Some experts argue that the River Bandon flood defence scheme’s 3.6km dredging operation breachs environmental safety standards and pose a significant threat to the river’s key species, namely the freshwater pearl mussel, eel and Lamprey that live alongside the river’s well-known salmon population.
According to ecologist Dr William O’Connor, the Bandon will never regain its lamprey stock partly due to the timing of dredging. Lamprey spawning season is in May, the same time that the OPW dredges the river.
According to the project’s Appropriate Assessment (AA) Screening Report, the period between May and September is deliberately chosen to carry out in-river works in order to avoid interfering with the reproduction of salmonids. “There’s a lot more than to a river than catching salmon in it,” warns Dr O’Connor, however, whose company Ecofact was engaged on the project to undertake a fish stock assessment. “Impacts on Annex II listed lampreys were not considered in any effective way,” he says, with the resulting dredging works in May 2017 and May 2018 coming during the “peak of the lamprey spawning season”. “Lamprey habitats are not going to redevelop there again,” Dr O’Connor says. All three Irish lamprey species are noted to be of high conservation value under the EU’s Habitat Directive, under which it is mandatory to ensure the conservation of rare, threatened or endemic animals and plants.
In a statement, the OPW said that the scheme had been subjected to significant ecological assessments with appropriate mitigation measures designed to ensure the livelihood of the river’s fish species. As part of that environmental study, it says, consultants “fully considered the impacts of the scheme” and the necessary mitigations measures are outlined and specified in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) completed in 2012 and the Environmental Impact Statement Addendum, completed in 2015. “Appropriate mitigation measures were specified in the EIS and are being implemented in the construction phase which includes limiting the in-river works to the May-September period in order to mitigate impacts on fish species.” The project’s documents reveal that some dredging and non-dredging options were assessed to tackle the issue of flooding. However, the OPW has cited the opted dredging option as “favoured by the public”.
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