A government department has indicated that due to practicalities it “may not” repair a bridge at a popular Derry forest which was washed away during the devastating floods of 2017.
Paul Hughes, Rural Community Activist & Environmental Campaigner, has called on Derry and Strabane District Council to convene an urgent meeting with The Forest Service to formally request that repair works be carried out to the pedestrian footbridge at the Muff Glen Forest in Eglinton.
With 34 hectares of mixed woodland, all of which straddles a valley alongside the Muff River, the forest offers a welcome retreat for the local residents of Eglinton and visitors from surrounding areas.
It provides a scenic circular walk through the woods incorporating steep steps and a waterfall. And is also home to native red squirrels which returned to Muff Glen last year following a cull of more than 40 greys in the area - a sight that was welcomed by conservationists The North West Red Squirrel Group.
Mr Hughes explained that The Muff Glen Forest Walk is a “loop” and the footbridge, which was wiped out in the August 2017 floods, forms an integral part of that loop.
He said: “In the absence of the footbridge, visitors to the forest have restricted access to the bio diversity, wildlife and surroundings.
“The Muff Glen forest is also home to the North West Red Squirrels Group who are doing great work in raising awareness of caring for our limited red squirrel population and they should be commended for their education and awareness efforts.
“Just recently the group held a 'Red Squirrel Safari' at Muff Glen which was well attended by children from a number of local primary schools. Muff Glen Forest is more than just a walk, it’s an outdoor classroom and these bridge repair works will reinstate the 'holistic' feel to the walk and help connect young people with the natural world.”
He added: “It’s time to make it happen!
“The onus is now on Derry City and Strabane District Council to take on board the wishes of local people and convene an urgent meeting with the Forest Service as soon as possible to ensure that they not only listen, but approve this request.”
‘Have your say’
Mr Hughes has also urged the Derry public to “have your say” as part of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Forest Service’s public consultation on forest management plans for the North West Forestry Planning Area.
It gives the public the opportunity to help plan how our forests will be managed for decades to come.
In response to calls for repair works, a DAERA Spokesperson said that due to flood damage caused at the bridge location and extensive undercutting on both sides of the river bank “a direct replacement may not be a practical solution in developing future public access at the forest.”
He added: “Forest Service has a well-established partnership with Derry City and Strabane District Council and we are liaising with council officials to ascertain how forests can best contribute to tourism priorities and recreation development within the wider Council area. This approach has already led to significant improvements to forests in the council area, for example, at Learmount forest beside Park village.”
A spokesperson for Derry City and Strabane District Council confirmed receipt of correspondence in relation to Muff Glen Forest.
It has advised the group that while Council has no responsibility for these repair works, it is currently in the process of drafting a consultation response to Forest Service’s ‘new forestry plan for North West forests and woodland’ where it will raise their concerns as part of Council’s wider consultation response to this plan.
Derry people can have their say by visiting www.daera-ni.gov.uk/news/have-your-say-future-forests-north-west
Photo: Environmental activist Paul Hughes pictured at Muff Glen Forest.
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