John Drinane strides through the Ward River Valley Park in Swords with a litter picker.
He starts to rake through a large mound of mulched leaves, revealing a squashed Lucozade bottle, an old blue rope, crisp packets.
“Look there are layers of plastic,” says Drinane, dressed in jeans and a green baseball cap. “It is built up for years.”
Council staff sweep up the leaves and the rubbish along with them, and dumps it all together in a pile in the park, he says.
Nearby, he picks up a large metal brush. “That is a road sweeper brush,” he says. “Nobody put that here but the council.”
Fingal County Council didn’t directly answer questions about the rubbish in the mulch.
Some of that rubbish could easily end up in the nearby river, says Drinane, and it’s indicative of a wider issue with rubbish and illegal dumping in the Ward River Valley Park.
A spokesperson for Fingal County Council says the council is trying to tackle the illegal dumping but that it needs locals to supply information about who is doing it.
Drinane says the council could be more proactive by improving signage and staffing of the park and removing large items of waste more quickly.
Tracking the Waste Trail
Drinane started collecting litter at the Broadmeadow Estuary, a coastal nature reserve near Swords, around 2005.
It was his weekend hobby to collect plastic waste to stop it going out to sea, he says.
Then he started tracing the rubbish backwards to look for the source.
He tracked it along the Broadmeadow River to where it meets the Ward River and then he followed the trail of rubbish to his local park, he says.
He started cleaning the park then and got a nickname locally, the “Litter King”, he says laughing.
Drinane loves the Ward River Valley Park, he says, and how it is wilder and less manicured than many others. “The wildlife is incredible. It is a fantastic biosphere.”
But he has been pleading with Fingal County Council to do more about the illegal dumping and litter in the park since around around 2008, he says.
A spokesperson for Fingal County Council says the council is doing its best.
“Ward River Valley Park is attended every day by a member of the mobile ranger service,” she says. “It is litter picked daily by council, with bins emptied daily.”
The terrain of the park is difficult in parts because it is in a valley and overgrown and the council has hired contractors at times to go into harder-to-reach parts, said the spokesperson.
Strewn and Stuck
On a recent Thursday from the entrance near the Swords Manor Playground in the Ward River Valley Park and down towards the river, there are bags of rubbish stuck in the briars on the side of a hill.
In the river itself there is a lawn mower. There are no signs asking people not to litter or to deter illegal dumping.
The Swords Pickers clean-up group are happy to pick up the rubbish, says Drinane. But they need the council to support them by clearing large and hard-to-reach items.
One problem, he says, is that the council doesn’t have in-house staff trained to retrieve items from the park that are often dumped on sloped, wooded areas and in ravines.
They have to get specialist contractors in and that takes time, he says. “It is their park, they should have a team ready to keep it right.”
Drinane says the sloped and rugged terrain does make it harder to keep clean than other parks. But “they are not even trying”.
The council’s lack of interest in the park is demonstrated by the fact that there is no fencing, signage or gated entrances in many parts, says Drinane.
Drinane wants to see signage encouraging walkers to bring away a couple of pieces of litter with them too, he says.
“The messaging on the signage is key, it needs to be a positive message,” he says. “About how we love the park and we are going to keep it tidy.”
A Fingal council spokesperson didn’t respond directly to questions about whether those improvements could impact on the way the park is treated.
Drinane says there used to be full-time maintenance staff but there aren’t anymore.
On his daily walks, he and others in the Swords Pickers group never meet any council staff, he says.
The Fingal council spokesperson didn’t respond directly to questions about the budget for that park compared to others, or the number of staff assigned to it.
Drinane says the council doesn’t treat the Ward River Valley Park the same way as other major parks in the area, like Malahide Castle and Gardens.
At one stage there were three burned-out cars in the park, which were visible from the playing pitches.
He believes that, once reported, that kind of situation would have been quickly remedied in any other park in Dublin.
He wrote to the council in March 2020 about the cars and again in May 2020. In May he provided images and GPSlocations for the burned-out cars, aletter shows.
In July 2020 the council staff emailed to say that they had removed the cars. But they didn’t clear some large items of rubbish, including metal and car parts, says Drinane.
He emailed them in August and again in September to ask them to come back for the large car parts and metal objects that they failed to remove, an email chain shows.
Because the items were not cleared quickly, they ended up spread around the park, says Drinane. He wrote about those items again in February 2021, emails show.
“What is the latest position on your plans to remove all this debris?” wrote Drinane.
Eventually the council contractors came back and removed the remaining items, he says.
The spokesperson for Fingal Council didn’t respond directly to questions about why it took so long to remove the cars and parts.
“Mr Drinane’s inquiries in relation to the maintenance of Ward River Valley Park have been the subject of numerous items of correspondence over a period of time,” says the council spokesperson. “All of which have been responded to, in considerable detail.”
In March, Drinane lodged acomplaint with Fingal County Council about its management of the park.
He said that the rubbish dumped in the park is making its way into the Ward River, and from there to the Broadmeadow Estuary, a Special Area of Conservation, and then out to sea.
“When I go for a walk in the area around Lissenhall and along the north shore of the Broadmeadow Estuary, I am repeatedly reminded of the Council’s lack of action,” he wrote. “Plastic litter is thrown up by every high tide and stretches along the shoreline.”
Fingal County Council staff wrote back saying that the park is a success and is well-used.
They are interested in maintaining it, but “our role is hampered by the poor behaviour of some members of the community”, says the letter.
The letter reiterates several times that the council are reliant on tip-offs from locals to catch people who are dumping illegally in the park.
“The support, assistance and hard work from the dedicated volunteers who … are active within the community and collect litter in the park on a weekly basis is greatly appreciated by the council,” says the letter.