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It's life ... but not quite as we expected it

It was supposed to boost biodiversity -- instead, a council decision not to cut grass has sown only consternation among citizens.

The worthy attempt to increase the range of life forms in our public spaces involved a local authority letting the grass grow... and grow.

The theory is that such a strategy facilitates more animal, plant and other life forms, thereby increasing biodiversity.

But it's one particular life form that has sparked a frenzy of anxiety among residents -- rats.

They fear the vermin are breeding in tall grass in their parks.

One resident told the Herald that she saw a group of rats scurrying around a Fingal coastal area where grass hasn't been cut in months.



Breeding

"While walking between Malahide and Portmarnock, myself and my friend noticed large rats on the beach close to the path. Fingal never cut the grass here all summer and it is now an obvious breeding ground for vermin," she claimed.

"It is very worrying as lots of families frequent this area and Weil's disease can easily be picked up."

Local representatives agree the long grass a "most controversial issue" which has prompted a barrage of complaints from residents.

Cllr Peter Coyle (Lab) said: "I never had so many complaints against anything as I've had with the long grass in the 16 years that I've been in the council. It's one of the most controversial issues that I've had to deal with."

Cllr Alan Farrell (FG) stressed that there may be a need for the council to use some form of vermin control in the long grass.

And the councillor also pointed out that the long grass is encouraging for a vicious type of mosquito which is already prevalent in areas like Malahide.

"There's also a certain strain of mosquito which was brought here on foreign trees and it has a particularly virulent bite. There have been suggestions that the grass is a fairly good ground for them to congregate."

Mr Farrell says he is "keeping an eye on" Seabury, the largest housing estate in Malahide, in particular since it has a high volume of people close to the long grass.

A complaint was made to Cllr Kieran Dennison (FG) by a Residents' Association which said that one resident had a cat which brought her baby rats, having found a nest in the long grass.

He added: "If there's dumping in the long grass it could certainly attract vermin, especially if there is food in the long grass."

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Fingal County Council said the Growing Places project will not provide additional breeding habitats for rats.

"It would be highly unlikely that rodents would nest in open ground, even if it is sheltered with long grass, as regular disturbances from people, dogs, etc would not feel safe for the animal to nest in."

She added: "It is important that people, particularly children, using public open spaces such as beaches, parks, meadows, etc, dispose of their litter properly, as dropped litter or food may encourage vermin."

Fingal County Council will "comprehensively review" the implementation of the Growing Places scheme this autumn, following the completion of the first cycle of maintenance.

hnews@herald.ie