Wild Nephin’ launched on former commercial forest land

Support from Irish Prime Minister, EU President

Irish Prime Minister, Enda Kenny TD, at Wild NephinIrish Prime Minister, Enda Kenny TD, at Wild Nephin

11,000 hectares of former commercial forest, blanket bog and grassland has been inaugurated and acclaimed as Ireland’s first area subscribing to key principles of wilderness.

Hailed as a major initiative by the Irish Prime Minster, Enda Kenny TD, who held office in 2013 as EU President, Wild Nephin is set in spectacular landscape in the North West.

It is unveiled at a time when new sites for wild nature are being assessed and created across Europe, including restoration or ‘rewilding’ of former forestry and farmland which is often unviable for commercial production. The economic and social benefits of wildness for local communities can provide an additional motive.

15 years restoring wild biodiversity

Return of the golden plover (Photo credit: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen)Return of the golden plover (Photo credit: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen) ...and the red squirrel…and the red squirrel Icon of Atlantic wilderness – the white tailed eagle (Photo credit: Yathin S Krishnappa)Icon of Atlantic wilderness – the white tailed eagle (Photo credit: Yathin S Krishnappa) Bill Murphy – a visionary in his elementBill Murphy – a visionary in his element

This initiative is the vision of Bill Murphy of Coillte, Ireland’s forestry agency, together with Denis Strong of neighbouring Ballycroy National Park – with both organizations contributing their landholdings. The Mayo County local authority brings a third element, regional development planning, to the partnership.

Following a 15 year restoration period during which the plantation forest will be remodelled with native pine and deciduous trees, drainage channels blocked, invasive rhododendron cleared and infrastructure removed, there will be no further human interventions – leaving the landscape governed entirely by natural processes.

There are plans to reintroduce species such as golden plover, merlin and red squirrel, and real possibilities for attracting white-tailed sea eagle – already nesting further down Ireland’s Atlantic coastline – and perhaps osprey.

In place of traditional timber production, facing long-term decline in a relatively remote location, will be carefully targeted tourism projects that build on the popularity of Westport and surrounding villages as a destination. Nephin is to be promoted as Ireland’s first wilderness.

A significant model for Europe

Wild Nephin has a number of aspects that make it a model for replication elsewhere:

  • The conversion of a less productive part of Coillte’s commercial plantations from timber production to biodiversity restoration, non-intervention management and nature tourism provides an attractive example for forestry agencies elsewhere in Europe
  • Use of socio-economic appraisal to underpin this initiative, with earnings and employment from tourism and ancillary activities outweighing income from forestry under any reasonable scenario for future timber prices.
  • Close cooperation between key organizations with a long term planning framework that combines ecological restoration with tourism promotion and regional economic development.
  • Wild Nephin marks a key step in the advancement of wilderness concepts along with non intervention management practice.
  • Its creation in one of Europe’s most developed countries is paralleled by new initiatives in Austria, Slovakia, Romania and France.

Conference addresses a growing trend

The Wild Nephin initiative was unveiled at a Conference on 15th May 2013 in Westport, County Mayo which addressed restoration of large natural areas in a modified landscape.

Introduced by Bill Murphy with Denis Strong, the conference began with a personal message of support from Enda Kenny, Irish Prime Minister and European Union President in 2013.

The Conference brought together experts, representing national and international organisations, to share information and exchange ideas on current and possible future approaches to rewilding modified landscapes particularly former plantation forests and other impacted landscapes.

Chaired by Toby Aykroyd (Wild Europe) and Zoltan Kun (PANParks), it included contributions from:
Jensen Bessell, director of Baxter State NP in Maine
Micheal O’Briain, European Commission, DG Environment
Gerald Murphy, managing director of the Coillte forestry agency
John Fitzgerald, director National Parks and Wildlife Service
Ethna Murphy, Irish Tourist Board

More information

See Bill Murphy and Toby Aykroyd in Nephin video

Read Irish Times, Monday April 8th, 2013 Wild about Nephin Beg

Nephin’s panorama of forest, marsh and grassland stretches into the distanceNephin’s panorama of forest, marsh and grassland stretches into the distance