KEEPING THE IMPORTANCE OF OUR NATURAL SURROUNDINGS IN MIND
Last week was National Biodiversity Week, which coincided with the relaxing of restrictions and the re-opening of many parks. Biodiversity week is an annual reminder to people to keep connecting with nature and play their part in protecting it. It’s also a reminder of the fun and wonder that can be found in nature, inspiring us to learn more, see more, do more.
The theme for this year was ‘Our Solutions are in Nature’ – biodiversity remains the answer to a number of sustainable development challenges that we all face. Newly emerged from our Covid cocoons, let’s not forget to reconnect our senses with the natural marvels that surround us…from the tenacious plants that push through cracks in the pavement to the mighty trees that sink their roots deep into the Earth, they all serve a very important purpose.
WHY IS BIODIVERSITY IMPORTANT?
Biodiversity is the basis of human existence, our life support system. Ecosystems regulate climatic processes, break down wastes and recycle nutrients, filter, and purify water, buffer against flooding, maintain soil fertility, purify air, and provide natural resources such as wood, textiles, and of course food. All agriculture depends fundamentally on biodiversity, as do marine and freshwater food resources. The scope of biodiversity can be quite overwhelming, but the premise is pretty simple: every living thing depends on another, whether it’s a direct or indirect connection. When the status of one is changed, it has knock on effects for others. It is all connected. Healthy biological diversity involves many species and their relationships between one another and the landscape (Hawthorn, Cuckoo and Atlantic Salmon pictured).
Like an intricate engine, the Earth has many parts, each performing a specific task. Each part works together with its neighbour to make the engine function properly. If one part is damaged or missing, the engine will no longer work. To allow continued biodiversity loss means losing the essential services that biodiversity provides, and denying future generations of a beautiful and invaluable resource.
THREATS TO BIODIVERSITY
Biodiversity is currently being lost at an unprecedented rate globally, and Ireland is no exception. The decline in biodiversity has been more rapid in the past 50 years than ever before in human history and human activity is leading to increased extinction rates. Biodiversity loss in Ireland is caused mainly by habitat destruction (e.g. through construction and wetland drainage or infilling), invasive alien species (such as Japanese Knotweed and Zebra Mussel), pollution (for example from use of fertilizer leading to excessive levels of nutrients in soil and water), land use change (such as conversion of land to plantation forestry or agriculture), unsustainable and excessive consumption, and climate change.
We can help protect and increase biodiversity in our areas by making wildlife welcome, by protecting existing natural habitats, by being smart shoppers and buying locally produced food and other products, by buying products with less plastic and by leaving wild things in the wild where they belong. Plants and animals often die outside of their habitat. Even if they don’t, they have been taken out of the web of life which they are a part of, and can no longer do their job. It is more sustainable if you create an area in your own garden for wildlife by planting native plants and providing food and shelter for animals. They will come to you!
EU BIODIVERSITY STRATEGY
After a delay due to Covid-19, the European Commission published its long-awaited Biodiversity Strategy 2030 as part of the ‘Green New Deal’. It is a very ambitious document which, if implemented, will transform how we manage our land and seas. Particularly eye-catching is the call to protect 30% of land and sea with 10% of that under what they call ‘strict protection’. This would mean more than doubling the area of protected lands in Ireland and a more than 10-fold increase in our current extent of marine protected areas over the next 10 years. The strategy also calls for proper management of protected areas and defined targets for biodiversity restoration. There are targets for drastically reducing pesticide use on farmland, restoring degraded peatlands, establishing nature-friendly forestry practices, and removing dams and other obstacles along river systems. At sea, it acknowledges the enormous impact of bottom trawling on the sea floor and hints at phasing this out, while there is also a target for restoring endangered marine species and drastically reducing the level of unwanted ‘bycatch’.
For decades now we have failed to achieve high level targets for halting the precipitous decline in our biodiversity – why will this time be any different? Without local support for these measures it’s unlikely that they will be successful. We need to see Irish politicians engage with this strategy in a way that meets the targets with enthusiasm rather than begrudging reluctance. Individuals and community groups also have a role to play in helping to define where protected areas should go and how they can help in restoring biodiversity in their areas.
Drumlin Nature Watch – by Liam Murtagh
Four-spotted Chaser Dragonfly casts its clout in May
Ne’er cast a clout till May be out’
It is thought that the old proverb about when to shed our winter clothing might refer to when the May-tree (hawthorn) is in bloom rather than to the end of the month of May. The May-tree’s white blossoms combined with the general vibrant activity of Nature at this time of year seldom fails to lift the human spirit.
Earlier this May I was delighted to see a colourful dragonfly (pictured) ‘cast its clout’. The large yellow-brown insect was sitting quietly, and just under its feet was what seemed to be another insect which I initially took to be its prey. On closer inspection I realised that the dragonfly was instead sitting on its former skin or ‘exuvia’ that it had partly cast. This was its outer layer when it was living under water as a nymph during its recent larval stage. Surprisingly, the exuvia appeared much smaller than the dragonfly that had emerged from it. Also, there were white threads connecting the insect to its former self. I left it to separate itself and to await the hardening of its new skin before taking its maiden flight.
Before leaving the dragonfly, I took a photo in order to check what species it was. Having posted it on the social media group page ‘Insects and Invertebrates of Ireland’ it received a reaction from almost 200 people. Among them was a confirmation by Brian Nelson, a dragonfly expert, that the insect was the Four-spotted chaser dragonfly. Dave Wall of the National Biodiversity Data Centre suggested that I record it on the online citizens’ science project, Dragonfly Ireland Survey 2019-2024. On recording my sighting, I saw that there were already over 40 records of this common species of dragonfly this year. There are 17 species in Ireland.
Dragonflies and damselflies are bio-indicators of freshwater habitat quality and also indicators of the effects of climate change on biodiversity. Damselflies are generally smaller than dragonflies and have longer, slender looking bodies. Globally, at least one in ten dragonfly and damselfly species are threatened with extinction. In Medieval Europe, dragonflies were referred to as the ‘Devil’s Darning Needles’ as they were associated with evil. Although being voracious predators, dragonflies are harmless to humans. In many cultures the dragonfly symbol means a change for the better. In fact, these iridescent creatures, with whom we share this planet, are a joy to behold as they dart around the edge of a pond or lake.
Staying Connected @ Home
Flower-Insect Timed Count (FIT Count): There are concerns that the numbers of pollinating insects such as bees and ﬂies are declining, but we need more data to be able to track changes in abundance. You can help by doing a FIT Count. This survey is a collaboration between the National Biodiversity Data Centre and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. What can we do to take part? Watch a 50x50cm patch of flowers for 10 minutes and record how many insects visit. This survey runs from April to September and anyone can take part, see pollinators.ie for more details.
12 Veg – 12 Weeks: Free course from GIY Ireland, learn how to grow 12 veg in 12 weeks with Mick Kelly. Start with the basics and only add what you need when you need it. See giy.ie for more details.
Saving energy and using renewables: SEAI have recently launched SEAI Academy, a free online energy training resource aimed at employers and employees. See seai.ie/energyacademy. Support under the SEAI Sustainable Energy Communities Programme is also available for communities involved in energy initiatives. For details contact SEC County Mentor, Liam Murtagh on 086 8130296.
Are you a reader of the column? Do you have something to say? Is there a particular subject you would like to hear more about? Do you want to submit an article? Contact us by texting 086 830 3392, even if it’s just to say hello!
“If we pollute the air, water and soil that keep us alive and well, and destroy the biodiversity that allows natural systems to function, no amount of money will save us.”