Patrick Gleeson from Castleblayney is passionate about wildlife. We invited Patrick to tell us, in a short article, the story of wildlife in County Monaghan. In the article he also reveals the species that are under threat and what, in his view, the future holds for our wildlife.
Monaghan has an undeniable natural beauty. Its many drumlins and lakes is what the county is known for. This landscape can be a perfect home for wildlife, especially in the winter months when migratory wildfowl over-winter on many of our lakes. Whooper Swans are joined by Wigeon, Teal and many more.
However the list of flora and fauna found in Monaghan and indeed countrywide is quite noticeably shorter than it once was. The great forests of Ireland are gone and most of our vast raised bogs and wetlands have been drained. Through archaeology, folklore and place names, scientists have mapped out what Ireland once looked like and what animals were present here. The list of extinct species is astonishing. Gone are the Bittern, Capercaillie, Crane, Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Goshawk and the list goes on. Including both plants and animals it is quite a long list. Many mammal species are extinct also. Brown Bear, lynx and wild boar are gone and the last wolf in Ireland is believed to have been shot in 1786.
A WILD MONAGHAN
It’s hard to imagine what Monaghan once looked like. Great oak forests cloaked the drumlins and among the trees roamed wolf and wild boar. Bitterns would have been heard booming in amongst the reed swamps with Marsh Harriers hunting overhead. Even with the coming of agriculture and the felling of much of the woodlands, wild places and wild creatures still existed until not that long ago. With references to a pack of wolves roaming Sliabh Beagh in the 1690s plenty of habitat and prey must have still existed.
References to long gone creatures can still be seen in Monaghan place names like Drumillard (Droim Iolaird- Eagle Ridge), Drumturk (Droim Thoirc) and Clonturk (Cluain Toirc), torc meaning boar in Irish. The ancient Irish managed to live alongside these creatures and tolerated them, which we have lost the ability to do today.
Robert Lloyd Praeger one of Irelands greatest naturalists on his travels in the early twentieth century visited Monaghan many times. Referring to the areas botany and zoology he called it “a rather dull area”. However even in Praeger’s day biodiversity was a lot richer than it is today. Farmland birds like Barn Owl and Yellowhammer were much more common back then. Agriculture was less harsh on the land than it is today. The late cut, species rich hay meadows provided plenty of food for pollinators and insects and excellent cover for ground nesting birds like the Curlew and Corncrake. The latter still common in the 1970s is now extinct in Monaghan and only a handful of breeding pairs of Curlew remain.
Once a common bird of bog land and damp fields only around 120 breeding pairs remain in the Republic. Due to land drainage, afforestation and the intensification of agriculture breeding Curlew are in real danger of becoming extinct in the country. Its call has inspired many poets like WB Yeats and Padraig Pearse and would have been heard for generations from people cutting turf to farmers making hay. It will be a sad day if the Curlews haunting call is heard no more.
GLOBAL CHALLENGES AND WILDLIFE
The disappearance of wildlife is a global phenomenon. It is mainly due to habitat loss and climate change – all fuelled by an ever growing human population. We are currently witnessing what some scientists call ‘the sixth mass extinction’. A recent Living Planet Report has shown that global wildlife populations have fallen by 58% since 1970. The disappearances aren’t restricted to the large vertebrates. The insects at the bottom of the food chain have also dramatically declined. Many readers may remember what is known as ‘the windscreen phenomenon’. After long journeys windscreens are no longer covered in squashed flies and insects. This was a common occurrence during Irish summers years ago.
It’s not all bad news however. There is a growing awareness of the environmental challenges we face. People are beginning to realise how healthy ecosystems can benefit us all. Healthy bogs, wetlands and native woodlands can hold back and absorb water in times of flooding. They are excellent at providing clean drinking water as well as acting as carbon sinks. If these areas are restored we may see the return of some of our lost species. We have already seen the return of the Buzzard, Pine Marten and the Great Spotted Woodpecker. Can we make a little room for the wild again?
Useful websites include: noticenature.ie, iwt.ie (Irish Wildlife Trust) birdwatchireland.ie and biodiversityireland.ie. Note that in the Latest News section of biodiversityireland.ie there is a New Year Recording Challenge in which anyone can participate. Also, just published on the site is the National Biodiversity Indicators: 2017 Status & Trends report. It summarises trends in the health of species, landscapes and seascapes, as well as the broad changes in Irish society’s relationship with wildlife protection.
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