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ISSN - 1649 - 5705 • SUMMER ‘18








•American mink •Common carder bee •Red squirrel RECORDING OUR WILDFLOWERS

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SECONDARY SCHOOL BIOLOGY FIELD TRIPS WITH THE IWT It is amazing what we can learn in our local nature reserve, park or even school grounds – all we have to do is get out in nature and have a look. This year the IWT is running a range of curriculumlinked school field trips tailored to Junior Cert, Transition Year and Leaving Cert. All field trips are led by an IWT scientist, can be run in a location convenient to your school and cover biology curriculum needs such as ‘study of a habitat’. For course information, pricing and booking contact us at or call 01 860 2839

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re once or sightings iviparous introduced

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If so then please contact us with your sighting. It will make a vital contribution to our National Reptile Survey.

This year we are once more calling for

Please send your sighting with the

sightings of our native

date, location and a photograph to

viviparous lizard and the

introduced slow worm.

or see for more details of how to get involved.

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Editor’s Comment

Cover credits: Common seal (photo: Mike Brown) American mink (photo: Pat Quinlan) Common carder (photo: John Hardiman) Red squirrel (photo: Colin Stanley) Contents page credits: Cow (AranLIFE); common carder bee (John Hardiman); seal (Bantry Bay Protect Our Native Kelp Forest); marsh cinquefoil (Maria Long); meadow thistle (Maria Long); American mink (Pat Quinlan); oil beetle (Liam Stenson); emperor dragonfly (Colin Stanley); albino common frog (Toby Edwards).

Pass it on. If you’re finished with your Irish Wildlife don’t throw it in the bin. Pass it on to someone who you think may enjoy it – or ask your local library or doctor’s office to leave it in the reception. You’ll help the environment and the IWT while you’re at it.

Editor: Sinéad Ní Bheoláin, IWT Published by Ashville Media Group

Printed on

All articles © 2018. No part of this publication including the images used may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the publisher. Opinions and comments expressed herein are not necessarily those of the publisher. While every effort has been made to ensure that all information contained in this publication is factual and correct at time of going to press, Ashville Media Group and the Irish Wildlife Trust cannot be held responsible for any inadvertent errors or omissions contained herein.

Please recycle this copy of Irish Wildlife

Our oceans are perhaps the most unexplored habitats on this planet. Although their depths may be out of our sight, our unsustainable lives have had a huge impact on them in many ways. At the bottom of the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench, 10.9km below the surface, a single use plastic bag was found at the beginning of May. However, we don’t need to travel that far from our shores to see the destruction done by plastic. If you follow the hashtag #retrorubbish on Twitter, you will discover the Superquinn bag that was found in March on a Dublin beach. How many more of these plastic bags have seals mistaken for jellyfish? Older items discovered are a crisps bag with the best before date of January 1986 or a washing up liquid bottle found in East Cork with pre-decimal pricing on it. We decimalised our currency on 15th February 1971. When we throw something away it doesn’t just go away, so we need to rethink what we use every day. The Irish Wildlife Trust made the decision to stop using a plastic sleeve on its magazine and to use a more eco-friendly paper envelope. This will cost us an extra 70 euro per print run, excluding VAT, but we hope you also believe it is worth it. Other litter found during beach cleans are ghost netting, rope, cords and gloves. These tell the tale of an industry that for centuries sustained coastal communities, but is in need of a radical sea change. The devastating impact of bottom trawling goes far beyond declining fish stocks and even beyond the destroyed seamounts and other fish homes, turning thriving habitats into large cleared areas. I write this knowing that we don’t fully understand the ways trawling has altered the marine ecosystem, but what we do know our current fishing industry creates a ‘boom and bust industry.’ Our fishing villages are some of the poorest communities in Ireland. Donegal has the lowest mean income in the country. If you visit the coast of Northern

Spain, you will come across many fishing ecomuseums. What if Ireland were to build just one, where would you build it? Before we answer that question, we need to lobby the government to ban trawling within six nautical miles of the coast. An important role of the Irish Wildlife Trust is to lobby for change at national level. The more members we have, the stronger our voice, but this time we are also asking you to write individual letters to Michael Creed, the Minister of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine. If you are worried about what to write, we have posted samples of letters on our website, The final date for submissions is the 11th of June. Get writing! We cannot see the damage we are doing underwater. This is not the case for our hedges and verges. Entering the Tidy Town of Knightsbridge, a visitor is welcomed by a sign claiming it is litter, gum and weed free! The mentality of lumping dandelions along with litter and gum has to be challenged. People need to understand that their gardens do not need to look like Wimbledon Centre Court. Green deserts do not help our bees, but let’s end on good news for them. The EU has banned the outdoor use of pesticides known as ‘neonicotinoids’. The Board of the IWT would like to thank Orla Ní Dhúill, who wrote about her fundraising efforts in the last issue. Orla got a tattoo with the great yellow bee and raised over €500 for our ‘People for Bees’ programme. Enjoy the read,

Sinéad Ní Bheoláin Edtior, Irish Wildlife

contriButors DR AMANDA BROWNE has been the Scientific & Technical Officer of the AranLIFE project since 2014 and has been responsible for developing the monitoring programme for assessing the effectiveness of the concrete actions of the project in improving the conservation status of the priority habitats. Prior to AranLIFE, she was a professional ecologist with 15 years experience working in the private sector. DR MARIA LONG works for the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) as the Irish Officer. She supports the network of over 40 vice-county botanical recorders, and works to

promote the hugely important role played in biological recording by the BSBI and its recorders. She also works as an independent ecologist and occasional lecturer, and is a specialist in molluscs (particularly the tiny Vertigo whorl snails).

DR PETE STROH is Scientific Officer with the BSBI, and provides support for Atlas 2020 and various aspects of the BSBI’s research and monitoring programme. He was also lead author on the England Red List. Pete has a detailed knowledge of the British and Irish flora, and has a particular interest in plant dispersal and establishment.

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Contents 4.

ABOUT US Discover more about the work of the IWT and how you can get involved.


CONSERVATION NEWS Sinéad Ní Bheoláin compiles the latest news from the conservation world and advises on how to ensure healthy flower growth.


IWT NEWS What we’ve been doing throughout the spring months.


EDUCATION Jenny Quinn tells us the differences between red and grey squirrels.


FIADHÚLRA Cíorann Seán Sheehan an cheist an cóir dúinn mamaigh choimhthíocha a ciondhíothú.


AROUND IRELAND Local nature news from our branches and beyond.


WILD IDEAS Dr Amanda Browne discusses the work of the AranLIFE project.


COMPETITION We’re offering our readers the opportunity to win some fantastic books.


FEATURE Dr Pete Stroh and Dr Maria Long discuss the Atlas 2020 project’s attempts to map the distribution of wildflowers.


EXPLORING WILDLIFE Gordan D’arcy sets out the importance of the defence of Lough Beg.


SUMMER FOCUS Billy Flynn encourages awareness of the use of insecticides.


FIELD REPORT William O’Connor writes of a hydroelectric scheme threatening the wildlife of the River Shannon.


OVER TO YOU A selection of photos and letters sent in by Irish Wildlife Trust members.


ON LOCATION Friends of Merlin Woods is campaigning to save Galway’s Merlin Park Woods and its surrounding habitats.

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About Us The Irish Wildlife Trust was founded in 1979 and aims to conserve wildlife and the habitats it depends on throughout Ireland, while encouraging a greater understanding and appreciation of the natural world.

IMAGES THIS PAGE: TOP: Common seal. Photo by: Mike Brown ABOVE: Lapwing. Photo by: A. Kelly

Have comments? Magazine queries, general wildlife questions or observations email: All other queries email: Phone: (01) 860 2839 Snail mail: The Irish Wildlife Trust, Sigmund Business Centre, 93A Lagan Road, Glasnevin, Dublin 11 Web: Social media:

The IWT is dedicated to creating a better future for Ireland’s wildlife through: Motivating and supporting people to take action for wildlife. Education and raising awareness of all aspects of Irish wildlife and conservation issues. Research of the natural environment. Acquiring and managing nature reserves to safeguard species and habitats. Lobbying decision-makers at all levels to promote policy in Ireland that provides a sustainable future for wildlife and people. Working in partnership with other organisations to achieve results that matter for conservation.

Irish Wildlife is published quarterly by the IWT.

The IWT encourages action at a local level and has a number of branches around the country: Dublin: Barbara, Trust, Waterford: Denis Cullen,,, irishwildlifetrust. Kerry: Pat, Sign up to their monthly newsletter! Galway: Lenny, Longford/Westmeath: Chris Martin, Facebook: search for ‘Longford/ Westmeath Irish Wildlife Trust Branch’ Laois/Offaly: Ricky,

New West Cork Branch Register your interest and your nearest town to

How can you help? You, our members, make the IWT what it is. Through your subscriptions and support we can undertake the projects that are benefiting Ireland’s wildlife. If you would like to help more, here’s what you can do: • Make a one-off donation to the IWT. • Give IWT membership as a gift. • Volunteer – we are always looking for people to help out in different ways. There are lots of ways to get involved, from work experience in specialist areas to getting your hands dirty at our sites or helping us increase membership at events. See our website for details or contact the office directly. • Do you have land that you would like

used for conservation? We are always on the lookout to establish new sites to enhance wildlife or provide education opportunities. • Remember us in your will. Why not leave a lasting legacy towards conserving Ireland’s natural heritage? The IWT uses all funds towards our campaigns, managing reserves and our education programmes. Please visit • Set up a branch. Are you passionate about wildlife and are in a county that does not have an IWT branch? Contact the office and we can give you the support you need to get up and running.

