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Gildernew Visits West Belfast

4 March, 2008

The Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development this morning visited the renowned nature reserve at the Bog meadows, off the Falls Road.

Ms Gildernew was accompanied by the Rivers Agency and Forestry which both come under her Department.

The Minister was met by the local MP Gerry Adams MLA and also met with representatives of the Ulster Wildlife Trust and the Friends of Bog Meadows.

Welcoming the Minister, Gerry Adams said:

"There are several conservation projects within west Belfast which are of enormous environmental significance and which also have significant tourism potential.

"Today the Minister met with representatives of the Bog meadows and also with representatives of An Ceathrú Gaeltachta - the Irish Quarter - and she visited the Colin Glen Nature Reserve.

"Sinn Féin is seeking the co-ordination of inter- epartment resources to develop local river-ways in west Belfast.

"Already we have seen large-scale investment in the river-ways to the east of the Lagan (Connswater river project).

"In my opinion west Belfast, with its streams and small rivers running off the Black Mountain into the Lagan, has significant potential also and deserves equal support.

"The Rivers Agency is responsible for an important natural resource and it must do all it can to protect and properly develop our rivers and streams." Críoch

Note to Editor:

The Bog Meadows was saved in the late 1980 s by local community activists working with West Belfast MP Gerry Adams. Since 1993, the Ulster Wildlife Trust (UWT) has been managing Bog Meadows as a nature reserve and has secured over £700,000 of funding over the past ten years towards the nature conservation work and provision of infrastructure for the visiting public on the site.

This led to Bog Meadows achieving Local Nature Reserve (LNR) status in 2000 and been awarded the UNESCO UK Man and the Biosphere Award in 2004.

Currently, over 60,000 people visit Bog Meadows annually, including many school groups. In the last year, Gerry Adams has met with the Friends of the Bog Meadows and with the chief Executive of the Ulster Wildlife Trust. Since then there have been several meetings between the UWT and the Friends of Bog Meadows to discuss proposals.

Sinn Féin helped secure funding by the Belfast Regeneration Office for phase one of the building project brought forward by UWT and the Friends of Bog Meadows. In January 2008, UWT brought several key staff to a site visit at the reserve and invited Gerry Adams office along. This was to be part of a renewed effort this year to develop the site. There is also to be a strategy for better local community engagement.

DRD have given in principle support to UWT leasing land presently reserved for Westlink work trucks, after the works are complete in three years.

Bog Meadows has suffered adversely over the past six years from frequent flash flooding of the heavily polluted Ballymurphy Stream which flows through the nature reserve. The Ballymurphy Stream itself has suffered as a result of housing development across its catchment and the associated infrastructure is unable to cope during storms.

It was last surveyed by EHS in 2005 (although it is no longer routinely monitored by EHS) and was classified as bad status (lowest available score).This is potentially in breach of the Water Framework Directive. Water Service have stated that the problem should be addressed with the completion of the Belfast Sewer Project in 2010, although there is concern that much of this work will only benefit the Ballymurphy Stream below Bog Meadows and additional development continues across the river catchment area above the nature reserve.

The stream breaks its banks within the Bog Meadows, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake, including: raw sewage and associated unpleasant debris strewn across public paths, litter and rubbish along the stream banks, and paths washed away and left heavily rutted (unable to be used subsequently by those with mobility issues).

This is a serious health and safety issue. UWT is left to clear up the mess and make the site safe again. The polluted stream and associated debris attracts rats and these have a detrimental effect on the native wildlife. This happens several times a year. Recently, UWT have concreted the pathways around the reserve to help minimise the damage caused by the flooding to the (quarry sand) paths.

UWT has proposed a series of measures to alleviate the problem: design and creation of a reedbed filtration system within the nature reserve (funding required) and installation of a grill at the bottom of Milltown Row. Rivers Agency have stated that Bog Meadows is classified as farmland and is not a priority for prevention of flooding (it does not cause risk to life or property). They have major concerns over the long-term maintenance costs of installing additional grills.

UWT have highlighted the problem of Rivers Agency staff clearing debris from the Ballymurphy Stream and leaving it on the banks there is apparently no requirement on behalf of Rivers Agency to remove such material and it is left to UWT to deal with. One positive action by Rivers Agency is that they will adopt a second channel of the Ballymurphy Stream within the nature reserve as part of their annual maintenance of water courses in 2008 to assist with the flow maintenance. Rivers Agency have been very helpful in the past with through donation of site engineering works for the nature reserve.

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