Don’t Blame Biodiversity

LACK OF MAINTENANCE DUE TO LOCKDOWN NOT POLLINATOR PLAN

Last week’s Northern Standard ran an article about how unmowed and wild-growing green areas around the town are causing discontent among residents. There is recognition that biodiversity
needs to be protected but a feeling that the current state of previously mowed and managed areas
is too much too soon, and that the introduction of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan in Monaghan
Municipal District was done without sufficient consultation. Developing a communications strategy and engaging with the communities who are being affected by the changes in policy is key to the future success of the Pollinator Plan. As is recognising that lockdown has had a major impact on maintenance around town. Candice Moen gives her opinion.

BALANCING NEEDS

It’s crucial that biodiversity is protected and that mowing is reduced to allow wild spaces to grow and thereby offer food and habitats for our pollinators and other insects and small animal/bird species. The recently released Gardening for Biodiversity booklet, produced by Heritage Ireland (and available for free from Monaghan Heritage Office), discusses how we are seeing massive declines in our insect, bird, fish, mammal and amphibian popluations. This is due to a number of factors that include habitat loss (through the development of land for housing and infrastructure), habitat fragmentation (large distances between habitable spaces), pesticide use (in the control of urban weeds and in intensive farming) and climate change (rising temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns). While we cannot deny that we need to change the way we interact with Nature in urban areas, like Monaghan Town, it is also necessary that changes are made in a way that considers
and accommodates the needs of the people too.

NETWORK OF LIFE

So, what do we need to protect? The biodiversity of Monaghan is all the different types of organisms
that live here – all the different trees and plants (native & ornamental), the many different types of
fungi, the thousands of different types of insects that call Monaghan home (including 1454 different species of butterflies and moths, 2154 different beetles and 3194 different bees, wasps and ants), spiders, amphibians and all the different creatures and microbes that live in the soil and make it possible for us to grow plants for food. Biodiversity is also extended to include the habitats and ecosystems they live in and the genetic variations within species. It’s a vast network of life that we are a part of and, because of the way we humans conduct ourselves, it is now hanging in the balance. Not today, not tomorrow but in the near future, our survival will be at stake if we don’t take action now, as communities, to slow the loss of and protect our local biodiversity.

GREEN AND LUSH

When thinking about ways we can support biodiversity in our towns, we should first do a needs
analysis – what exactly is biodiversity, what needs of ours does it serve and what does it need from
us? Once we understand this, and fully appreciate the benefits to our own existence, we can discuss
ways to offer support in a manner that is acceptable to all (or as close to all as possible). These actions cannot be avoided or postponed, they are necessary now, but if we all put on our thinking caps we should be able to find creative ways to further green our town and support our pollinators and other biodiversity. Monaghan Town has been highly praised by Tidy Towns adjudicators in recent years for its approach to biodiversity; a number of projects have been undertaken to promote pollinators and Monaghan won the first National Pollinator Award in 2016. Judges have commented on the “green and lush” nature of the town and described it as looking like a town nestled among trees rather than a town where trees have been planted (see www.monaghantownbiodiversity.com).

SYMBIOSIS

What must be further encouraged is a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship between humans, who are the most dominant speciesin any ecosystem, and the other biodiversity that supports the health of that ecosystem. Because we are so used to ‘doing things for ourselves’ as humans and have become too accustomed to hitting a switch to get light, turning on a tap to get water, putting food on the table from supermarket shelves, flushing away our waste and breathing without thought or appreciation, we have forgotten what a vital role biodiversity plays in our survival. Without it, we are nothing. It is our biodiversity that creates the functioning ecosystem that supplies the oxygen we breathe in with every breath, that supplies and cleans the water that hydrates our bodies, that pollinates and enables mineral exchange in the plants we eat, that breaks down our waste…to name just a few of the many ecosystem servicesit has to offer.

WILDLIFE CORRIDORS

We benefit enormously from these services and it is in our own best interests to find ways in which
we can reduce the damage we inflict, and give back. There are four key things that we can offer as support for other vital members of this web of life: a supply of food, shelter for habitat and protection, water, and biodiversity-friendly management of our green spaces. We need to not only allow but encourage the establishment of natural pitstopsthroughout the town that insects and wildlife can use for sustenance and shelter as they move about the concrete jungle. Monaghan Tidy Towns have made great progress over the last few years establishing these ‘wildlife corridors’ throughout the town, and the town is now competing at a high level against towns which are very vigorously promoting biodiversity. We need to make the distinction – low mow and untidiness are not the same thing. Low mow is simply a different, more sustainable and pollinator friendly type of maintenance.

