Recognising the true value of nature and biodiversity

In today’s fast paced world, where almost everything is valued in monetary terms, it is easy to forget the true value and importance of that which sustains us – the natural world. Water, air, fuel and food are probably the most important elements of survival, all of which come from nature, and allow us to prosper. Of course, some of these resources are finite and others, such as water and air, become less useful if polluted. How we interact with these resources has an effect on their quality as well as our own health. As human beings, we have a responsibility to ourselves, the planet and future generations to act as stewards and take care of the natural world, so that our children and children’s children can continue to enjoy nature’s bounty.

Biodiversity garden at Glaslough

Biodiversity garden at Glaslough

Biodiversity loss

Unfortunately, we haven’t been doing a great job at protecting our natural environment. Our biodiversity, has suffered a great decline in recent years with continued urban development and short sighted careless use of our natural resources. Scientists refer to this era as the ‘Anthropocene’. This term refers to the effect of humans on the planet, and is related to the fact that we are in an era of mass extinction, whereby species are being lost at up to 1000 times the normal rate. The last such mass extinction event occurred 65 million years ago and resulted in vast losses of species, including dinosaurs. Unsustainable use of natural resources, heavy pollution, intensive agriculture, climate change and ocean acidification, all related in their source are all factors contributing to this rapid decline.

Resources which cannot be monetised are often dismissed as unimportant or not exciting enough to care about, much to our own peril. While we certainly overlook the inherent and intrinsic value of nature and a healthy planet, we also overlook the ‘economic’ benefits that healthy eco systems bestow on us.


Right across the world, and Co. Monaghan is no exception, colonies of bees have been in rapid decline in recent decades. While bees may not always appear to be the most human friendly of creatures, by buzzing about from flower to flower they are doing tremendous work for our species and for farmers. Bees are vital pollinators, allowing flowers and flowering crops to flourish naturally. Unfortunately, wild and native bee species have suffered sharp declines in parts of the world. The main reasons for this are increased use of pesticides and the dramatic reduction in wild flowers in natural habitats. The Federation of Irish Beekeepers does great work in promoting the importance of bees and beekeeping and supports bee keepers across the country. There is a local branch in Monaghan / Armagh and in Louth and Cavan. See for details.  As well as keeping bees, there are other way we can help. Planting wildflowers in a corner of our garden, or even having wildlife corners free to nature, are a big help to bees. Certain ornamental flowers such as borage and herbs such as oregano are attractive to bees.  


The earth worm is another great creature that is often overlooked, and has been threatened by the mass use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides, which damage the health and biodiversity of soil. A report commissioned by the Department of the Environment a few years ago put the value of the humble earthworm at €700 million per year for the services it provides. The small creatures, which live below the soil, digest and breakdown organic matter, releasing nutrients in forms which can be easily digested by plants and creatures living in the soil. By aerating the soil and moving nutrients through it, they help to boost its fertility. While pesticides and chemical laden artificial fertiliser might be a quick fix for fast growing grass, they damage the natural structure of the soil, diminishing its own natural ability to regenerate.

Local Interest

In Co. Monaghan, we have a number of areas that are particularly rich in biodiversity. The relative wilderness of Bragan is a fine example. Not only is it a refuge for wildlife, where one can hear the cuckoo or see the grouse or hen harrier, the extensive blanket bog is itself a rich and unique natural gem. Many of the world’s peatlands have disappeared or been exhausted, which makes conserving our own bogs more important. As well as our bogs, we have a number of biodiversity gardens in the county, including the ones photographed above at Doohamlet and Glaslough which were created by local voluntary groups. As well as being a lovely place for children and adults to stroll through they are also an important educational resource for local schools.

While there is no doubt that we have lost a great deal of our natural world and appreciation for it, we can still do a great deal to preserve what we have. We can all take simple steps to boost the biodiversity of where we live, by planting flowers or trees that support insects and birds, avoiding the use of artificial pesticides in our garden and simply opting to buy locally produced honey or organic fruit and vegetables.

Support Sport and Sustainability by supporting ‘Scrap Metal Collection Weekend’ in Castleblayney

This weekend, Blayney Rovers Football Club is holding a fundraising Scrap Metal Collection Weekend in Casltleblayney. It’s an opportunity for people in the mid Monaghan area to have a spring clean of their garages, backyards and farmyards.  Any metal item from as small as a biscuit tin to as big as a car or tractor will be accepted this Saturday and Sunday, 5 & 6 July between 10am and 5pm at Drumillard Industrial Estate to the rear of Lidl.  If you are within 20km of Castleblayney the members of the organising committee will arrange collection if you have a reasonable quantity of metal items for recycling. Phone 086 8266741 / 087 757299 / 086 7841097.

In taking metal items to the scrap collection weekend you are supporting the soccer club in Castleblayney in its work to develop a new soccer pitch in Drumillard. In addition you are ensuring that the metal will be recycled. If you don’t live in mid Monaghan there are options other than throwing mixed waste into a skip – the mixed waste skip is the worst option as it generally goes to landfill. There are recycling centres at Carrickmacross and Scotch Corner where you can take a trailer with metals and other items for recycling. The gate fee is just €2.