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 Corncrake.

Photo by: Rónán McLau


The latest national and international news from the conservation world. IRISH NEWS

Protect our Native Kelp Forest Campaign

By Eoghan Daltun


Bantry Bay

Kelp forests have been described as some of the most ecologically dynamic and biologically diverse habitats on the planet, and kelp itself can be considered a “keystone species”, i.e. a species which plays a pivotal role in an ecosystem. Not only does kelp provide vital nursery and feeding grounds while anchored to the seafloor, once detached and washed onto the shore, it is similarly important to a variety of different migratory bird and various insect species. In 2009, Bioatlantis Ltd. applied for a licence to industrially extract 1,860 acres of native kelp forest from Bantry Bay, and five years later the licence was issued. Local residents, and indeed Cork County Council, knew nothing of this licence, and the alarm was only raised when the excellent TV programme Eco Eye featured the issue. Since then, there has been a growing campaign among Bantry Bay residents, local inshore fishermen, and traditional sustainable seaweed harvesters to have the licence rescinded, at least until a proper

Environmental Impact Assessment can be carried out. Until now the government has entirely ignored the campaign; in fact, the licence was given its final go ahead just two days after an arranged meeting between campaign members and Junior Minister Damien English (who granted the licence), at which the minister failed to appear. Fortunately, the High Court recently approved a judicial review of the decision to grant the licence, effectively a reprieve. Although this means that there will be no mechanical “harvesting” of kelp in Bantry Bay in the immediate future, it is essential to understand that this is only the first of a multitude of similar planned projects to industrially extract seaweed all along the west coast of Ireland. At present, no less than seventeen other such applications have been lodged, and are on hold pending the final outcome of the Bantry Bay application. Please see the campaign website for more details: www.

The distinctive call of the endangered corncrake was heard during the last weekend of April on Rathlin Island of Antrim’s north coast. The elusive bird was once common on Rathlin but the last confirmed breeding corncrakes on the island were recorded in 2000. Only the male corncrake calls and a calling bird was heard in 2014, and then again in 2016 and 2017. According to Liam McFaul (RSPB Ni island warden), it is unusual for the corncrake to arrive so early. Normally they would arrive mid to late May, but because it is so early in the season, McFaul is hopeful that this may be the offspring of the male that has been heard over the last couple of years. He is home to roost and the “crex-crex” call will attract other corncrakes to the island. (BBC)

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Tasmanian Devil Under Threat The largest carnivorous marsupial, the Tasmanian devil, is under threat because of a contagious cancer known as Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD). DFTD can kill an infected devil within five months and is common among young adults in their reproductive prime. It is transmitted when they fight, biting each other on the face, causing tissue injury and providing a route of cell transmission. At the University of Cambridge, scientists discovered that molecules known as receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) had an important role in sustaining the growth and survival of DFTD. Drugs have already been developed for human cancer targeting RTKs and were found to stop the growth of DFTD cells in a lab setting. Dr Elizabeth Murchison, who led the team of researchers at the University, told the BBC, “This study gives us optimism that anti-cancer drugs already in use in humans may offer a chance to assist with conservation efforts for this iconic animal.” A search expedition in south-west Tasmania, funded by a crowd-funding campaign between the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, the

WORLD’S LARGEST BEACH CLEAN-UP The plastic rubbish was piled 1.67 metres high along the length of the 3km Versova Beach in Mumbai, but a 33-year-old lawyer, Afroz Shah, began weekend clean-ups, working alone for the first eight weeks. He was joined first by a neighbour, but now manages a team of over a thousand volunteers. They have picked up more than 500 tonnes of waste since 2016, and their work is beginning to pay dividends. The 52 communal toilets along the beach were fixed and cleaned by environmentalists and 50 coconut trees were planted. Shah hopes to plant 5,000 trees to return the beach to the former days of a coconut lagoon, but the best news is that hatchlings from the ICUN red-listed olive ridley sea


University of Sydney and Toledo Zoo in Ohio, trapped 14 Tasmanian devils over an eight-day period. Tissue samples proved that the individual devils were in good condition with no sign of DFTD. Save The Tasmanian Program manager, Dr David Pemberton, told Australia’s ABC news that “finding devils with fresh genetic diversity gives us opportunities.”

 Olive Ridley Sea

Turtle eggs

turtles, which are named for the olive-green hue of their upper shell, have been spotted for the first time in decades on the beach. Although red-listed, they are the most abundant sea turtles in the ocean, and also the smallest. The mothers lay eggs in a mass-nesting process known as arribada. When the arribada was first spotted on the southern end of the beach, volunteers slept on the beach to protect it from birds of prey and wild dogs. 80 turtles made their way from the beach into the Arabian Sea.

The Scottish Fisheries Museum estimates that at the peak of the herring boom in 1907, 2.5 million barrels of herring (250,000 tons) were cured and exported. In 1913, there were more than 10,000 boats involved in the Scottish herring industry, but the stocks were wiped out by overfishing in the 1960s and 1970s. Climate change affecting the prevalence of plankton – which young herring need to survive – may also have played a part in the decline. In March 2018, scallop divers discovered a huge spawning ground for herring near Gairloch in Wester Ross, an area sustained by herring fishing for centuries. Scientists from Marine Scotland are examining egg samples from the site to try to identify their genetics. The hatchery is around 3 sq. km and straddles a marine area in which dredging trawlers are banned to protect harbour porpoises. Campaigners are now calling for the whole spawning ground to be protected from dredging. The concern is that gear dragged along the seabed would damage the eggs when they are at their most vulnerable.

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Weeds Are Your Friends Some practical advice to ensure the healthy growth of wildflowers.

5 Small verge with wildflowers near Garvagh. Photo by: Donna Rainey

The best solution for growing wildflowers is not to mow your lawn until mid-August and you’ll see what grows. If, however, you have an envelope of wild seeds, here are some tips on what to do: ■■ Choose your site. Four or five hours of sunlight are needed, and as much shelter as possible from wind and rain so that pollinators linger. Wildflowers like poor soil, so how high does your grass grow? If it doesn’t grow any higher than between ankle and knee, it is poor soil and perfect for wildflowers. ■■ If your soil is fertile (grass is very lush), you will need to remove the top 5-6cm,

removing the nutrients, but you don’t need to remove stones. If you mow your lawn in mid-March, this will also reduce nutrient level for the following summer. ■■ Scatter your seeds, 3g per square metre, and lightly rake them in, so they don’t end up as bird feed. Do not water, as the seedling roots will dig deep in search of water. They also don’t need any feeding as this will only encourage excessive vigour in the grasses. ■■ Some species are undesirable in a hay meadow – such as docks, nettles, thistles – as they may dominate. These are better controlled by handweeding. Do not use weedkiller! You could find another site in your garden for them. (Remember if you

want butterflies, caterpillars love nettles!) ■■ When you mow, it is usually a good idea to leave the clipping in situ for a few days to allow seeds to drop to the ground, but it is important to collect the cuttings and compost to reduce soil fertility. If the soil is rich, a second cutting in autumn will remove surplus growth of grasses and will allow wildflowers to persist. ■■ If you don’t have a garden, perhaps try growing wildflowers in a window box or in a large container on a patio or balcony Patience is key with a wildflower meadow but if you are doing it right, you will discover new diversity every year.

Is there a practical conservation project you would like to see covered? Email Irish Wildlife Summer ‘18

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IWT NEWS IWT News Activity update By Kieran Flood, IWT Conservation Officer. DEAR IWT MEMBERS,

It has been a cold spring and a : P Muldoon difficult time for our wildlife. t-up. Photo by tied annual mee Un ls re uir Sq Red One felt very helpless looking out the window at the cold wet weather knowing that our bees, birds and amphibians were all having great difficulty kicking off their year with late snows and delayed flowering and This spring, the IWT was invited by growth. Our bumblebees would the Ulster Wildlife Trust to attend a have woken up from hibernation red squirrel conservation conference to a landscape almost devoid of in Wales. It was a great chance to food, as even the reliable meet our counterparts from Ulster, dandelion had not shown its as well as the many other Wildlife head by even mid-April. Due to Trusts from the UK. The event was this haphazard start to the the Red Squirrels United annual season, we kicked off our spring meet up. The Red Squirrels United school, library and community project brings together NGOs, wildlife events with a distinct researchers, community-led groups lack of wildlife visible outdoors. and government agencies from all In our ‘People for Bees’ across the UK to work together programme, our first few bee on Red Squirrel conservation. We monitoring workshops were learnt of the reintroduction of the almost bee-free events, but for a pine marten to Wales by the Vincent few brave white-tailed Wildlife Trust, as well as many other bumblebee queens and  Aran Islands Bumble Bee. Photo by: AranLIFE measures such as grey squirrel honeybees. These workshops control and squirrel pox vaccine illustrated all too clearly the need research. It was uplifting to see all for early flowering plants in our landscape, and of community bee monitoring workshops in these different groups working it was indeed the early flowering heather that counties Roscommon, Limerick, Wicklow, together for a common goal and saved the day on these occasions. While most of Cavan and Donegal. They were a great success sharing information and experience the flowers were yet to appear, we found our thanks to help from the local county councils to try to save a native species. The brave bumblebee queen out gaining much and a number of Tidy Towns groups. We are weekend outlined the massive and needed nutrition on the heather. As part of their looking forward to the second round of our expensive task ahead in trying to life cycle, bumblebee queens hibernate, emerging People for Bees events. The second half of this control grey squirrels on the island in spring to find food and start a nest. Early project will involve us returning to counties of Britain, and it left us all feeling flowering plants are thus essential to Ireland’s Cavan, Donegal, Limerick and Wicklow to run very happy that our own Irish pine bumblebee populations – some early flowering workshops focusing on bee habitat creation. As martin is giving the red squirrels species are dandelion, heathers, willow trees and usual, IWT members are welcome to attend such a helping hand over here. hellebores. A full planting list can be found on these events and can check out the webpage at the All Ireland Pollinator Plan website. or contact us at Despite the weather, we delivered our first round for details.

