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GREEN HERITAGE: An aerial view of Corrin Hill when the Fermoy bypass was under construction in 2006.
GREEN HERITAGE: An aerial view of Corrin Hill when the Fermoy bypass was under construction in 2006.
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John Arnold: Six-year dream is realised as hill nature reserve set to open

IF you travelled the ‘old’ road from Cork to Dublin, you’ll know Corrin Hill. It rises more than 700ft to its summit, which commands a grand view over countryside for miles all around.

After passing through Watergrasshill on the way to Rathcormac, Corrin appears on the distant horizon, looming tall and stately as it stands guard over the town of Fermoy.

It’s a mythical, even mystical Hill and often a misty one too. Over the years we might be heading to ‘town’ in Fermoy and the sun splitting the stones at home. Yet when we’d get to shrouded and misty Corrin ’twould be like a different world at the Fermoy side of the hill.

The reverse is also true. You could leave Fermoy in lashing rain — pass by Corrin and the blue skies would be ahead. It’s probably something to do with atmospheric pressure or something like that, whereby low, rain-bearing clouds pass by and when they hit Corrin they dump their load.

Corrin Hill is a storied and historic place. Experts say people lived here 3,000 years ago, in the Bronze age. Hills and high places gave a great view, were easy enough to defend, and provided protection from wild strangers and wild beasts.

The Hill itself is forested with years but paths zigzag over and back across the hillside right up to the summit. A huge cross adorns the top — often lit up at Christmas, New Year and at other times of celebration.

Fermoy Golf Club is at the ‘back’ of Corrin — a beautiful but testing course, as I can vouch for having taken a very long afternoon to get around it a few years ago.

On the southern slope of Corrin Hill is the Corrin Nature Reserve. This is a hidden gem of an amenity which is a wonder to behold.

When Rathcormac Gun Club was formed back in 1971, no-one could envisage that its successor nearly half a century later could create such a unique site. Most people would presume that Gun Club members simply went out and shot pheasant, duck — maybe rabbits and foxes or maybe crop-damaging wild birds like crows and pigeons. That’s what I’d have thought also. Not the members of the Rathcormac Game and Wildlife Club, which was so named in 2007.

Yes, they enjoyed the sport of shooting but they had a far-reaching vision. They understood that a balance had to be struck between the practise of shooting birds and animals and their preservation.

John Howard told me that with changing farming and land use patterns, the habitat where so many ‘wild’ species live and breed was fast disappearing.

“We knew that if things didn’t change, this area — and much of Ireland — would be devoid of much of the flora and fauna that were always part of our natural heritage, we decided to do something to stop this decline.”

Think about it — the cuckoo, corncrake, water-hen and curlew were almost gone save in a few places. Also declining were so many wild birds and native flowers and plants. Nature is finely balanced and one change can have many side effects.

Long ago, ’twas all hay on farms, cut in July and August long after the corncrakes had hatched out their young chicks in grass meadows. Then came the big push for silage from the 1970s onwards. Cutting commenced in May and the corncrake nests were destroyed.

Other factors like the increasing use of poisons and sprays and herbicides had hugely detrimental effects on wild plants and flowers. In turn these were food sources for flies, butterflies, mice, voles and many other wild creatures. When the food supply went, so did the different species.

In 2011, the Rathcormac G&W Club took the brave decision to buy six acres of marginal land at Corrin and maintain it in a semi-wild and semi-natural way. They borrowed, begged and fund-raised for the funds to bring their dream to fruition.

This week, I spoke to some of the people who ‘had a dream’ and made it a reality. They readily admitted that if they knew eight years ago that it would take more than €200,000 to create the Corrin Nature Reserve, they’d have shook their heads in disbelief!

They got financial help from the Avondhu-Blackwater Development and the Rathcormac Car Boot Sale Committee, but undertook a massive fund-raising campaign also.

Work on the site commenced in 2013 and this Saturday (September 14) at 3pm, the Reserve will be declared officially open.

Over the last six years, a magnificent amenity and beautiful haven of tranquillity has been created. Much of the work has been completed by workers on a FAS Community Employment Scheme, along with the club’s own members. Their remit has been to create an environment where species like mallard duck and water hens co-exist.

The reintroduction of the endangered Grey Partridge is a major part of the plans for Corrin. This bird is teetering on the brink of extinction but hopefully can be prevented from going the way of the dodo.

Not just here at the jewel that is the nature Reserve at Corrin have members of the club been busy. They saw the barn owl too has declined rapidly in numbers. The use of rodenticide and lack of suitable nesting habitat have put increasing pressure on the owl — most people have never seen one in real life, only on the introduction to The Late Late Show!

Seven years ago, owl nesting/breeding boxes were erected all over the area. This year, for the first time, a breeding pair of owls set up ‘home’ in one of these and three owl chicks have survived to maturity.

It’s just one small good news story that gives encouragement to those who love wildlife and our environment.

Coillte have been very helpful with the Corrin project. They have allowed use of their existing car park and then given access to the Reserve via a 250 metre walk in the woods.

Just as summer has faded into autumn, the Corrin Nature Reserve is simply a riot of colour. As well as flowers and shrubs, special game crops are planted which provide winter food supplies for finches, pigeons, song birds and four-legged creatures also.

I’ve stood alone in the reserve — you think it’s silent, but listen... and you’ll hear the buzzing and flapping of bees, moths, butterflies, wrens, robins and blackbirds. The wildflower meadow still carries many of its beautiful blooms which are nice to look at, aromatic and reminiscent of the days of making hay in the fields when we were young.

In the winter, when the trees are bare, if you look across the valley you’ll see the busy, busy Cork to Dublin Motorway. Not far away either is the old Main Road but in the Reserve you forget all these trappings of modern day hustle and bustle.

In the Corrin Nature Reserve, one is basking in a vale of tranquillity and beauty. It’s so, so peaceful and in harmony with nature and the soil and water and everything natural.

There is no admission charge but of course donations towards upkeep are always welcome.

The members of the Rathcormac Game and Wildlife Club have done a huge service to biodiversity in this county. They deserve our thanks and support. A cead mile fáilte is extended to one and all to come along to the side of storied Corrin Hill on Saturday (Sept 14) afternoon and just wander around and ponder on the beauty of a special place.