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Denis Minogue chairman of the Mountshannon Eagle Group

Lough Derg could benefit from National Park Status

LOUGH Derg could benefit if its status as a special protection area was upgraded to national park status in the future, according to a local white-tailed sea eagle conservation group.
Chairman of the Mountshannon Eagle Group, Denis Minogue said he feels that Lough Derg, with its food source, has been a good attraction for the sea eagles, who have settled in Mountshannon, and have successfully bred another chick this season into the area.
He said he would be encouraging the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the National Parks and Wildlife Service to look at upgrading Lough Derg’s status in the future, if a few more pairs of sea eagles settle in East Clare.
“If we had three or four pairs, they may even make Lough Derg a national park. They know they have a food source, you could deal with nine or 10 pairs there. That would be fantastic and everyone would benefit,” he said.
Dr Allan Mee, project manager for the Golden Eagle Trust, with responsibility for the reintroduction of the white-tailed sea eagle project, said it is not something that is being looked at now but could be worth looking at in the future.
“Lough Derg is a special protection area already (with) the fact that there are a couple of white-tailed sea eagles there, and maybe one or two more in the future. The more protection it has, the better in the future. Something like a national park would be something to explore. All our national parks, or rather most of them, are on publicly-owned land, rather than on lots of privately-owned land. It would be something that would have to have the backing of the communities involved. It is something to consider in the future but at least it has those SPA protections at the moment,” he said.
The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht stated, “Lough Derg SPA has long been important for several breeding and overwintering water birds. White-tailed sea eagles have only recently started to breed at this site so it would be premature to alter the conservation objectives for this SPA at this time. However, the species currently enjoys general protection under the Birds Directive, the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 and the Wildlife Acts.”
A spokesperson confirmed the department is currently “not considering this region for designation as a national park”.
As the summer weather kicked in over the weekend, activity on the pier in Mountshannon has increased, with many onlookers eager to catch a glimpse of the majestic birds but Dr Mee highlights the importance of maintaining distance.
“We need to give them every chance, so we advise people to watch them at the pier. It is illegal to disturb them. In a way, where they are this year, most of the boats coming in wouldn’t know they are white-tailed sea eagles. We got the word out to fishermen during the mayfly season to minimise disturbance and the local angling clubs have been great. The birds will be seen more prominently on the lake and will be more visible. Again, we will have people on the pier again this summer. We are not sure of funding but there are still a lot of local volunteers involved,” he said.
The Mountshannon Eagle Group is currently formalising its status as a charity organisation and hopes to be in a position to mobilise its plans as soon as this has been finalised.
Mr Minogue said there are issues to overcome in terms of setting up a suitable viewing location.
“There are a lot of problems there. We got moved on last year and we were just lucky that we could move to where we did move to. However, if we were by the public toilets this year, you can’t see anything now because the birds are on a different island. Although it is about the same distance away, you have to be over on the public pier area to see anything. This is the problem, the birds do move around. This time, we hope they won’t be disturbed and they’ll come back there again,” he said.
He explained the group will be out on the pier keeping watch and keeping visitors informed but he said, if the weather is bad, they will have to leave as there is no shelter. On the other hand, he said, if the weather is fine, people will be in swimming and they won’t be able to remain in the bathing area.
“Clare County Council has promised to provide a shelter, but the shelter will be coming to Mountshannon Community Council so we are depending on that,” he said.
He explained that a lot of decisions can’t be made until the birds settle on one particular tree or site for nesting and he hopes where they are now might become their regular nesting spot.
Ger Dollard, director of services at Clare County Council, explained the status of the viewing area and says the sea eagles’ presence in Mountshannon “is a significant boost for the area and has led to widespread interest from the public”.
He said, with this in mind, “It is important the public have the opportunity to view the sea eagles, while, at the same time, respecting the importance of their environment and ensuring that nothing will compromise the continued presence of the eagles.
“There is also a tourism opportunity for the wider area and the council has been working with the local community to see how this might be explored so that adequate information, facilities and other supports are available for those who travel to Mountshannon.”
Mr Dollard said Clare County Council is, at present, finalising the procurement of a viewing shelter, which will be placed near the pier area at Mountshannon.
“This is a specially designed unit for the location and, with the cooperation of the Eagle Trust and local community, will enable those wishing to see the sea eagles to do so in safety and comfort.
“This involves an investment of €20,000, on behalf of the council, but is seen as an important input to support the community in promoting this natural wonder to visitors,” he outlined.
He added that the local authority saw further potential in the form of a mini visitor centre, educational area, and other initiatives.
These, he said, “can only be delivered with strong input and support from the business and wider community”.

About Carol Byrne

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Carol Byrne is a reporter at The Clare Champion newspaper reporting on news in the East Clare area and the arts. She also covers the courts in County Clare and has received six national awards for this coverage from the Law Society of Ireland. A Masters in Journalism graduate of NUI Galway, she also holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Limerick in Music and Media Studies. She began her career interning at The Limerick Leader and Clare FM, before taking up a full time post at The Clare Champion in 2006.

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