Red Squirrels United Meet-up


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Waterways for Wildlife This summer we will be resuming our Waterways for Wildlife project, with thanks to funding from Waterways Ireland. The destination for our project activities this year is the Barrow Line of the Grand Canal. You may be familiar with the Grand Canal, which makes its way from Dublin City Centre through the Irish midlands to the River Shannon. Less well known is the Barrow Line of the Grand Canal. It departs from the mainline at Lowtown in Co Kildare, passing through Monasterevin, before joining the river Barrow at Athy. The purpose of the canal was to join the Grand Canal with the navigable stretch of the Barrow River, which runs from Athy to St Mullins. Today this line is home to great biodiversity and the Barrow Way walking path follows this canal through Kildare and Laois. In July and August, we will be running


Tidy Towns. Photo by: Orla Ní Dhúill.


g. Photo by: non on cC M David

Canal outin

The Irish Wildlife Trust is a member of SWAN, a network of environmental NGOs with the aim of protecting and improving

canal-side wildlife surveying days that will see communities along the Barrow Line learn the skills of biodiversity surveying. Members of the Irish Wildlife Trust are welcome to join these events. To find out about the dates and locations keep an eye on the webpage waterways-for-wildlife or contact us at

Ireland’s water quality in line with the EU’s Water Framework Directive. Over 25 environmental NGOs are members of the SWAN network, with each group bringing their various interests and expertise regarding the best way to achieve SWAN’s aims. It is, however, a two-way system. SWAN also provides expertise in areas of improving and protecting water

Rhododendron Management in Oakwoods, Killarney by Trevor Halpin, Chairman of Groundwork

quality, and it facilitates the participation of member groups in meetings, seminars and training on subjects related to water quality. Abraham Lincoln’s quote, “A divided house cannot stand” has a ring of truth to

On 11 May 2018, representatives of Groundwork and the Irish Wildlife Trust met with the National Parks & Wildlife Services (NPWS) to discuss the 2017 update to evidence of deterioration in the oakwoods of Killarney National Park that Groundwork first highlighted in 2013. We ran volunteer work camps from 1981 until 2009 in the park, with the support of the IWT and NPWS. During that time, approximately 40 per cent of the oakwoods, namely those in the most remote western section of the park, were cleared of rhododendron and maintained in a cleared condition in the period 1981-2005 by Groundwork. Our methods were scientifically-proven, costeffective and successful, and are described in the NPWS publication, Irish Wildlife Manual no. 33. At the cornerstone of Groundwork’s success was a systematic approach to woodland clearance and a 3-phase approach, which meant that following initial clearance, no rhododendron was ever allowed to flower in that woodland again. For reasons still unknown, from 2005 on, the NPWS moved away from the proven rhododendron management strategy, thereby departing from the approach laid out in IWM no. 33,

and abandoning the Killarney National Park Management Plan 2005-2009 just as it was supposed to be implemented. Since 2005, Groundwork has expressed concern that re-infestation of the western woods was certain. The group’s monitoring of the Killarney oakwoods since 2013 has produced photographic evidence that the woodlands have reverted to uncleared status. This is a deterioration and represents a breach of Article 6(2) of the Habitats Directive. Having exhausted attempts to reverse the re-infestation, we made a formal complaint to the European Commission, which is ongoing. When some senior staff in NPWS agreed to finally address our evidence, we arranged the meeting. While still not offering any answers as to why the current situation has been allowed to develop, the NPWS staff members have accepted our evidence of rhododendron re-infestation within the park. They have committed to an external review of current rhododendron management practices and agreed to keep us informed. We’re still unsure of what the future holds for Killarney National Park, but are cautiously optimistic that this may represent some slight change for the better.

the mission of SWAN. All member groups have their own individual objectives and opinions. However, all the groups involved have the same goals; that is, achieving the mission of SWAN. By pooling all our resources, it is possible to have a stronger voice in Ireland’s environment. Naturally, there are differences in opinion as to how this should be achieved, but through SWAN these differences can be used to facilitate the change required. This network needs to be strong, and to stand together as we face the never-ending threats to our water quality, especially when up against industrial and commercial interests. The question is what role the Irish Wildlife Trust has in SWAN? Currently, I am a nominee on the Board of Directors overseeing the operation of SWAN. This is a rotating role where each organisation has an opportunity to be on the Board. More importantly, the Irish Wildlife Trust’s role is to provide knowledge and advice on ensuring that biodiversity and wildlife matters are included as part of the overall goals of the Water Framework Directive.

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Campaign Update By Pádraic Fogarty, IWT Campaigns Officer

With the appointment last November of a new minister with responsibility for natural heritage, expectations for environmental groups began to mount. Half a year in, have these expectations been met? At the end of November last year, Heather Humphreys was replaced by Josepha Madigan as Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Minister Humphrey’s tenure was marred in the eyes of environmental organisations by her introduction of the Heritage Bill and the proposed extension of permitted dates for hedgecutting and upland burning. It was a sad reflection of the times, when the minister with responsibility for natural heritage seemed incapable of speaking about its value to society or fighting for its promotion in cabinet. To her, it seemed more like an opportunity to deliver promises made to the big farming lobby. With the appointment of Minister Madigan, many looked forward to a new tone from government. It is reasonable that the minister be given a chance to familiarise herself with her brief, and we certainly want to have a constructive relationship with whoever is in office, along with the relevant government officials. Six months into the job though, we’re entitled to examine how she’s doing. A scan through the minister’s Twitter feed since her appointment in December, or a list of the press releases issued by her department, will reveal a near total absence of mentions of nature, natural heritage, conservation, etc. At the end of March there was a statement to launch ‘invasive species week’. In December, she launched the raised bog management plan, welcomed the opening of a bird hide in Cork, and, on her first day in the job, announced the expansion of Ballycroy National Park in Co Mayo. That’s four press releases out of 99 from her department since December 1st. I know of no speeches, interviews or off-hand comments she has made that could provide us with any other clues as to her thinking on what her policy priorities might be, or even her personal views of what is needed to address the extinction crisis currently underway in Ireland and across the world. The IWT wrote to her office in advance of the publication of our spring issue to offer her a slot in this magazine to introduce herself to our


5Protest. Photo by: David McConnon

readers and to give us an insight into her relationship with nature – this was declined. So far, we have been told that the Minister is too busy to meet with environmental groups and, to be fair, she was heading the government’s campaign on repealing the 8th amendment of the constitution. But how long should the honeymoon last? Is it reasonable for the government minister in charge of natural heritage not to have spelled out her position on the topic at this stage? Are the expectations of environmental groups so low that we should accept the silence in the hope of something, anything, positive? Have we given up hope that the minister for heritage of the day should be a champion for protecting nature? I think we need to aim higher than this. In March, the government released its Project Ireland plan, which is an ambitious set of aspirations to overhaul the country’s infrastructure and to double investment in culture and heritage by 2021. There was hope when it was revealed that significant attention would be focused on our national parks and nature reserves. However, on inspection, this was found to be about improving the ‘visitor experience’ and there seemed to be little understanding of the need to invest in actual conservation.

In all, €60 million is earmarked for biodiversity over 10 years, and although this is positive, in reality it amounts to crumbs when set against the challenges we face (it’s a mere 5 per cent of the total budget allocated to the Department under the plan). On April 25th, Minister Madigan defended her party’s promotion of the Heritage Bill – to be expected perhaps – but she came out with some odd statements, including that birds’ nests and eggs would continue to be protected even though there would be upland burning in March and hedge-cutting in August. It’s hard to see how these are compatible. The IWT was outside the Dáil along with our NGO partners and handed a petition, signed by over 31,000 people, to Peadar Tobín of Sinn Féin (chair of the committee on culture, heritage and the Gaeltacht). It may be that only a change of government will halt its progress now. The IWT is committed to working with government officials in addressing the serious problems facing wildlife in Ireland. We want to engage positively with Minister Madigan – or whatever minister happens to be in that role. However, to date there is no indication that she wants to engage with us. I hope that will change, and the offer to lay out her stall in this magazine will remain open.

