the Delphi Valley Bridge on the Bundoragh River. It was subject to an appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of the site's conservation objectives' by three scientists. The Bridge is 2 kilometres upstream of the best fresh water pearl mussel community of the 27 rivers protected for this species in Ireland.
The result was a negative assessment by all the three scientists involved. One was Aine O'Connor, freshwater ecologist for the NPWS and the in-house scientific expert on the fresh water pearl mussel.
She concluded that the proposed works represented a 'significant and serious risk to the freshwater pearl mussel population located downstream'. In later reviewing the revised proposal, she concluded that 'the risks of negative impacts to the pearl mussel have significantly increased with the revised works.' Aine O'Connor was removed from the case by the Regional Manager of the Parks and Wildlife Service.
Evelyn Moorkens (the country's leading expert on the species and the author of the NPWS 'Species Action Plan' and numerous surveys on the fresh water pearl mussel) urged that the proposal should be abandoned until an assessment of the risks she highlighted were addressed. She 'urgently' recommended that a 'less intrusive approach to the bridge repairs than attempting to dry out the river should be considered'. On 13 September 2011 she recommended again after reviewing the revised method that 'the works do not proceed until the new proposals can be correctly assessed.'
Trinity College Dublin Civil and Engineering expert Paul Johnston questioned the information provided and the plans for mitigation, outlining the 'real and significant risks with a storm event', emphasising that 'the risks of damage even with the safeguards are high, particularly at this time of year'. As late as 7 October 2011 he raised a further 30 points and detailed further questions on the 17th of October, 2011.
On Monday 3 October at a meeting between the relevant parties, the records show that Peter Hynes, the Mayo County Manager, 'was clearly angry' and informed the National Parks and Wildlife Service that if permission for the works was not forthcoming 'that day', he would 'go to legal action'.
On the 18th of October the Assistant Secretary of the Department gave consent for the works, not withstanding the unanimous scientific advice against the works proceeding at that time.
On the 16th of November 2011 a storm event overwhelmed the lake, bridge, and the works site, creating an environmental disaster.
We believe the actions of the national authorities in this case demonstrate that no protocol is in place to ensure that the Habitats Directive Article 6 requirement for decisions based on science is implemented in Ireland.
We attach the Report that we will be releasing shortly and have appended to it the description of records supplied by the NPWS which identifies the individuals involved (which we will not be including in our published report).
We would be grateful if you registered this submission as a formal infringement of European environmental law and required the national authorities to put in place such a protocol.
Attached: The Delphi Bridge Disaster
A Report from Friends of the Irish Environment
Publication date: 12 February, 2012