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‘People really feel the loss of these trees very, very deeply’ – The Irish Times

“We only keep what we love; we love only what we understand and we understand only what we are taught.”

The quote, variously attributed to French underwater explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Senegalese conservationist Baba Dioum, may provide cold comfort to the residents of Firhouse who are distraught after the destruction of more than twenty cherry blossom trees and about fifty native saplings in Dodder Valley. Park in south Dublin late last week.

And while locals – and nature lovers everywhere – remain “stunned” after the incident, according to South Dublin County Council Mayor Alan Edge, we need to understand what drives a small number of people to deliberately destroy beautiful trees in full bloom. destroy before we can learn how to prevent this kind of wildlife vandalism from happening again.

“I don’t know if you can protect yourself from these things happening. It could be one or two people and it’s probably someone who isn’t doing well emotionally,” says Neasa Ní Bhriain, director of A Playful City, a nonprofit that works with communities to create a more playful, healthy and inclusive public. to create. spaces.

‘You have to ask different groups – the Herenschuur, senior garden groups, after-school groups, crèches – how they want to use that space, and then you have more eyes on it’

Neasa Ní Bhriain, director of A Playful City, a non-profit organization

Ní Bhriain believes that the best way to keep public spaces safe and free from vandalism is to involve many people in that community in using them. “You have to ask different groups – the Herenschuur, senior garden groups, after-school groups, daycare centers – how they want to use that space, and then you have more eyes on it. Organizing events in parks is the best way to keep them occupied and that includes passive surveillance,” she says.

Even having a tangential connection to a public space – for example if your son, sister or father helped plant a tree there – could prevent some people from damaging or destroying the public space, but it would be naive to suggest that Community involvement can completely eliminate the problem.

At Firhouse it is believed that a battery-powered electric saw was used to saw through most of the logs before they were crushed and broken, causing irreparable damage. The cost of the damage is estimated at approximately €33,000. And this is the second such attack in Dodder Valley Park; in April 2023, approximately eight trees were deliberately felled on the other side of the park.

South Dublin County Council has had CCTV installed in the past to monitor anti-social behaviour. However, following a data protection audit, the municipality was obliged to remove it.

The Bullaun Stone (also known as the Deerstone) in Glendalough was set on fire in 2023, resulting in large cracks in the 1,000-year-old granite boulder

Ní Bhriain also suggests that if something happens, it is important not to speculate or give an opinion about who might have done it. “You often hear people say that young teenagers hanging out are the ones doing things, but that’s unfair,” she says. Readers may recall that a 50-year-old man was jailed earlier this year for damaging the Sheriff Street statue of late Dubliners singer Luke Kelly in 2020.

Virginia Teehan, chief executive of the Heritage Council, says deliberate damage to natural or built heritage is a “public expression of anger”. “When people feel dissatisfied and angry or dissatisfied with something in society, they lash out in anger,” she says.

There have been several incidents in recent years where local heritage sites have been vandalized. These included damage to Loughcrew cairns, the Neolithic funerary monument near Oldcastle, Co Meath, when graffiti was etched into passage graves. The Bullaun Stone (also known as the Deerstone) in Glendalough was set on fire in 2023, resulting in large cracks in the 1,000-year-old granite boulder.

Teehan recognizes the role of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the National Monuments Service (NMS) in issuing fines and taking legal action against perpetrators of damage to public green spaces and monuments. But she says that “looking earlier to see how you can win hearts and minds” is also important.

As a striking example, she mentions the Adopt a Monument programme, where the Heritage Council supports people in maintaining a local historic site. “This plan gives people a sense of pride and connection with their area,” she says, referring to a particular heritage site in Co Waterford that has often been vandalized in the past. “By engaging with this motte and bailey (a medieval defense system where a stone tower on a hill is surrounded by a piece of land), that community changed the dynamics of the area,” she said.

The NPWS has recently recruited more staff to detect, prevent and enforce crimes against wildlife. In 2023, the state agency initiated forty-three prosecutions for alleged violations of wildlife law. These include illegal hunting, unlawful destruction of hedgerow vegetation and bat disturbance.

The NPWS also encourages anyone who suspects or witnesses a crime against wildlife to contact their nearest NPWS conservation ranger, email the conservation service or contact the gardaí.

“If there is a silver lining, the fact that people came together and almost felt sorry for each other is a sign of how far we have come as a province and a community here.”

Alan Edge, Mayor of South Dublin County Council

Announcing more successful prosecutions for breaches of the Wildlife Acts by 2023, Malcolm Noonan, Minister of State responsible for Wildlife and Heritage, described citizen reporting as an “essential element in protecting nature”.

Sadly, Firhouse residents can only look back in horror at the deliberate destruction of trees in a park where community groups and the local authority have planted thousands of trees over the past five years.

Caragh Coote, a volunteer with the Dodder Action Group, which monitors the welfare of the river that flows through the park, said earlier this week: “It’s just devastating for all of us who have put so much time into their beautiful park.” The popular Dodder Greenway also passes through the park.

Meanwhile, Mayor Alan Edge said: “If there is a silver lining, the fact that people came together and almost felt sorry for each other is a sign of how far we have come here as a province and a community. People really feel the loss of these trees deeply.”