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 Pair trawling

It’s not all bad news. There have been positive developments in two areas where the IWT has been campaigning in recent years. The first is to do with the use of a group of pesticides known as ‘neonicotinoids’. Back in 2013, the European Commission first proposed a limited prohibition on their use, and studies since then have proven beyond doubt that they have a serious detrimental impact, not only on bees, but on other organisms such as birds. In April, the EU voted to ban nearly all further use of the chemicals (indoor use will be allowed). Bees and other pollinators are in steep decline largely due to hunger – there are simply not all that many flowers in the countryside. Reversing these declines will require major changes to countryside management, including the use of pesticides of all sorts. Back in 2013, the IWT lobbied for the Irish government to get behind moves to ban neonicotinoids and we are happy that Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, supported the recent vote. It’s a very positive step in the right direction. The second positive development relates to a public consultation on the practice of trawling within six nautical miles of the coast. Should a ban on trawling come to pass, it would be the most significant

development for marine conservation in years. Trawling generally means towing fishing nets behind a moving boat and typically can include ‘bottom trawling’ – scraping the net across the sea floor – or ‘pair trawling’ – the practice of two boats sieving water with a fine-mesh net. These are both damaging for different reasons. Bottom trawling destroys sea floor habitats and is associated with large amounts of unwanted catch. Pair-trawling usually targets small fish in large shoals, such as the tiny sprat. The sprat themselves are sold off as fishmeal, but are far more valuable in the water. The small fish are food for all manner of marine life, from whales and dolphins to predatory fish and sea birds. The IWT has been raising awareness of the harmful nature of trawling for a number of years, and we are enthusiastic that this has gotten as far as public consultation. It is our job now – and the job of anyone interested in protecting our seas – to let the Department of Agriculture know that banning trawling will be in the best interests of wildlife and low-impact fisheries. People have until June 11th to have their say – please see www.agriculture.

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The Differences Between

RED AND GREY SQUIRRELS The reintroduction of the pine marten into squirrel habitats has brought into focus the differences, aside from colour, between the red and grey squirrel, writes Jenny Quinn.


uch has been written about the dwindling numbers of red squirrels across Ireland and the UK since the dominant grey squirrel was brought to Ireland and Britain between the late 19th and early 20th century. The most recent debates on the topic seem to focus on the effects of reintroducing the pine marten into squirrel habitats. It has been found that when pine martens are allowed to freely prowl the woods, grey squirrel numbers drop dramatically, while red squirrels consequently are able to thrive. Grey squirrels forage on the ground, making them a perfect target for the pine martens, while the reds are mainly found up in the trees, somewhat protected from the predators down below. These recent debates remind us of the effects associated with humans bringing a new species to a new land, or as was the case with the pine marten years ago, taking a native species out of an ecosystem. The natural equilibrium is disturbed. What these discussions also remind us of are the fundamental differences between red and grey squirrels. Despite the obvious difference in colour, looking at photos would suggest they are quite similar. However, looking at the facts, we can see that this is not the case. As was alluded to above, red squirrels mainly eat tree seeds. In spring and summer, they also eat buds and flowers of both deciduous and coniferous trees. They also like fungi and caterpillars. So their feeding needs are catered for up in the trees – they can even be found on the ends of branches due to their light frame.


Red Squirrel in Merlin Woods.

Photo by: Colin Stanley

“GREY SQUIRRELS TYPICALLY HAVE MINIMAL THREATS, ASIDE FROM HUMAN CONTROL EFFORTS AND ROADKILL.” Unfortunately for the reds, grey squirrels eat all those things plus seeds with high tannin content, such as acorns. As a result, grey squirrels put on about 20 per cent in body weight during the autumn months, while the smaller reds put on about 10 per cent. In fact, the average weight of a grey squirrel is between 540g and 660g, while the average red squirrel weighs between 270g and 340g. With regard to threats, red squirrels are faced

Pine Marten. Photo by:

Ronald Surgenor

with competition from greys, squirrelpox virus (carried by greys, but they themselves are immune to it), habitat fragmentation and road kill. Grey squirrels typically have minimal threats, aside from human control efforts and roadkill. However, the introduction of the pine marten adds a considerable threat to the greys, shifting the somewhat tired ‘dominant grey versus weaker red’ paradigm. What an (added) difference a pine marten makes.

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CÉARD IS CEART A DÉANAMH le mamaigh chomhthíocha?

le Seán Sheehan.

5Minc Mheiriceánach. Creidiúint: Pat Quinlan

Bhí an-tóir ar thógáil minceanna sna 1950aidí Den chéad uair le fada tá an t-iora rua le feiceáil agus d’éalaigh an chéad mhinc ó fheirm i gcathair Dhoire ach maraíodh 40 iora glas sa mhinceanna sa bhliain 1961. Sa lá atá inniu chontae le déanaí. An bhfuil spéis ag daoine an ann tá an speiceas coimhthíoch ionrach seo rud céanna a dhéanamh sna 26 chontae? ó Mheiriceá Thuaidh leata go fairsing Má thugann tú cuairt ar Gharraithe in Éirinn ach níl sé líonmhar. Is Náisiúnta na Lus i nGlas féidir teacht air i níos mó ná Naíon, feicfidh tú daoine ag 50% de na gnáthóga, ach go tabhairt bia don iora glas. háirithe cois na n-aibhneacha Ar Bhóthar Moibhí tá ón chósta go tailte móna lár ealaín sráide ar bhosca na tíre. An fadhb í seo? leictreach a dhéanann Ar an Mór-Roinn tá minc ceiliúradh air. Eorpach ann agus sa chaoi In Éirinn, an t-ainmhí is Iora glas agus ocras air chéanna go mbíonn iomaíocht mó a bheadh in iomaíocht idir an t-iora rua agus an t-iora leis an minc ná an madra uisce glas anseo agus an bua ag an iora ach níl aon taighde cuimsitheach glas, tá an bua ag an minc Mheiriceánach, déanta a thugann le fios go gcuireann an cur i gcás san Eastóin, áit a bhfuil an mhinc mhinc isteach air. Tá a fhios againn gur go Eorpach i mbaol a díothaithe. fiorannamh a bhacann an madra uisce le Ag comhdháil sa Bhreatain Bheag i mbliana neadacha éin cois abhann nó ar an gcósta, ach ar fhreastail baill d’Iontaobhas Fiadhúlra na a mhalairt ar fad atá fíor i gcás na mince. hÉireann uirthi, thug Iontaobhas Fiadhúlra na Creachadóir craosach í an mhinc a bhfuil Breataine (Tuaisceart Éireann san áireamh) le fiacla géara aici. Is cuma mura bhfuil ocras fios go bhfuil an scéal ag feabhsú don iora rua. uirthi, má thagann sí ar nead, maraíonn sí a Is ciondíothú na n-ioraí glasa an chúis leis seo. bhfuil sa nead. Beireann sí greim ar mhuineál

an éin agus is féidir lorg dhá fhiacail a fheiceáil ann. An cóir an mhinc a chiondhíothú mar go bhfuil lapairí ar nós pilibíní agus crotaigh i gcontúirt a ndíothaithe? Nárbh fhéidir argóint a dhéanamh go bhfuil tinte chun an t-aiteann a srianú ag déanamh i bhfad níos mó díobhála dos na héin? Éiríonn go maith leis na mamaigh choimhthíocha seo mar nach bhfuil aon chreachadóirí nádúrtha ag cur isteach orthu. Bhuel go dtí le déanaí bhí sé sin fíor faoin iora glas ach anois in oirthear na tíre tá goile ag an gcat crainn dó. Caitheann an t-iora rua níos mó ama go hard sna crainn agus tá sé níos tapúla ná an cat crainn. San Fhionlainn tá líon níos bisiúla ann den mhinc Eorpach arís toisc go bhfuil an t-iolar mara tagtha ar ais. Bhíodh an t-iolar seo fairsing in Éirinn tráth den saol freisin agus i 2007 tugadh isteach arís é go Cill Airne. An bhliain seo caite bhí deich bpéire pórúcháin ann ar fud na tíre. Beidh le feiceáil amach anseo an mbeidh goile acu don mhinc. An réiteoidh siad na fadhbanna a chruthaigh muidne?

Ar mhaith leat an leabhar, Ainmhithe na hÉireann, a bhuachan? Téigh go Leathanach na gComórtas Irish Wildlife Summer ‘18

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The latest updates from

ACROSS THE COUNTRY In Search of the Yellow-Ringed Carpet by Brian Gaynor

Murlough Bay, County Antrim is the only known place in Ireland where the moth, the yellow-ringed carpet, has been recorded. The first modern record was in 1995, when Bernard Skinner found caterpillars. The first adult record followed this in 1997. There is one other old record (c1914) from Glen Wood near Florence Court in Co Fermanagh, although this has not been verified. The reason why this moth’s range is so limited is due to the presence of its food plants in Ireland – yellow mountain saxifrage and mossy saxifrage – both of which can be found growing here on steep cliff faces. It overwinters as larva and August is its flight

season. Over the past two years the Glens of Antrim Pollinator Group has surveyed different areas within the bay, using light traps (until then all records were daytime observations) and the total number of records in Ireland is now fifteen. These records are only the start of what is required to help build up a better picture of the size and health of the population here, and the Glens of Antrim Pollinator Group hopes to build on these records in the future, adding to the knowledge of this species so that we can conserve it as an integral part of this special landscape. For more information, please contact

Yellow-ringed carpet. Photo by Geoff


Wild Mind Festivities in Kerry by Ger Scollard

Purple Sandpiper from Little Samphire

Island. Photo by: Ger Scollard


It was a busy April in Kerry, in preparation for the inaugural Wild Mind nature festival in Fenit – a varied mix of guided tours, talks, films, seminars and workshops aimed at nurturing a nature-focused discussion. The IWT Kerry Branch preparation consisted of a mini bio-blitz and exploration of the iconic Little Samphire Island in Tralee Bay. A varied crew of botanists, birders, a geologist, a historian and naturalists made for an interesting day. Over 50 species of plants, birds and insects were recorded, as well as some stunning fossil finds. A highlight was the first recording of the purple sandpiper from the site. A picture diary from the trip was presented as part of the Short Film section of the festival. The weekend was a busy time in the Nature Zone, located in the festival yurt. It was so encouraging to see the engagement of the younger generations, around both the display and a rock pooling event. The IWT Kerry The IWT nature table. Branch would like to sincerely thank all those Photo by: Ger Scollard that provided materials for the nature table.