GIVING IT TIME

There are any number of ways we can offer these supports and we should be exploring and discussing our options to find which ways will work best for both biodiversity and for the people in the town. While there will definitely be a period of adjustment from what we are used to, in terms of mowed, manicured, and sprayed verges, this transition can be managed supportively. There are ways that weeds can be controlled on pavements without spraying, there is enough green space for both
pollinators and our children, and there are ways that wild spaces can be created with both visual appeal and biodiversity in mind. Many examples of this can already be found around town. The Pollinator Plan was adopted only last year so this summer is the first full season with the new
mowing measures in place and it has unfortunately coincided with the Covid-19 lockdown, which
restricted even the most basic maintenance measures for a number of months. What we’re seeing in
many areas is a result of minimal maintenance at a time of verdant growth; let’s take a few deep,
calming breaths (of air oxygenated for us by our plant allies) and reserve judgement until we have an
opportunity to see the result of more strategic action that has not been compromised by lockdown.

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Drumlin Nature Watch – by Liam Murtagh
Get close to Nature and enjoy some food for free

Walking along a quiet lane a few days ago I came across a wild raspberry fruiting in the hedgerow. At a time when most of the food consumed in Ireland comes via supermarkets or other retailers it is a unique and delightful experience to stop and pick a fresh fruit from a hedge. The flavour had a delightful subtle sweetness. Moreover, there was no packaging involved, zero food miles and no food waste.

While wild raspberries are native to Ireland, many of those that we find in hedges may be bird seeded from cultivated varieties in gardens. The garden raspberries are also fruiting at this time of year. Since planting raspberry canes in the garden some years ago, I notice that each year the new raspberry suckers emerge in new ground alongside the older canes. The raspberry is a forest edge plant that is at the front line pushing out to expand the forest. Other shrubs or trees will follow on in the space vacated by the ‘advancing’ raspberries. The succession process goes on, and over time the area would revert to oak forest like the one that covered our county in ancient times.

While only fragments of ancient forest remain in Ireland, our county does have a rich network of
hedgerows. Hedgerows and field margins are very suitable for foraging. Earlier this year, I collected
nettles as an ingredient for soup. The tiny and tasty wild hedgerow strawberries are fruit that I have
picked in early summer for as long as I can remember. In some mature hedges the elder tree is now
coming to an end of its flowering phase. Its flowers can be used to make cordials and fritters.
Elderflower champagne is a drink that I have tasted but not yet made. Later in the year, blackberries
and field mushrooms will be a focus for foragers. Inexperienced mushroom foragers should always
have expert advice on whether a species of mushroom they pick is edible or not.

County Monaghan has a rich source of free food, but we have lost some of the plant knowledge that earlier generations had. Courses, guide books and reliable websites are ways to learn more about foraging. A new book, ‘The Wild Food Plants of Ireland’ by Tom Curtis and Paul Whelan is a complete guide.

One of the classic books still available is ‘Food for Free’ by Richard Mabey. His comment on the feedback from readers of his book is one that resonates with me. ‘It is the intimacy with wild things that foraging can bring that seems to be most richly enjoyed.’

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Insect Asides – by Patrick Gleeson
Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor)

It’s true that the butterflies often steal the show among the Lepidoptera, especially when it comes to their appearance. However many moths can be just as striking in colour. Also, their importance ecologically cannot be overlooked. Moths and their caterpillars are essential to the food web, supporting countless species. Many moth species are also important pollinators. Some do this during the day but most are nocturnal, working the night shift and carrying on with the job the bees do during the day. If it is appearance you are interested in, then some of the most beautiful moths, like the Elephant Hawk moths, would be for you. There are two species found in Ireland; the Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) and the Small Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila porcellus).

Both have an unusual olive green and pink pattern but as the name suggests the Small Elephant Hawk-moth is smaller and found mostly at coastal sites in Ireland. They are nocturnal and often visit the flowers of honeysuckle, but sometimes they can be found resting in vegetation during the day like the one in the photo.

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NOTICEBOARD

Staying Connected @ Home

Transition Longford Global Goals Programme: (1) Thurs, 9 July, Life on Land; (2) Thurs 6 August, Life Below Water; (3) Thurs, 27 August, Sustainable Cities and Communities; (4) Thurs, 10 September,
Good Health & Wellbeing. See Facebook pages of Transition Longford and Longford PPN or email
transitionlongford@gmail.com for more details.

Transformative Holistic Teaching Methods: An applied and active learning
opportunity inspired by permaculture, using whole systems thinking coupled with reflective learning and action! Dates to be confirmed, likely to be July 2020 at Carraig Dúlra Permaculture farm, County Wicklow, Ireland. See dulra.org.

Permaculture Recovery Training (PDC): The Covid-19 pandemic is revealing the need for our globalised industrial systems to adapt so that our values and quality of life are central to our way of life. We will be implementing recommended health measures to put safety first while sharing skills, that are all the more important in light of our rapidly changing world, to foster resilience in our local and global communities. Course runs from 31 July to 9 August, see cultivate.ie for more details.

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“The fact is that no species has ever had such wholesale control over everything on Earth,
living or dead, as we now have. That lays upon us, whether we like it or not,
an awesome responsibility. In our hands now lies not only our own future,
but that of all other living creatures with whom we share the Earth.”

[David Attenborough]

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