Merlin Park Woods Heritage Conservation and Woodland Coppicing Research 2017

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The Habitat Mapping and Biodiversity Action Plan project sets out to map 1,750 hectares, taking in the Nephin Mountain range and the Corraun peninsula.  The landscape ranges from uplands to coastal areas, mature woodlands and wetlands. The Mulranney Environmental Group is hoping that the area will become a place for high nature value farming.  

Sometimes described as the green lung of the city, Merlin Park Woods on the eastern side of Galway City is the largest and oldest urban woodland in the city.  The community group, Friends of Merlin Park is actively campaigning to generate greater interest and understanding of the rich biodiversity of what is the city’s least used park.

The Heritage Council’s 2017 grant will allow the community group to hold workshops in woodland coppicing and stone wall restoration. “Because the woods haven’t been managed and have been left alone to flourish, they have good biodiversity already,” says Caroline Stanley, spokesperson for Friends of Merlin Park.

Nineteen butterfly species, five bat species, red squirrels and short-eared owls have all been identified in Merlin Park Woods in recent times.   The woods, which surround the Merlin Park Hospital on three sides, are owned by Galway City Council and the HSE.  Currently designated as an amenity/recreation zone, the area has been under threat of residential and road developments in recent years. 

When you consider that there is a residential population of about 30,000 closeby, developing clear signage, walking and cycling trails and picnic spots seem like the most natural thing to do. 

However, Friends of Merlin Park appear to be one of the few groups keen to develop its potential.   “It all started with clearing litter and recording species. Our aim has always been to make these woods famous,” says Stanley, who is always on hand to offer visitors guided walks through the mature deciduous woodlands and meadows adjacent to the old Dublin road in Galway.

The Facebook page of Friends of Merlin Woods also contains information about the history of the woodlands, including its origins as a country estate, owned by the Blake family. The remains of a 15th century castle is in the woods but the country house itself was demolished before Merlin Park Hospital was built in its grounds. 

The current Heritage Council funded workshops will teach people the basics of woodland coppicing and dry stone wall restoration.   “With the woodland coppicing, we want to pick certain areas to coppice hazel so that there will be more space for holly trees and ground level woodland plants such as viola,” explains Stanley. “Merlin Park Woods have already been identified as one of the top sites for butterflies but we’d like to attract more Marsh Fritillary whose habitats are under threat,” she adds.

 As well as their educational workshops, the Friends of Merlin Woods see themselves as a voice for the community.  “We put up information on stolen bikes, lost dogs as well as information about species.  People also get to know each other at the workshops which give us a wider reach,” says Stanley.

“People are now proud of Merlin Park Woods and are taking ownership of it,” says Stanley, who believes this “green lung” will be all the more important as population growth continues in this part of Galway City.