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Green Drinks Dr Barbara Freitag explains that the Green Drinks initiative is about much more than what the name suggests.

At the Bloom Festival last year, a lady expressed interest in the Irish Wildlife Trust. Among the benefits of membership, I mentioned Green Drinks, to which she replied crossly, “Well, there’s enough drinking going on in this country without you encouraging more!” Perhaps the title is misleading, but Green Drinks is an international movement now held in 800 cities in over 70 countries. Each city does its own thing and has a different emphasis and logo. Some provide connections for green jobs, while others are primarily interested in building networks for like-minded people. Some act as a forum for debate, inviting speakers to present papers, while others want to share insights into the conservation of wildlife. What all have in common, however, is a love and concern for the natural environment. In Dublin, Green Drinks is run by the Dublin Branch of the IWT, though this was not always the case. A company called Leaf Living, which sells web domains, originally set up Dublin Green Drinks.

Ricky Whelan, Laois/Offaly

Branch, Gardening with Wildlife

Like now, these were held on the first Tuesday of every month at the centrallylocated Sweetman Pub on Burgh Quay – though the pub was called Messrs Maguire back then. In November 2010, Pádraic Fogarty, then Chairman of the IWT, was invited to do a presentation on the proposed EU reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. Debbi Pedreschi, who attended that talk, realised that Green Drinks had the potential to develop into a useful medium. After coorganising a couple of talks, it was put to her that she should take over, which she did, on behalf of the IWT Dublin. In October 2011 – with a few minor adjustments – Green Drinks was up and running. In early 2014, the committee of the Dublin branch took over and continued her good work.

Green Drinks has been held almost every month since. Admission is free, and any committee member can suggest a topic or a speaker. The format is always the same – speakers present their topic and then invite questions from the floor. Often the most animated discussions are generated by country-wide concerns, such as badger culls, overfishing, coastal pollution, genetically modified food, fracking or bog conservation. Sometimes it is a specific, singular initiative that captures the imagination, such as the oneman battle to conserve the corncrake or the struggle to reintroduce the eagle, or the efforts of volunteers to enhance the amenities in their community through involvement with nature. At other times, we enjoy being treated to informed talks about butterflies or hedgerows, and particularly the folklore of native trees, birds and wild plants. Hopefully, that lady who raised the objections sees this article and realises we are not celebrating Paddy’s Day every month!

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17/05/2018 15:46


Life on the

Aran Islands The AranLIFE project aims to tackle the challenges of farming on the magnificently biologically diverse Aran Islands, explains Dr Amanda Browne.

5G  razing cattle. Photo by: AranLIFE.


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5P  hotos from left to right: The stonewalls; Babbington’s leek; Limestone

Pavement. Photos by: AranLIFE.


he AranLIFE project has been working on the three Aran Islands since 2014, helping to tackle the challenges of farming on the islands and to bring 1,011 ha. of priority habitat into favourable conservation status. Recently, the AranLIFE team was part of a group entitled ‘Caomhnú Árann’ that was successful in receiving funding from the European Innovation Programme (EIP) fund. This follow-on threeyear project will continue the core work of the AranLIFE project of sustainably managing priority habitats, as well as incorporating innovative technology, increasing farmer participation and examining non-subsidy ways of improving farm unit income to make protecting habitats more viable for farmers. To date, this hasn’t been tried in Ireland, but to the people of the islands, innovation has always been a necessity. The Aran Islands are only 40 sq. km and yet they are home to approximately 500 plant species. This is an amazing statistic, considering that this equates to nearly half the total number of species within the whole island of Ireland. It is even more amazing when you consider that there are no bogs, mountains, rivers or woodlands on the Aran Islands that could contribute to this incredible species diversity. The main habitat with this incredible biodiversity are grasslands that have been managed from generation to generation through low-intensity farming methods. The traditional farming system of winterage conserves and enhances the species richness of the grasslands. The fields are grazed throughout the winter, producing a short turf grassland. In the springtime, herbs, such as spring gentian, bloody cranes bill, bird’s-foot trefoil and lady’s bedstraw, flourish and fill the fields with colour, and then set seed, free from grazing in the summer months. In this way, the seed bank and species-richness of the fields are conserved and enhanced. The limestone pavement in the winterage acts like storage heaters, warming up in the summer months and releasing their warmth throughout the winter, and the lack of frost and dry, well-drained fields make the islands ideally suited to this farming system.

FARMING CHALLENGES The Aran Island farms range from 6ha to 20ha (compared to 32ha nationally) and consist of separate small fields surrounded by iconic stone walls. Typically, the farms are not in one block but consist of many small fields that may be scattered throughout the island. Herd size is low, with most herds having less than ten cattle. This unique arrangement makes island farming very labour intensive with low income output. There are no rivers or streams on the islands, and lack of water availability has been identified as one of the main reasons why fields are left ungrazed, which allows scrub to develop. The resulting farmed habitats on the islands are internationally important for nature conservation and are designated as Priority Habitats in the EU Habitats Directive, namely orchid-rich calcareous grassland, limestone pavement, and machair. Approximately 75 per cent of the islands are designated as Special Areas of Conservation because of these species-rich farmed priority habitats. While the future of these habitats is uncertain on the mainland, the conservation status of these habitats on the islands has improved over the past four years, owing to the efforts of our 67 AranLIFE farmers removing scrub, building rain catchers and achieving optimal grazing, which is vital to maintain these species-rich grasslands in order to combat the main farming challenges of scrub encroachment, lack of water provision and land abandonment. A RICH BIODIVERSITY The islands are also home to a number of plants that are rare or absent in the rest of Ireland. There are plants that are at their most northerly limit of their distribution in Ireland, such as dense-flowered orchid, bee orchid and wild madder. There are also Arctic-Alpine plants and plants with restricted distribution within Britain and Ireland, e.g. roseroot, spring gentian, Salzburg eyebright, Irish saxifrage – with these ‘typical’ ArcticAlpine plants often occurring alongside plants typical of Mediterranean regions. Other species, such as pyramidal bugle, hoary rock rose, purple milk vetch and Babington’s leek, occur on

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5C  lockwise: spring gentian; rye crops; lapwing; bird’s-foot trefoil;

bee orchid; darnel; purple milk vetch; pyramidal bugle. All photos by AranLIFE, except for the lapwing, which is credited to Alan Kelly.

the Aran Islands and few other places within the country. The islands also contain species that have died out elsewhere due to intensification of agricultural practises, such as darnel. This grass species occurs within rye crops on Inis Meáin, and was the only source of darnel seed for the Millennium Seed Bank Collection at Kew Gardens, London. Along with the rich floral diversity, the Aran Islands also support a great variety of invertebrates that depend on the fantastic array of grassland plants. 21 species of butterfly occur on the Aran Islands, which is a significant proportion of the national total of 31 species. The islands have their own variety of bumble bee, Bombus muscorum var. allenellus, that has only been recorded on these islands. The protected species, narrow-mouthed whorled snail (Vertigo angustior) is a small, rare snail that occurs on machair habitat on Inis Mór. The bird life of the farmed habitats is also vibrant. Lapwing nesting on machair grassland is a common occurrence on the islands that is becoming increasingly


rare elsewhere. Important numbers of terns (Arctic tern, sandwich tern and little tern) have been recorded breeding on the islands. The ideal habitat for chough is created on the islands within the winter grazed lands that are then left ungrazed during the summer. SUSTAINED BY FARMING The Aran Islands are an amazing reserve of wildlife of high nature conservation value that is managed and conserved by the low-intensity farming practises that have been ongoing on the islands for generations. The conservation of these habitats benefits all – farmers, visitors and the entire island community. Over 250,000 tourists visit the Aran Islands each year to experience the cultural and historical highlights of the islands, as well as the iconic landscape of small fields and networks of stonewalls and boreens. Where else in the world is a tourist industry so dependent on a farming system which maintains the species-rich pastures that attracts the thousands of tourists each year?

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n o i t i t e p Com


We’re offering Irish Wildlife readers the chance to win one of two fantastic books on Ireland’s wildlife! Ireland’s Trees by Niall Mac Coitir Niall Mac Coitir brings to life the myths, legends and folklore associated with native Irish trees, much of which persists to this day. Two main themes emerge: the tree as a marker of important places such as royal sites or holy wells, and the role of trees as sources of magical power in folk customs and traditions, such as carrying a blackthorn staff when out walking at night to ward off evil spirits. Beautifully illustrated and imaginatively written, this mix of natural history, mythology and folklore will entertain and enlighten all interested in Ireland’s trees.

Ainmhithe Na hÉireann by Juanita Browne, translated by Fidelma NÍ Ghallchobhair A beautiful translation of Juanita Browne’s My First Book of Mammals, which was shortlisted for the Literacy Association of Ireland Children’s Book Award 2015. Brimming with fascinating facts and beautiful illustrations by Aoife Quinn, this book will capture the imagination of young children.

