Department casts doubts on Discovery Centre for Bull Island

by Rose Barrett
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The Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage has recently voiced concerns as to the negative impact the current plans for a Discovery Centre would cause on Bull Island.

Referencing the relevancy of CAP Action OS25 or Action EP 32 within the proposals, the Department of Housing stated the increased footfall and activities caused by the proposed new centre could irreparably damage the area’s fragile ecosystem.

It submitted: “In any case, even if both these plans were implemented in full, the Department is not confident that if the provision of the Discovery Centre were to attract more visitors to Bull Island that there might not be increased adverse effects on QI habitats on the island as a result of higher human footfalls and possibly increased disturbance of QI or Special Conservation Interest birds species for the North Bull Island SPA as well.

A pair of Least Tern adults feed there tiny and cute baby chicks a small minnow on a sandy beach in soft light.

“Undoubtedly, much more detailed survey work on the existing on-going effects of visitors on the QI habitats and species on Bull Island, and analysis of the e Submission Text Detailed Response Changes to NIR Changes to SEA ER potential numbers of visitors likely to be attracted there by the Discovery Centre and their possible effects on QIs, would have to be undertaken.”

Dublin City Council was hoping to apply to An Bord Pleanála early this year for permission to build the Discovery Centre, which has been a plan in progress for years and is expected to cost circa €18-19m. If granted by ABP, DCC had hoped to complete in 2027. 

But now the Department feels further analysis is necessary “to allow full Appropriate Assessment (AA) of the potential effects of the construction and operation of the centre on the integrity of the North Dublin Bay SAC and North Bull Island SPA, before any approval for the Discovery Centre’s construction could be granted.”

For conservationists Anto Kerins and Sean Byrne, the Department’s findings were no surprise as the pair have consistently and diligently voiced the negative impact the Discovery Centre would have on the fragile biodiversity of Bull Island.

Mr Kerins* noted that the debate as to the suitability of the centre on the island goes back as far as 2019. Having written to every Dublin City Councillor to reconsider the location, only Cllr Tom Brabazon, voiced his concerns at the time (Cllr Brabazon decline to make any comment on the current situation).

“In addition, the main conservation groups including An Taisce, Birdwatch Ireland, Dublin Naturalist Field Club, Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) were contacted originally and asked to take a stand on the issue but none did,” said Mr Kerins. “Each of the above were sent a copy of ‘Bull Island’s Discovery Centre Proposal: A Review’. One conservation group explained informally that they had considered the document but had decided against taking a stand in view of concerns as to how it might impact on their funding.”

Mr Kerins is adamant that had some of the conservation groups taken a stand then, it could have prevented the fast tracking of plans for the Discovery Centre, and have long preceded the Department of Housing’s recent report, raising alarm as to the possible damage such a development could have.

It is, he feels, all too similar to the experience in the early 1980’s, when Dublin Corporation put down concrete fence posts to close off parts of the Alder Marsh for St Anne’s Golf Club. And Mr Kerins feels, here DCC is now in 2024 making the same mistakes.

“It is also of great concern how underdeveloped the perspectives on biodiversity are among those who have responsibility and influence in the area including councillors, public officials and others and that no one could see in advance how damaging building a Discovery Centre on the Island would be. It is very sad how this issue has been allowed to get to this stage in the middle of a full-blown biodiversity emergency 40 years on from the last one!”

He acknowledged the work of a small number of other conservationists, among them Sean Byrne who also contributed to the debate. So what now for the proposed Discovery Centre given the negative feedback from the Department of Housing?

Elected members of DCC were given the Chief Executive’s Report on January 10 last, along with the report from the Dept of Housing. Councillors will discuss and decide by resolution on February 12 next, as to whether to approve the project, or approve subject to such modifications as they consider appropriate, the local authority Climate Action Plan. If approved, the Council will have 30 days to publish the final plan which will be in effect for five years.

In response to Gazette enquiries, a spokesperson for DCC stated: “Dublin City Council works closely with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage on a range of nature conservation initiatives and we will be communicating with them to make sure that all of their team are up to date on the rationale, value and benefit of a new centre to replace the existing Visitor and Interpretive Centre which is no longer fit for purpose.”

But for Anto Kerins and Sean Byrne, DCC’s history of managing the Bull Island Reserve does not inspire confidence.

DCC, claims Mr Kerins manage, and have managed the nature reserve more as a visitor destination and leisure space. “It has ignored its responsibilities under the EU’s 2030 Biodiversity Strategy by proposing to build on a green space, along with ignoring the Government’s Biodiversity Plan which requires it to manage it at a high level.”

He and Mr Byrne call on DCC councillors to rescind the proposal. “If Bull Island Nature Reserve was treated with a ‘Rights of Nature’ approach rather than as a property of the local authority, it would mean that its natural communities and ecosystems have themselves an independent and inalienable right to exist and flourish.”

*Anto Kerins is a conservationist, educationalist and writer. As former chairperson of the Bull Island
Conservation Group (with An Taisce, Dublin Naturalists’ Field Club, Irish Wildbird Conservancy, Irish Wildlife
Federation & North Dublin Wildlife Group representatives) he helped resolve a number of issues on Bull Island
with Dublin Corporation in the 1980’s one of which was to give parts of the Alder Marsh to St Anne’s Golf Club.
He was part of the stakeholders group for DCC’s Biosphere Education & Communication Strategy and set up two
swift projects. Previously he was a member of An Taisce’s Natural Environment Committee. He recently set up a 40m Footpath Garden in the local community.

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