Mid Ulster District Council has rejected claims that it destroyed a mature wetland when they moved to improve safety at the ponds in Magherafelt’s Polepatrick Park last month following complaints from some park users.
But other users described the pond as “a haven for wildlife” and the draining the ponds had resulted in a pollution incident.
“The actions taken have disturbed breeding birds – moorhens have bred on these ponds for many years and herons are often seen,” said one angry ratepayer, who asked not to be named. “These ponds may be home to populations of newts, a protected species.
“I have contacted the Council to ask if a newt survey was undertaken but to date have received no response, so it’s fair to assume no survey has taken place,” she continued. “Every spring the ponds host spawning frogs and is home to many other species of invertebrate and aquatic plant. In addition the Council have been felling trees during the bird breeding season, an offence under the Wildlife Order.
“The ponds have been now dredged with organic material deposited in other areas of the park – the resident aquatic invertebrates were given no chance to escape and find refuge.
“As a park user for over 10 years I can state that this action was not necessary for public safety, it is quite clear where the ponds begin and the presence of some duckweed does not give the perception of solid ground. I as a regular park user have never felt unsafe and have never witnessed children, or others at risk.”
A Council spokesperson said: “Pond levels were reduced to facilitate works. A method of sustainable drainage filtration was applied where the water was discharged to multiple locations throughout the meadow grass/woodland areas so it could percolate through the ground to lower pond levels thereby minimising the impact to any pond habitat or biodiversity.
“NIEA Water Quality staff and the Council’s Biodiversity Officer were on site and good practices were agreed. There are no historic records of newts in Polepatrick. ‘Low thinning’ works to trees was carried out, as part of ongoing tree management of the site and following a recent tree survey and site woodland assessment.
“This work was carried out by a competent, fully qualified Arborculturalist, who carried out a visual inspection of each tree for birds, nests and bats prior to felling with none evident. Polepatrick is a very important and valued local amenity and is maintained to a very high standard.”