We have two copies of Ireland’s Trees and one copy of Ainmhithe na hÉireann to give away. To be in with a chance to win, just answer the following question: How many butterfly species occur on the Aran Islands? Send your name, answer, postal address and the title of your preferred book to by July 1st, 2018.

Spring ‘18 Winners: In our spring issue we gave our readers the chance to win two copies of Tapestry of Light by Tina Claffey and one copy of Ireland’s Wild Plants by Niall Mac Coitir.

The question asked was: When was the Curlew Task Force formed? The answer was: January 2017 The winners are: Damian O’ Sullivan, Co Cork (Ireland’s Wild Plants) and Sarah Steer, Belfast and Ursula Larkin, Dublin (Tapestry of Light).

Congratulations and many thanks to all who entered!

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Recording Our

WILDFLOWERS Since 2000, the Atlas 2020 project has mapped the distribution of wildflowers across Ireland and the UK, as Dr Pete Stroh and Dr Maria Long of the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) explain.

5Meadow thistle (Cirsium dissectum) in a wetland in Laois. Photo by: Maria Long.


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ildflowers surround us, greatly enhancing our lives with their colour, scent and diversity – you need only visit a bluebell wood in late April to appreciate just how spectacular and uplifting our flora can be. However, whilst we are still able to see and appreciate many of the flowers that make our countryside so special, changes to the way we use the land have led to the widespread decline of many species. This has resulted in landscapes that have become duller, still green and pleasant from a distance, but a more artificial green, and often minus the flowers. Such loss has a direct impact on the wildlife that we love to see and hear when out and about. Insects, birds, mammals – you name it – are all worse off if wildflowers and their habitats are lost, not to mention the detrimental impact it brings to our health and well-being.

ATLAS 2020 Volunteers for the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) have been studying and mapping our wild plants for over one hundred years, collecting evidence about how our flora is changing over time. Since 2000, volunteers for the BSBI have been involved in an

5Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia palustris). Photo by: Oisin Duffy.

“ MANY SPECIES CONSIDERED COMMON 70 YEARS AGO ARE NOW UNDER THREAT – AS THE RECENT IRELAND RED LIST SHOWS – BUT WITHOUT THE EVIDENCE IT WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE TO OBJECTIVELY APPRECIATE THE SCALE OF CHANGE.” ambitious project called ‘Atlas 2020’ which will map the distribution of all wildflowers across the length and breadth of Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England, culminating in a third Atlas of the British and Irish Flora. Perhaps you’ve seen folk out and

5Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) at a dune in

Donegal. Photo by: Maria Long.

about, hand lens at the ready, writing feverishly on clipboards whilst walking at a snail’s pace, often kneeling in what appears to be worship, but is in fact the examination of tiny bits of a plant that help to reveal its identity. In Ireland, such recording takes place

across 40 ‘vice-counties’, with at least one expert botanical recorder for each county. These recorders collect a huge number of records, compile and check the data for their county, and many of them organise field meetings and help with identification. Aside from promoting an enthusiasm for wildflowers, a love of the outdoors, and a desire to better understand the environment in which we all live, documenting the distribution of our flora is useful because it makes it possible for us to better understand recent and long-term changes, and so it informs current and future conservation work. Someone recording wildflowers for the first Atlas, scouring the countryside in the 1940s and 50s, could scarcely have imagined the wholesale changes that were to happen in the latter half of the 20th century. As a result, many species considered common 70 years ago are now under threat – as the recent Ireland Red List shows – but without the Irish Wildlife Summer ‘18

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5Marsh cinquefoil (Comarum palustre) in a wetland in Laois. Photo by: Maria Long.

evidence it would not have been possible to objectively appreciate the scale of change. Without the Atlas surveys, we might otherwise base conservation on more subjective measures, on a ‘new normal’ (often called the ‘shifting

baseline syndrome’) where each successive generation believes that their childhood memory of nature is the one to aspire to, until the bar is set so low that it bears no relation to the true historical picture. For example, many people in the

midlands of Ireland might be astonished to realise that the cowslip, a flower which was familiar to us all as children, and which is still visible along many roadsides, is now so rare in Northern Ireland that it is listed for legal protection.


And even in the parts of Ireland where it appears to thrive on roadsides, you’ll struggle to find it within meadows or fields – agriculture has simply become too intensive. This story is repeated for hundreds of other species. Recognition and familiarity of wildflowers is important, as people do not become upset at the loss of something that they never knew existed. When the BSBI were gathering records in the late 1950s for the first Atlas, they wrote out to schools with a list of 113 plants, asking teachers and students to send back records. There was no

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training – back then, it was a given that teachers would know their local plants. You couldn’t make that presumption now!

RECORDING IN IRELAND To date, nearly two million records have been collected by volunteers in Ireland since 2000 – that’s a lot of evidence – and the Atlas 2020 project is now in its final two years, with recording for this project due to stop at the end of 2019. There are many areas of Ireland that still require help with surveying, and what better excuse to explore areas where few (if any) wildflower hunters have trod before? We record all wildflowers (including grasses, sedges, etc.), whether they are native or alien, but we don’t record things that have clearly been planted (in gardens, for example). Lists of species are commonly compiled at onekilometre square precision, but more accurate grid references are required for those flowers of particular interest. Surveying is a really great way of getting to know an area that may not, on the face of it, be an obvious place to visit. The information that you collect will be mapped in the Atlas, but just as importantly, it can be shared with conservation organisations, governments and academics so that when species that are in trouble are detected, it is possible to act and make a difference.

IRISH SPECIES PROJECT As well as big over-arching projects such as Atlas 2020, the BSBI often runs smaller, more targeted ones too. In Ireland we recently ran a two-year project called the Irish Species Project (ISP). We focused on eight species (moonwort, cyperus sedge, autumn gentian, toothwort, grass-of-parnassus, cowslip, common wintergreen, cranberry) which were known to be uncommon or declining, and we asked botanists and interested members of the public to go out


Toothwort (Lathraea squamaria). Photo by: Maria Long.

and re-find the species at certain sites, or to send us ad hoc records. Among the interesting findings made by volunteers was the number of host plants (17) associated with the parasitic toothwort, a most unusual flower that dispenses with the need for chlorophyll and relies instead on its host for nourishment. Most books suggest that it is most likely to be found on native species such as hazel, ash or holly, but four of the top five hosts in this study were

non-natives, including the wildly naturalised cherry laurel. Another finding to emerge from the ISP was that across a number of the species, lack of management (often grazing) was found to be a common threat to the populations. This is a theme which emerges again and again in nature conservation in Ireland. Many habitats have been lost to agriculture and abandonment in recent decades, but those that remain are at great risk through neglect.

If you want to come along to field meetings, which are open to beginners and experts alike, check out the website or contact Irish officer, Maria Long at: More information on the survey can be found in Irish Botanical News, which is published at the start of every year and available to download from (Look for no. 27, published March 2017)

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LOUGH BEG: A WATERSHED ISSUE With the ecosystem of Lough Beg on the Lower Bann River under threat from development, Gordon D’Arcy suggests that its defence may have a wider implications for conservation in Ireland.


here are many Lough Begs in Ireland, but one of them, on the Lower Bann River at the outlet from Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland, is a very special one. Though just 5km long and 1km wide, it is an environmental treasure. Its habitats comprise open water, wooded islets, glacial outwash sandpits, raised bog and extensive water-meadows. It is flanked on either side by a patchwork of fields and hedgerows. A giant deer’s antlers were hauled out of the post-glacial sand deposits over a century ago. Crannogs were built in the open water by Gaelic chiefs, and the great O’Neill is reputed to have grazed his cattle on the Creagh callows in the 16th century. A folly spire, built by the Earl Bishop of Derry to ‘beautify’ the ancient church site of St. Taoide, tragically caused the crash of a second-world war aircraft. The most celebrated inhabitant of Lough Beg, the late-lamented poet laureate Seamus Heaney, was reared close by and wrote lovingly of the place in his verse. The Lough is extraordinary for its birdlife. Well over 200 species have been recorded there, many of which are national rarities. When I birdwatched there in the 1960s and 70s, at least seven species of wading birds, including nationally endangered curlews and dunlins, nested on the dry water-meadows, along with dozens of redshanks and lapwings. Many species of wildfowl (which, in winter, came in thousands) also stayed to breed. But Lough Beg’s ornithological importance is greater still; situated on the north/south-aligned Bann river valley, it is a vital ‘hotel’ for a myriad of migrants. Birds 24

such as whimbrels, black-tailed godwits, golden plover, teal, shoveler, pintail and a host of others pour through the Lough in spring and autumn. More than 500 Icelandic whooper swans stay and overwinter on the Creagh callows – a few pairs also, remarkably, remain to breed. This heritage wonderland is presently under threat by the construction of a dual-carriageway – already begun – which will bisect the Creagh callows to link with the Bann crossing near Toome, the nearest town to the Lough. There can be little doubt about the ramifications of this development: the disturbance both by the works and the expected volume of traffic across the Creagh will impact both directly and indirectly on the ecological integrity of the Lough, and will undoubtedly oust the whooper swans. It was Seamus Heaney’s wish that an alternative route to that chosen should be considered – to the south of the A6, across a disused aerodrome – a route also favoured by a resolute cohort of objectors. This determined group, conscious of the potential impacts, has been fighting the plan for more than five years. With little support from the conservation organisations in Northern Ireland, their campaign has taken them from placard protest to judicial review in the Northern Ireland Supreme Court where, despite their best efforts, their challenge was refused. Undeterred, the campaign is being taken now to the European Court of Justice. The challenge raises an interesting precedent in the context of the conservation status already enjoyed by Lough Beg under the European Habitats Directive as a Special Protection

