Last Saturday, the Irish Wildlife Trust had a guided tour around Beaumont Quarry and proposed a number of activities for the site. Their executive summary of proposals is outlined below. It all seems very exciting.
The submission proposes that Beaumont Quarry, Ballintemple, Cork, is retained and managed for recreation and wildlife. Beaumont Quarry is unique in that it offers a site of geological, botanical and zoological interest within the confines of a city. The site is also of historical significance as its limestone was used to construct many of the city’s finest structures including St. Finbarr’s Cathedral, Cork Savings Bank, Court House and the Berwick Fountain. The existing site is currently of recreational value to local communities and is aesthetically scenic.
The quarry has been unmanaged and left in its natural state since its closure in the 1960s and this has resulted in a rich biodiversity. The proposals for the future use of Beaumont Quarry by the Irish Wildlife Trust Cork Branch are innovative. The recommendation of the IWT to jointly work with the City Council and local communities to conserve and enhance Beaumont Quarry is the first such proposal in Ireland.
The Cork Branch of the Irish Wildlife Trust believes that the uniqueness of Beaumont Quarry to the city and the fact that it would be the first such site to be managed in this manner makes the proposals for alternative use of Beaumont Quarry worthy of consideration. The site is currently used by local communities as a recreation area; lone walkers and dog walkers use the site on a daily basis as do local children, teenagers and young adults while the quarry’s cliff faces are also used by climbing clubs. The existing habitats and flora and fauna within Beaumont Quarry are also important to the area’s primary and secondary schools for educational field trips. The IWT’s Cork Branch is not proposing a change of use but rather to retain, protect and use a natural resource in a meaningful way that will continue to benefit local communities and the local ecology.
The IWT’s Cork Branch proposals have gained the support of local communities, An Taisce Corcaigh, the Cork Environmental Forum and academics and a great amount of interest has been shown by these individuals and organisations in the site and the richness of its natural
• The dry and wet calcareous grassland found within Beaumont Quarry represents a good example of this habitat and it is unusual to have such a habitat within a city suburb. This habitat was once widespread across the limestone regions of Ireland but, due to changes in farming practices and land development, it is now increasingly scarce and under threat; hence its inclusion in Annex 1 of the EU Habitats Directive. Part of the dry calcareous grassland and all of the wet calcareous grassland would be lost if the existing plans for landfill on the site were to proceed.
• The site has a diverse range of fauna and flora including some scarce species such as little robin, a plant that has a limited and disjunct distribution along Ireland’s southern coast, with records from Skibbereen (1 site), Cork City (9 sites) and Dungarvan (1 site) (O’Mahony 2009). Any of its Cork City sites thus represent a significant proportion of the Irish population and are of considerable conservation interest. The little robin is also identified as a plant requiring conservation in the Cork City Council Biodiversity Action Plan.
• Two nationally scarce plant species occur within the site: pale flax (44 10km squares) and common toadflax (18 10km squares) (Preston, Pearman and Dines 2002). Additionally, other species such as great burnet-saxifrage are of restricted distribution within Ireland.
• The potential for bat roosting in the site’s caves is high given that three bat species have been recorded on the site and others are expected to occur occasionally. The presence of these indicates the importance of the site for bats in the city.
The IWT’s Cork Branch is recommending that the site is maintained in the following ways to both encourage and facilitate accessibility and to protect the natural environment of the site. Management would be achieved by a phased process.
• Adopting regular volunteer clean-ups of the site to prevent/remove litter
• Improving the overall safety of the area for all users
• The installation of safety grilles at the entrances to certain of the quarry’s caves
• The provision of a picnic and site information area close to the main entrance of the quarry
• The design and construction of safe trails within the quarry including access for pushchairs and wheelchairs
• Improving on-site habitats mainly by removing invasive plant species e.g. Japanese knotweed and winter heliotrope but also by providing a pond and boardwalk to increase the site’s biodiversity. The pond would be an added feature for visitors and would be especially important to schools for nature studies.
• Facilitating educational use of the quarry by schools. The Irish Wildlife Trust would provide a resource pack to schools and community groups on request and would also provide on-site talks, guided walks and nature appreciation activities to interested parties.
Beaumont Quarry should be retained, protected and developed for the use of local schools for educational field trips in natural history and for the wider public with interests in science and nature.
The current lack of public open spaces and town parks in Cork City should also act as an incentive to protect and develop Beaumont Quarry as a public amenity area for a range of activities including walking, climbing and caving, relaxation and nature appreciation/education.
Beaumont Quarry could also be included in any devised tourist walks which link together sites of natural, historical and cultural significance within the city.