During last year we brought you word that things were beginning to stir finally with regard to the much promised development of the Riverside Walk from town to the estuary lands below Blenheim. Alongside the proposals for other riverside walks this one in particular has featured prominently in all recent City Development Plans including the current one.
Alas the proposals remained largely aspirational but meetings did take place last summer between a local action group who are specifically concerned with the promotion/achievement of this project and the city planners. So we look forward to early implementation.
The various plans have all stressed the importance of the River Suir as a central landscape element within the city. The plans spell it out clearly that it is policy to protect the essential character and settings of the river corridors, through the control of the location, layout and design of new developments, including the material change of use of land, so as to ensure that there are no adverse effects on the character and amenities of the area.
“Flow on lovely river as it flows down by …Knockboy”, as the old song might say!
So we talked recently, first about our sources as we traced the Suir back up stream and followed its course down river. Then we talked briefly about its Special Area of Conservation status and some of the key habitats contained therein, with a special focus on our own local stretch of river in the King’s Channel area – its saltmarsh in particular.
My guide in all these matters has been that wonderful book I referred to previously by Declan McGrath – The Wildlife in Waterford. I can only skim the surface of this subject here, perhaps it may whet your appetite to acquire and delve into this amazing body of work, representing painstakingly but lovingly researched detail of the wealth of our flora and fauna literally at our feet.
The Suir is one the three contiguous rivers in the southeast along with the Nore and Barrow, collectively known as the Three Sisters, all of which drain into Waterford Harbour. The Suir itself drains an area of approximately 3,500 sq kms. It rises high in the Galtee Mountains (in the Devil’s Bit mountain) in north Tipperary and eventually on through Waterford City before being joined by the other two rivers opposite Cheekpoint, from whence all three rivers flow seaward at Waterford Harbour.
The second instalment of this story was our focus on the habitat of the King’s Channel saltmarsh -an important area of special designation and lying within the City area.
Environmental Designations are special and we are fortunate enough to have such within a stone’s throw of us here. These designations apply to areas or features that have a natural, landscape or cultural significance and such areas are normally either different to or they stand out from the other areas that surround them. Nationally responsibility for designated areas lies with the government (mainly through the National Parks and Wildlife Service) and local responsibility rests with local authorities. There are also international designations and conventions, which are overseen by agencies such as the UN (through UNESCO) and the Ramsar Secretariat. So we are talking serious stuff here folks – a world of natural wonder at our very feet, hereabouts.
The River Suir overflows its banks, particularly in winter, along the stretch of waterway west of The Island, and this flooding, while never severe, introduces marine conditions which have allowed a saltmarsh with a distinctly marine vegetation to establish and flourish at the edge of what is now a highly developed area. Fortunately a river walk fringes some of this saltmarsh, allowing for uninterrupted views of the river and beyond. As we alluded to earlier, if/when the aspiration of all recent City Development Plans are realised, a proper walkway all the way from Waterpark to Blenheim may/will be opened to all.
The most important stretch of saltmarsh is between the housing development known as King’s Channel and the creek not far from Beckett’s (formerly Orpens) pub. There are various points of access though access east of Ballinakill Downs is more difficult. I personally would urge caution unless one is familiar with the area and so know where exactly they are going! Another good and valid argument I would posit for a properly developed walkway in order to give safe access to this natural wonderland.
I have summarised above some of the main points of my previous two articles on this subject as a context/preface piece to my third instalment today as we venture further down river. I was very pleased at the level of interest expressed to me on this subject with many voicing surprise that the habitat there is of such major environmental importance and enjoys its special designation status- a natural treasure at our feet, as we described it previously.
So onwards: There is a walkway along the garden ends at Ballinakill Downs. Disturbed ground like this is good for common plants, mainly docks, bindweed, gorse, clovers, creeping buttercup, ragwort and thistle, but more unusual species like cut-leaved crane’s-bill and hemlock water-dropwort also occur. The reed beds provide cover for the reed bunting and gorse offers refuge and nesting for stonechats. Beyond on the riverbank mute swans occasionally graze and these may be accompanied by small flocks of mallard and redshank on the mud nearby and common sandpipers in summer, usually. Mains work is ongoing in this general area.
Further east the riverbank is more natural and the vegetation, comprising mainly sea-aster, common saltmarsh grass, spear-leaves orache, English scurvy grass, sea arrowgrass and sea milkwort, forms an attractive platform outside the embankment enclosing the more intensively managed grass inside. Cordgrass grows all along the riverbank here – as far as the Island ferry.. Grey herons and hooded crows are almost always present somewhere along here and with luck little egrets may be seen. Kingfisher and snipe have also been spotted here. Flocks of curlew can line the bank here in winter while flocks of woodpigeon may erupt from the woodland under Blenheim, if disturbed.
Cormorants often perch on the poles of the old salmon weir or fishing in the channel itself. Rats and otter can feature along this stretch as well – so watch out! D McG reminds us that if the proposed riverwalk is ever completed here it will be a unique recreational facility that will be the envy of all other towns and cities in Ireland. That’s a worthy and proud claim from one of Ireland’s foremost wildlife expert. It represents an All-Ireland winning project that will score every time!
Ballycanavan’s industrial history
Where’s that, many of you may ask, yet most people have been there as it is the townland of one of Waterford’s favourite and in many ways unique pubs – Jack Meade’s/Under-the-Bridge. This area is just further down river from the area we have just been describing. The Ballycanavan stream there forms the eastern boundary of the City. The pub being at the other side of the stream is thus in Waterford County. However the lower part of the stream here is almost in accessible but it is also rich in its industrial and natural heritage. The uppermost part of the he inlet can accessed from the car-park at Jack Meade’s pub under the bridge on the road to Cheekpoint. Great tribute must be paid to Willy and Carmel (nee Meade) Hartley who undertook the great work completed here over the past 20 years and more.
Now there is a well defined and way-marked pill walk initially, which passes by a limekiln, one of a series here, among them a triple and double kiln. It is worth stopping to read the history of the kilns on the plaque there. The Kilns date from the 18th/19th centuries and were built by the local landlord Cornelius Bolton. The Boltons arrived in Ireland in 1649 with the Cromwellian army and William was awarded large tracts of land in the east of the county including Faithlegg. Indeed, Cheekpoint was known as Bolton one time and it too had a thriving industry. Lime was a very useful and thus valuable commodity in those days. The pill/small river here linked the kilns to the river Suir and as such was an important transport conduit for materials in and out from this busy industrial centre. So now you know!
Go seachtain eile, slan.