5Whimbrel. Photo by: Michael Bell

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5 Whooper swans. Photo by: Christine Cassidy

“ LOUGH BEG IS A CONDUIT FOR MIGRATORY BIRDS FROM THE ARCTIC INTO THE SOUTH; MANY OF THE WADERS AND WATERFOWL OVERWINTERING IN OUR LAKES, TURLOUGHS AND CALLOWS MUST COME HERE BY WAY OF THE LOUGH BEG/LOUGH NEAGH FLYWAY. ” Area , and globally, under the Migratory Species and RAMSAR designations. With the UK leaving the European Union in the near future, resulting in new conservation laws coming into operation throughout the UK, will Brexit result in a damaging relaxation of conservation legislation? Could this result in circumstances of unchallenged development? What does the future hold for Lough Beg and indeed other such vulnerable locations in the North? It might be

argued – on political grounds – that this does not concern us in the Republic. Indeed the conservation organisations here (including the IWT) have traditionally confined their scope to the land area of the Republic. This is now clearly unsatisfactory, given the future imponderables. Lough Beg is a conduit for migratory birds from the Arctic into the south; many of the waders and waterfowl overwintering in our lakes, turloughs and callows must come here by way

of the Lough Beg/Lough Neagh flyway. The wetlands of the entire island are thus interlinked and migratory birds using them do not recognise man-made boundaries. In the broader sense, and regardless of the potential divisiveness of politics, is it not time to consider applying uniform and effective conservation to habitats and their wild inhabitants on an all-island basis? In the mid 1960s the MI motorway was constructed through the middle of the Bog meadows, a pristine, species rich, wetland on the edge of Belfast. In the context of the surrounding urban hinterland, this was the obvious option but the loss (prior to the existence of a mandatory Environmental Impact Study) was dramatic: within five years most of the Bog Meadows had been converted into an industrial estate. Roads create accessibility. What future awaits Lough Beg? Irish Wildlife Summer ‘18

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INSECTICIDES There is no room for complacency when it comes to the use of insecticides, Billy Flynn warns.

Oil beetle. Photo by: Liam Stenson


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t this time of year, the hoary old debate about when exactly spring ends and summer begins surfaces once more. A little airtime and a few column inches are devoted to the debate, mostly as ‘feel-good’ pieces followed by meaningless predictions on how good or bad a summer we are going to have based on some individual’s observations on a particular tree or some other equally baseless factor. I’ve never minded listening to these discussions, no matter how inconsequential they may be. For one, I’ve always regarded May 1 as the start of summer, and the arrival of the flower of the hawthorn – the ‘maybush’ – as confirmation of same. At time of writing, the maybush has yet to flower in my native Co Monaghan and spring is struggling hard to shake off the last of winter’s shackles. It was therefore with no small amount of joy that I greeted the first housefly of the year in the kitchen this week and the first little cloud of midges overhead on a walk last weekend. Temperatures must be rising – the bugs have spoken. Late spring and early summer are wonderful times if you’re into your creepy-crawlies, with maybugs, dor beetles, St Peter’s flies and the early butterflies all to look out for. A recent article in Irish Wildlife described the grim results of a long-term study in Germany. Insect trapping in a number of protected sites had shown a catastrophic decline in flying bugs over a number of decades. Habitat loss and agrochemical use in the surrounding lands were judged by the authors and reviewing authorities as being key factors in the shocking declines. Now though, as it seems that a long winter has finally given way, we have some good news. The European Union has agreed to ban the outdoor use of neonicontinoids, a group of insecticides that have been associated with high environmental persistence (once they are out there, they stay out there) and with the decline in non-target beneficial insects, including the honeybee. Essentially nerve agents, this group of insecticides has been the subject of controversy for some time. While hailed as the ‘next generation’ of insecticides when they were first produced in the 1990s, there were questions raised over their ecological impacts almost immediately. Studies from over 20 years ago suggested that their residues had a tendency to accumulate in pollen and nectar of plants treated with them. This turned out to be a crucial element in what happened next. Although the studies that allowed for their registration and release showed sub-lethal effects on beneficial non-target insect species, the cumulative effect of the residues had not been anticipated. Neither was the impact on pollinating insects, including bees. Evidence began to mount up in peer-reviewed journals that the use of neonicotinoids was being associated with harmful effects on vital insects. There are many compounds that belong to this generation of insecticides, and these in turn are marketed under trade names that are typically upbeat and positive, such as Admire ™ and Merit ™. Different effects on the non-target beneficial insects have been studied in detail and described. Some compounds such as Imidacloprid have been shown to be highly toxic to bees. Then there are the ‘sub-lethal’ effects which have since been shown to disrupt bee movement, navigation and ability to feed. The staggeringly complex ways in which bees of a hive can communicate information to their fellows are only slowly becoming understood. We’d do well to study these quickly, as these too are impacted by chemicals such as Imidacloprid. By 2013, the impacts on bee populations had become a major concern. An EU-wide ban on the use of neonicotinoids on flowering crops (that would attract beneficial insects) was put in place. This did not address all their uses, including non-flowering crops and seed-treatments – the latter being a very significant route for systemic chemicals into the wider environment. In 2017, the results of chemical analysis of around 200 honey samples from around the world showed the presence of neonicotinoids

in three-quarters of all samples. The compounds were found in around 80 per cent of the honey samples from Europe and Asia. Overall, almost half of the samples exceeded the minimum concentration for which a significant negative impact on bees could be expected. Reading about the near-global prevalence of neonicotinoids, one is reminded of the discovery of DDT in Antarctic ice and in the fatty tissues of seabirds on remote Pacific islands. Here’s a key difference though: neonicotinoids are thousands of times more toxic to invertebrates than DDT. There is a feeling that we’ve been here before. The neonicotinoid products were hailed as being the insecticide that was going to solve pest problems, but with fewer risks to the wider environment. The same was said of the organochlorine pesticides and the organophosphates. At every turn, these claims have been proved to be unfounded and the impacts disastrous, far-reaching and persistent. Clearly, there are questions to be answered on the validity of the field trials and eco-toxicology analysis that permitted these chemicals’ registration. An EU-wide ban on the field use of these chemicals (but not in greenhouses, where they will still be permitted) is definitely to be welcomed and is a cause for at least minor celebration. Outside the bloc however, their use will continue. Less than a year from now, our nearest neighbour will be outside this bloc too. It’s hoped that they will continue to uphold the ban, but there are no guarantees. So what is the next step? There are no easy solutions. An end to the reliance of industry-funded field trials and more weight on peer-reviewed testing would be a good start. Better yet, a world-wide ban on the use of neonicotinoids in all settings and formulations. The latter is highly unlikely to happen in the short-term but, like the realisation that DDT was far too dangerous to justify its use, the point will come where neonicotinoids will be confined to the bin of dangerous chemicals that should never have left the laboratory. Don’t listen to those who say that the ‘new generation’ insecticides are vital for food production. The UNFAO has studied this and found this is not so. We can easily feed our world’s population now and into the future. The problem isn’t amounts of food, but the relative distribution and availability of food that causes hunger and hardship. The pressure to push neonicotinoids now and into the foreseeable future comes from largescale growers of commodity crops like palm oil and soya that we can, frankly, do without. Check the labels of the products you purchase. Are you contributing to the ongoing use of what is turning out to be this generation’s DDT? If so, stop. You probably don’t really need these things anyway. And when the next new generation of herbicides comes along, ask to see its credentials before you consider buying into it. Let us not realise too late that we have bought into another false dawn or even a future of silent springs.

Common carder bee. Photo by: John Hardiman

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17/05/2018 16:20


Restoring the

RIVER SHANNON The ESB Shannon hydroelectric scheme is a huge threat to the wildlife of the River Shannon, writes William O’Connor.


o coincide with World Fish Migration Day 2018, an event entitled ‘Restoring the River Shannon’ was held in Limerick City on the 21st April 2018. This was one of 552 events held across 62 countries with the common theme of connecting fish, rivers and people. The Limerick event was held to highlight the major fish passage problems at the ESB Shannon hydroelectric scheme, and also to discuss a range of solutions which are available to allow the river to be restored. There are virtually no salmon in the vast catchment area of the River Shannon (10,400 sq. km, or around 90 per cent of the catchment) above the Shannon hydroelectric scheme. Fish passage facilities for salmon are inadequate and all downstream migrating smolts go through the turbines. The River Shannon has an annual conservation escapement target though the Shannon scheme of c.49,000 adult salmon. However, the number of salmon currently passing upstream through the Shannon dams meets less than 5 per cent of this minimum target. Indeed, the Shannon is at the very bottom of the league of Irish rivers in meeting this conservation limit. Beside the ecological impact of having no salmon, the absence of a sustainable run of salmon on the River Shannon and its tributaries is a major loss of recreational opportunities and tourism revenue for the residents of the Shannon catchment. The Shannon hydroelectric scheme also has a major impact on the critically endangered 28

