Dublin City Council is moving forward with its proposal for a biodiversity education centre on wild and derelict land just outside Chapelizod.

The centre, which would be named Cois Abhann, would be in an old Georgian house, renovated with a new classroom, and a café and toilets.

Visitors could learn about threats to biodiversity, and explore winding paths around the grounds and a managed wilderness backing onto the River Liffey.

“Cois Abhann will demonstrate how human hands can considerately manage the once manicured area of Liffey Vale, guiding nature to follow its natural course to establish and welcome diverse habitats and species,” says the council’s proposal.

Once it gets the full go-ahead, the council hopes to go to tender for the project later this year, said Donncha Ó Dúlaing, who works in the council’s parks department, at a meeting of the council’s South Central Area Committee last Wednesday.

It would cost about €3.8 million, the proposal shows. Construction, if all goes to plan, would begin in early 2023 and take a year.

The next step is for the council to go through what’s known as the Part 8 planning process, which involves asking the public for feedback, and the councillors for approval.

Managed Wilderness

Over a wall from Chapelizod Road, the roof of Liffey Vale House, a derelict Georgian structure, is just visible. A leafy overgrown slope stretches from the house to the river’s edge.

The land for Cois Abhann has been derelict for more than 20 years and the Liffey Vale House gutted from vandalism and a fire, said Ó Dúlaing.

The council has protected the house now, he says. “But it lost its roof and all of its internal features at different stages as well.”

Alder, ash and elder saplings have self-seeded and bramble thickets spread in the orchard and gardens, says the council’s proposal.

Near the water, mature willows have split, fallen and regrown. Bats, birds and frogs have moved in, as have garden flowers like laurel, buddleia and snowberry – and invasive species, like Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam.

The idea isn’t simple to stand back and let nature take its course, says the council’s proposal. It would put in paved areas and wildlife-friendly plants through the orchard along Chapelizod Road, and the higher land to the east.

A path would run from Liffey Valley Park, through the orchard and into the centre, it says. (That’s thanks to the Department of Defence, which transferred some lands to the council.)

But an area to the west and all along the river’s edge would be mostly allowed to grow wild, Ó Dúlaing said. Water would run through the site to separate the wilderness from the garden trails, with small observation jettys.

People could explore the area over bridges and around a looped path but couldn’t trample through the wilderness area, said Ó Dúlaing. “Managed wildness,” he said.

Artist’s rendition of the Cois Abhann from Dublin City Council report.
Map of Cois Abhann from Dublin City Council report.

Spreading the Word

“With biodiversity being lost at a dramatic rate, there is a need to educate and empower people to take action for the protection of nature,” says the council’s proposal.

At the council committee meeting, Ó Dúlaing said that the council hopes that Liffey Vale House will host an organisation that would teach people about the environment.

There could be training courses, workshops, and tours of the grounds. The council is talking to different possible partners for that, he said.

Daithí Doolan, a Sinn Féin councillor, said the centre could further efforts to tackle the climate crisis. It would be practical and enjoyable, he said.

“What I like about it is it’s very, very integrated,” Doolan said. “It’s about education, biodiversity, work experience, and bringing people in to learn about nature as well.”

Local youth centres should be linked in, he said.

Ó Dúlaing said youth centres would be central to the education at the centre. And “not just in education, but in training, and also with regard to the kind of qualifications as well, that people could gain here”.

The construction work, scheduled to start in early 2023, would involve restoring Liffey Vale House, which would have “green” roofs, he said.

It would also mean building the classroom, café and toilets, laying out the grounds – with sustainable urban drainage a part of it – and rewilding some areas, he said.

Feedback so far from the community, landowners, and the Office of Public Works has been really positive, he said. “There’s been no issues raised.”

Hazel de Nortúin, a People Before Profit councillor, said that local residents are happy about the centre. “I can’t wait to see it when it’s completed.”

Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at claudia@dublininquirer.com.

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