A row has broken out over the erection of artwork honouring Nelson Mandela at an historic Liverpool park over its impact on wildlife.
Later this month, a permanent memorial will be unveiled at Princes Park in Toxteth to commemorate the life and work of the former South African premier. The artwork has been commissioned by the Mandela8 organisation and is to be situated on a man-made island in the grade II listed green space.
However, with work now underway on a bridge connecting the island to the rest of the park across its lake, concerns have been raised about the impact of the installation on wildlife.
The artwork has sought to be thematically linked to Mandela’s imprisonment on Robben Island, with the bridge – which had previously been in place at the park – symbolising his work to “build bridges, connecting people and breaking down barriers.”
There are 32 cylindrical pillars for seating, representing how Mandela used 16 oil drums cut in half to cultivate 32 planters to make his gardens in prison.
While not seeking to have the artwork removed, campaigners have launched a petition to have it relocated “to protect the local wildlife who live at the intended location.” In an online petition, which has garnered almost 1,500 signatures, it was said “construction on the island is one thing, but the continued access to it by the public raises even more concerns.”
The petition said: “The development of the artwork on the island will cause great disturbance to the animals currently living there, this is their only safe space away from people and dogs in the entire park, a place where they can safely sleep, build nests, and care for their young. The unexpected arrival of workers and machinery will cause them great stress and may force many to leave their home.
“While this is evidently harmful whatever their age, there are currently a lot of recently born chicks on and around the island who may struggle to survive elsewhere or be more vulnerable to attack without the protection the sanctuary of the island offers.
Campaigners said relocating the artwork would be “to the detriment of no people at all” and called for work on the bridge to stop.
A series of posters have been affixed to a sign near the island reading: “Work has now started by Liverpool Council to turn the island sanctuary in the middle of this lake into a tacky theme park. This will involve the construction of a bridge from the banks of the lake of the island, allowing anyone free access to the island, to disturb the wildlife, have fires, barbecues etc.”
The posters claim Nelson Mandela “would have been appalled at this act of sheer vanity and vandalism” and locating the memorial is “desecrating” an area where wildlife is left in peace. They added: “Please shame the powers that be into rethinking this crazy scheme.”
Among the supporters of the project are former cabinet member and Dingle ward councillor Steve Munby. On Facebook, he defended the work going on.
He said, “This has been planned for over six years and has been through extensive public consultation including securing planning permission. Due to the pandemic, work has been delayed for several years and recently opposition has been expressed to the project, arguing that the bridge threatens wildlife on the island and is a ‘vanity project.’”
He added, “The memorial on the island is envisaged as a space for education and reflection for local young people. The Mandela Family have been involved at all stages of the project, visited Liverpool on several occasions and approved the vision and plans.”
The former cabinet member said cities “rely on give and take” and the work done to upgrade and restore the park “should benefit everyone.” He said: “I think the opposition to the Mandela 8 project and the attempt to bar access to the island is misconceived, reflects ignorance of the history and a threat to the necessary compromises we need to live together in a city.”