Wildlife group's concern over Barrow Way through Athy, Goresbridge, Graignamanagh and St Mullins

Wildlife group's concern over Barrow Way through Athy, Goresbridge, Graignamanagh and St Mullins
Sean Keane

Butterfly Conservation Ireland is the latest group to add their voice to growing concerns over Waterways Ireland’s plans to upgrade the existing towpath along the Barrow Way.

Described by writer, broadcaster Dick Warner as “The most beautiful riverside walk in these islands” - The Barrow Way extends from Lowtown in Kildare to St. Mullins in Carlow, along 114 km of canal and river towpaths. Uniquely for a way-marked trail in Ireland - the surface of the Barrow towpath is grassed almost its entire length and it is Waterways Ireland’s plans to ‘upgrade’ that grassy surface which is causing great alarm among current Barrow Way users.

Towns and villages along the towpath play host throughout the year to visiting anglers, kayakers, swimmers, walkers and cyclists attracted by the easily accessed low level path which meanders through the picturesque Barrow Valley. In recent years the river banks have attracted a new type of visitor, as wildlife enthusiasts make regular excursions to sections of the walkway in County Carlow, in search of some of Ireland’s rarest butterflies.

According to Jesmond Harding of Butterfly Conservation Ireland “Thanks to the exceptional habitat along the river bank – the Barrow Way has become arguably one of the best and most accessible places in the country to see two of Ireland’s rarest species – The Comma and the Purple Hairstreak. Any changes to these areas could easily destroy the habitat, and Butterfly Conservation Ireland urges that the work, if it is necessary, be carried out sensitively. In some areas there is simply no need for hard surfaces and no justification for habitat removal. The aim should be to keep any intervention to a minimum”.

Recent work carried out by Waterways Ireland on Canal towpaths in County Kildare are fuelling Butterfly Conservation Ireland’s concerns about potential damage to habitats and wildlife. A new section of greenway installed by Waterways Ireland along the bank of the Royal Canal at Kilcock, in Kildare consists of a tarmacadam path that is according to Jesmond “wide enough to accommodate a truck”. “At its widest the tarmac is 4.2m wide; this is the same width as some of the country roads where I live” says Jesmond.

To accommodate the installation of the path, Waterways Ireland removed much of the natural waterside vegetation and this has been replaced by what Jesmond describes as “a freshly re-seeded lawn – which is of little value to butterflies or any other wildlife”. He explained further “The width of the path from the 15th lock to Allen Bridge, Kilcock appears to be unnecessary and the reseeding is certainly an offence against the natural values of the area. The canal bank has been “suburbanised.”

“Were the same approach to be taken along the Barrow Way – it would almost certainly result in the loss of some of vitally important habitat – and the effect on some of our rarest butterfly species in the area would be catastrophic”.

According to information on the Waterways Ireland website - the proposed planning application for changes to the Barrow towpath is going through a pre-validation stage and it is hoped that a formal submission will be made to Kildare, Laois and Carlow County Councils by the end of January 2017. Waterways Ireland is hosting a series of Public Information Sessions to provide members of the public with the opportunity to hear the plans in detail. Sessions originally scheduled for week commencing January 16th have been postponed and new times, dates and venues have yet to be announced by Waterways Ireland.