European eel, on a catchment with an estimated 425 sq. km of rich eel rearing habitat – the largest in Ireland. Access for juvenile eels is blocked, and eel trap and transport programmes are inadequate. The majority of silver eels migrating down the river have to pass though the turbines at Ardnacrusha. The Shannon eel fishery is closed, and hundreds of traditional eel fishermen have been put off the river and its lakes. Threatened sea lamprey populations have also been affected and only a few individuals of this species pass through the Shannon scheme each year. Likewise, the migration of river

lamprey is also blocked in the river, and other fish species such as migratory brown trout are also severely affected. At the event, we also discussed the implications of the Dublin Water Supply Project on options to restore this river. There is already an unsustainable abstraction from the Lower River Shannon Special Area of Conservation (SAC) at Parteen Regulating Weir, and we pointed out that the existing issues here must be addressed before we start talking about taking water to Dublin. The ESB abstract up 400 tonnes of water per second (cumecs) from the SAC at

5River lamprey. Photo by: Ecofact

5Sea lamprey. Photo by: Ecofact

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5 Parteen Regulating Weir on the Lower River Shannon. Photo by: Ecofact

this location, reducing the flow in this Natura 2000 river downstream of here to just 10 cumecs. The implications of this unsustainable abstraction have never been assessed in an Environmental Impact Assessment or Habitats Directive Assessment. The future requirements of sustainable water management on the Lower River Shannon, along with addressing the fish passage problems in the lower Shannon, will have to come ahead of any major new development on the river. The current ESB abstraction from the SAC has created a totally unnatural hydrological regime. This has resulted in a profound deterioration of the ecology and hydromorphology of the river, with encroachment of vegetation, siltation and increased flood risk. Misguided attempts to remodel the river with the movement and introduction of hundreds of tonnes of rocks and boulders, and even concrete and iron girders, to compensate for the reduced flows have further degraded the river corridor physically, ecologically and aesthetically. A major decline in salmon stocks and other native fish species has occurred, and the current regime is also favouring the establishment of a range of non-native invasive species both in and along the river corridor. We also discussed how to take positive action on the many issues affecting fish migration on the Lower River Shannon. The key to restoring fish migration on the River Shannon is a reduction in the current water abstraction and regulation at the ESB dams. The ESB’s Shannon salmon and eel management programmes have failed; let’s close Parteen salmon hatchery, phase out eel trap and

5Ardnacrusha hydroelectric station. Photo by: Ecofact

transport, and invest in new fish passes/bypasses instead. We need to increase and vary the compensation flow provided to the old River Shannon. The current water management regime on the Lower River Shannon was set in the 1920s, with the fish passes designed in the 1920s and 1950s. We have scientific knowledge to manage things better now and this needs to be acted on. It is clear that there needs to be a change in the way this Natura 2000 river is managed to balance

the requirements for the hydroelectricity generation with the interests of ecology, fisheries, the catchment residents and varied user groups on the river and municipal water abstraction. We hope that the event held on WFMD 2018 will mark the start of move towards sustainable management of the Lower River Shannon. A restored River Shannon will provide so much more value via ecosystem services than hydroelectricity generation alone could ever do. Irish Wildlife Summer ‘18

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OVER TO YOU It has been a long, tough journey to make it to summer, but finally we’re here, and with that comes a fantastic opportunity to get out and about to experience the wildlife that our country has to offer. We love to hear from our members, so remember to keep in touch with all your stories, photos and questions from your adventures!

LOOKING A LITTLE PALE! Dear IWT, Dean Morrow, one of our regular volunteer rangers at National Trust Mount Stewart,was out in the Newbuilding’s area of the Foyle Valley as part of his normal day job and spotted this albino common frog on its way to spawning grounds presumably. Amazing that one has survived predation to spawn itself!


Toby Edwards, Area Ranger, Mount Stewart National Trust

TIME TO WAKE UP! Dear IWT, Ghost netting – it’s near about time we wake up to the destruction plastic and our litter are causing to the environment! 6 fresh lesserspotted dogfish in this piece of abandoned net. Rónán McLoughlin, Mailin Head, Donegal


Stephenstown Pond is a nature reserve in Co Louth, managed by Geraldine (Ger) McCullough, and is a place I go regularly and really love. I happened to be there on 14th April around 7pm. What I saw completely mesmerised me, as it was something I had never seen or heard of before. As I was feeding the swans and taking a few photographs, the swans slowly moved away from me to the centre of the lake. They started grooming each other, then proceeded to do a type of synchronised dance. The male moved away and then approached the female from the side and proceeded to climb across her. She started to go slowly under the water and then they mated. The mating itself lasted for approx a minute. Kindest regards, Margaret Hoey, Co Louth

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www.facebo ildlifeTrust/

PHOTO OF TH E MONTH! Congratulatio ns to JACKIE TIGHE for sending us photograph of this fantastic a go ldfinch fi against the w ind and snow ghting .

A NIGHT OWL Hi IWT, I was lucky to see this barn owl perched in a tree while driving home around 7pm in Churchtown, Mallow. She was in very good shape and looked very strong. I say she, because her feathers seems to be on the dark side. I could be wrong. Regards, Paul Madigan, Co Cork


PECKIN! From @Aoibh_G

Dear Irish Wildlife Trust, Found this silvery-grey lichen with red fruiting bodies in Redbog, near Tinahely, Co. Wicklow in early May. I’m working on a project about peatlands with the local school and arts centre and would love to know the species. Such an interesting colour, alongside the various sphagnum mosses, heathers and grasses. Thanks, Sarah Rubalcava, Co. Wicklow Hi Sarah, Your photo shows a number of lichen species which collectively fall under the scientific family ‘Cladonia’ (sadly most lichens don’t have English names). In

Paul Whelan’s book Lichens of Ireland (Collins Press, 2011), he identifies 48 species of Cladonia lichens and many are difficult to tell apart by non-specialists. The ones with the red tips are commonly referred to as ‘match stick lichens’ but there are at least a dozen individual species! They sometimes appear as tiny golf tees before the red tips appear (this is known as the apothecium and is a reproductive organ). The mossy branches which dominate in your photo are different again, and these are commonly referred to as ‘reindeer moss’ (although it is a lichen), and they get this name as they are commonly grazed by reindeer in their tundra home. Paul’s book is a great place to start for anyone interested in learning more about Ireland’s diverse and colourful lichens! Irish Wildlife Trust

If you have a story, question, or an image you’d like to share with us, or, God forbid, even a complaint, send it to

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Friends of

MERLIN WOODS Friends of Merlin Woods continues its campaign to save Galway’s Merlin Park Woods and its surrounding habitats, writes Caroline Stanley.


ince October 2012, Friends of Merlin Woods has been raising awareness of the biodiversity of Merlin Park Woods, photographing and recording its species and running projects and events to promote the positive use of the amenity. With ever-increasing housing and development encroaching the green spaces in the area, Merlin Park Woods and its habitats are the last refuge for the wildlife that has become threatened within Galway city and further afield. Merlin Park Woods, in the east side of Galway city, is the largest and oldest urban woodland within the city’s boundaries, home to the native red squirrel, 19 species of butterflies, many species of orchids and wildflowers, and many species of insects, mammals and birds. It is used by the surrounding communities and visitors as a recreational space for walking, running and cycling, with benefits to both their mental and physical health. It is one of the most biodiverse areas within the city and has been allowed to flourish over the last 150-200 years. An immediate concern, however, is for Merlin Park meadows, a lowland hay-meadow rich with orchid species. The area is an Annex 1 priority habitat, as yet non-designated. In 2014, Friends of Merlin Woods became aware of a plan to develop the new Galway Hospice on the meadows, which would mean the privatisation of public amenity land and the destruction of one of the most valuable semi-natural grassland within the city. We believe that if this land was to be sold and developed, it might only be a matter of time before the HSE would allow more of this land to be sold off for development. We ran a campaign during the Development Plan process for 2017-2023 not to have the area rezoned for specific development, but a majority of


Common Blue Butterfly in Merlin Woods. Photo by: Colin Stanley.

Emperor Dragonfly in Merlin Woods

Meadows. Photo by: Colin Stanley.

councillors failed to see the value of the amenity land to the community and the environment, despite reservations by the community group, the planners and the City Manager of Galway City Council. We currently have an active petition, which we will use as part of a planning objection, with over 6,000 signatures already gathered and a continuing invitation for people to sign. As we await notice of the plans for the meadows to be put on display, we continue to highlight the amazing array of wildflowers, orchids and wildlife that uses the meadows, as well as its benefits to the overall ecosystem of

the woodlands. We are inviting people to visit the woods and meadows to see why they are important, and to stand with the surrounding communities who value this space and who use it day in, day out. With so much scientific awareness of the importance of green spaces to our health and well-being, places like this need to be preserved. It has a value to climate change action, traffic pollution, carbon sequestration and an aesthetic value upon entering the city. For more information, please see the Friends of Merlin Woods Facebook group or email

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Introducing the new Irish Wildlife Trust membership card. Please fill in your name, cut out and keep your new membership card to present at talks and other events. Cards valid until February 28th 2019. Your 2019 card will be printed in our 2019 spring issue.

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Membership Card 2018

Individual members, please fill in your full name. Family members, please fill in your family name. Card valid until February 28th 2019. Your 2019 card will be printed in our spring 2019 magazine. Š Irish Wildlife Trust 2018.

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Join or renew your IWT membership today and make a difference for Irish Wildlife



Join or renew your

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Irish Wildlife summer 2018  
Irish Wildlife summer 2018