23 July 2015

It is too late to shout ‘No’ after
an ecosystem has been changed

Walking through the Dodder Valley Park between Spawell Bridge and Firhouse Weir (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

There is news story from China in the 1950s Mao ordered the extermination of several pests, including sparrows. But it was a campaign that led to an environmental disaster.

It seems to have started off with what looked like a good idea. Mao argued that nature should be fully exploited for production, and building up industry would not only modernise China but also build up an urban proletariat that would provide a solid support base for the Chinese Communist Party.

The Eurasian Tree Sparrow was singled out in particular because in was eating grain seeds. Chinese scientists calculated that for every million sparrows killed, there would be enough food to feed 60,000 people.

Chinese people took to the streets in great numbers, clanging their pots and pans or beating drums to terrorise the birds and prevent them from landing. Nests were torn down from trees, eggs were smashed, chicks were killed, and sparrows were shot down.

School children, civil servants, factory workers, farmers and soldiers were all deployed in the campaign, along with hundreds of thousands of scarecrows and colourful flags.

Young people trapped, poisoned and attacked the sparrows, children and old people kept watch, and free-fire zones were set up for shooting the sparrows.

Hundreds of millions of sparrows were killed in this campaign of destruction, and the sparrow became nearly extinct in China.

But as well as eating grain, the sparrows also ate insects in great numbers. Without the sparrows to eat the insects, the insects gobbled the crops that the sparrows had nibbled at. Crop yields dropped to an all-time low and rice growing faced a disaster.

When Mao called off the Great Sparrow Campaign it was too late. The situation got progressively worse, locusts swarmed the countryside, and the loss of the sparrow contributed to widespread famine from 1958 to 1961, when 30 million people or more died of hunger.

It remains a sharp reminder of the dangers that can be created by any changes to an ecosystem.

There is an interesting ecosystem along the banks of the River Dodder in South Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

There is an interesting ecosystem along the banks of the River Dodder in South Dublin. This evening, I walked the south bank of the river from Spawell Bridge to the weir at Firhouse.

I had been to my GP for my regular, monthly B12 injection, which I seemed to more than usual today having walked energetically and vigorously over the last few days. Compared to this week’s walks in Cambridge and in rural Hertfordshire and Essex, my walk along this section of the Dodder Valley Park seemed quite short, although my daily average is now up to almost 9 km.

As I walked through the Dodder Valley Park this evening, birds were chirping, bees were busy, the flowers were blossoming in purples, pinks, reds, yellows and whites, and the open areas were deceptively like open countryside. At Firhouse Weir, the river was thundering over the falls that have remained undisturbed for hundreds of years.

The waters of the River Dodder tumbling down Firhouse Weir this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

However, I learned this evening that South Dublin County Council is considering proposals for a new road crossing of the River Dodder connecting Firhouse Road in the area by Monalea Estate with the N81 (Tallaght By-Pass) at Glenview Roundabout.

The planners’ excuse for the proposed new road and bridge is that, in their opinion the bridge at Old Bawn has become a major bottleneck.

But their proposal would drive another road through a green belt. It would run beside Firhouse National School too, bringing traffic and fumes closer to children. And it would strike another blow to the hopes and plans for the Dodder Valley amenity.

The proposal might not be needed if the council went ahead with its past plans for realigning Knocklyon Road so that it meets Firhouse Road at Spawell Bridge.

For too long, the council has left the Dodder Valley Park with poor, narrow and neglected footpaths, and there are no cycle tracks along Knocklyon Road.

The proposed road and bridge west of Firhouse Weir would sever the eastern and western endz of the park, cut through walking and cycling amenities, and damage the looks and sounds of the park. The Dodder Valley Park needs improvement, not another road and bridge, and still needs to be linked up at either side of the bridge at Old Bridge Road, so that one continuous footpath parallels Firhouse Road and Butterfield Avenue.

As the car is used as a compelling excuse for eroding our areas slowly and piece by piece, the ecosystem changes over time. Before we realise it, it may be too late to reverse the damage.

The River Dodder east of Firhouse Weir, in the Dodder Valley Park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

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