The Oscar Merne Hide
Right on the doorstep of Ireland’s second largest town, Dundalk, with its hustle and bustle, shopping centres and industry, lies one of Ireland’s premier birdwatching sites.
Dundalk Bay, an expanse of rich mud flats scoured by wind and rain from the Irish Sea provides a winter home for upwards of 60,000 wading birds each year.
The Bay is a place of profound and wild solitude pervaded by a silence that is broken only by the swirling, trilling flocks of golden plovers, knots and dunlin and is largely ignored by the 38,000 people who live on its shores.
But for the last 40 years volunteers have braved the elements for hours counting the birds as part of the IWeBS survey. One of the leading members of this group was Oscar Merne, who sadly died last year and is much missed, and one of his favourite haunts was the coast near the old council waste water treatment works at Lurgangreen on the Old Dublin Road.
Indeed Oscar was responsible for the original descriptions and designations of this coast in his role as chief scientific officer for NWPS.
The need for a hide at the site had been identified by Oscar and the local BirdWatch Ireland Group many years ago and finally with the advent of the cross border Action for Biodiversity (AfB) project, which is part funded by the European Union’s INTERREG IVA crossborder programme, the dreams looked like they may come true.
The provision of the hide met targets in two of the regional themes of Action for Biodiversity: “Wonderful Wetlands” and “Connecting People to Nature”, and the AfB project officer worked closely with the heritage officer and the water services department of Louth County Council as well as with the local BWI group, the Louth Nature Trust and the Blackrock tidy towns group.
The waste water treatment works were being handed over to the new Irish Water company and the opportunity was taken to hive off a small area inside the site for the hide.
This was fenced for security and designated as probably the smallest town park ever. We thank Louth County Council for providing this facility. The plans for the hide were drawn up by technical officers within the council saving on architect’s fees and follow a design for a hide which was developed on the nearby Navvy Bank a couple of years ago (these drawings will be freely available if anyone wants to use them).
The hide is built of two recycled lorry/ shipping containers placed one on top of the other with a set of metal stairs leading to the top one, which is lined and has viewing windows cut in it. The lower container will be used for storage of low value materials etc.
Members of BirdWatch Ireland’s local group were consulted at all stages on such small but important details as height of windows, depth of the lazy warden shelf and, of course, orientation of the hide.
The hide itself was built by a local coachworks company who more usually carry out conversions of hearses but who rose mightily to the occasion, coping incredibly well with procurement issues and working to a tight deadline.
The local BWI group is now working on the final snag list, fixing minor leaks etc and putting up bird feeders nearby and it is also hoped that bird ringers will be able to erect mist nets in the “park”. The hide will be formally opened shortly and will be named in honour late and much lamented Oscar Merne.
Although the hide will be open to all, due to security considerations, keys will be held by and will need to be returned to, the local BWI group, the Tidy Towns Group at Blackrock or the county heritage officer. Keys are also available against a small deposit at the nearby Stage Coach Café. 24 April 2014