In the case of steel and to a greater extent in the case of aluminum, it is cheaper to recycle than to mine the ore and manipulate it through the production process to form new metals.  The energy saved by recycling steel worldwide reduces the annual energy consumption of the industry by about 75%, which is enough to power eighteen million homes for one year. If the world’s population was not increasing at the rate it is, we would probably have enough aluminum via recycling to meet the world’s needs and so no more bauxite would need to be mined and processed into aluminum. There are a range of initiatives to recycle aluminum cans via schools, businesses and community group such as Tidy Towns Associations. See and

While it is important to recycle as much as possible, if one looks at the ‘waste hierarchy’, it is preferable to reuse metal items or even better to reduce the number being produced in the first place. See the inverse pyramid with the emphasis the preferred option of waste reduction at the top of the pyramid, while the least desirable option of disposal is at  the bottome.

If we are buying a product made of metal, plastic, concrete, glass, paper or tropical hardwood, the questions we can ask ourselves are, “Do I really need it” and “What energy has gone into manufacture (CO2 and other greenhouse gasses emitted) and “How long will the product be useful to me and what will happen when it’s no longer of use to me”?   For metal products that we have already purchased –  and are no longer of use to us –  why not take the opportunity to recycle them this weekend and help a good cause!


In Brief

 Foraging for wild food in July

In recent years, foraging has become more popular. Some well-known chefs have promoted  the fact that wild foods have a lot to offer in terms of flavour,  nutrition and food miles,. Many  types of wild food have medicinal properties. Some wild food plants are garden escapes and can be found among our native plants. July is a month when many plants are in flower and some are at the fruiting stage. Some of the wild edible plants you will find in July include: Blackcurrant, Common Comfrey, Common Mallow, Gooseberry,  Ground Elder,  , Horseradish, Lime Blossom, Marsh Samphire, Raspberry, Redcurrant, Rock Samphire, Sea Beet, Silverweed, Sweet Cicely,  Wild Chicory Flowers, Wild Fennel, Wild Marjoram, Wild Mint, Wild Rose Flower, Wild Strawberry, Wild Thyme and Yarrow. If you are not familiar with a lot of wild plants it is advisable to get some expert help and not to eat something unless you are fully sure you know it is safe. This is especially true when it comes to mushrooms. Apart from plants there are other wild foods such as fungi, wild animals and fish. The list of protected species and relevant regulations should be consulted if hunting or fishing.   See

Be there for the Barn Owl

The barn owl is Ireland’s most iconic species, but unfortunately one of the most endangered, with very few breeding pairs left.If you are out walking at dusk these evenings you may see the ghostly sight of the Barn Owl ‘whoosh’ past you. According to Birdwatch Ireland they are a Red-listed Bird of Conservation Concern In Ireland due to a decline of over 50% in their population during the past 25 years. They are also listed as a Species of European Conservation Concern (SPEC3) having an unfavourable conservation status in Europe.

The reasons for the Barn owls decline are not fully understood, but can most likely be attributed to the loss of suitable habitat due to various aspects of agricultural intensification and the increased use of rat poisons. Other factors that have been implicated in their decline are the loss of suitable nest sites and some severe winters a few years back.

Under the ‘Be there for the Barn Owl’ project volunteer fieldworkers throughout Northern Ireland that have been trained up and are currently scouring the landscape for old buildings and mature trees where barn owls may be nesting. Details of the ‘Be there for the Barn Owl’ project and a video of a Barn Owl’s nest in Co Armagh can be seen at

Green Spaces promote Good Health and a Longer Life

In 2013, the European Environment Agency (EEA) published a report called Environment and Human Health which highlights and reviews what they conclude are the most significant impacts of our environment on our health. The report covers topics we expect to see such as water quality, air quality and climate change. But with increasing population numbers and densities, urban expansion and industrial development, it also emphasises the importance of having access to natural green spaces.

How often do we get into the green spaces around us?

How often do we get into the green spaces around us?

The growing recognition of multiple factors behind major public health issues, such as obesity, cancer, mental illness, and other chronic diseases, as well as the ageing of the European population, has generated an increasing interest in the role of residential environments and access to green spaces.

In summary, the EEA advises that access to natural, green environments can offer multiple benefits to physical health, mental and social well-being and improved quality of life. As we might expect, available data suggest that people with better access to a green environment are more likely to be physically active and have a reduced tendency to become overweight. However, there are many more critical benefits which we need to recognise.

The EEA report refers to numerous health and environment studies identifying issues associated with poor health for populations who don’t have adequate access to a healthy environment. Some studies for example have linked poor health with high pollution levels (polluted water or air), poor quality housing, limited access to green space and generally degraded environments.  In particular, green space has been shown to contribute to reducing health inequalities. Access to green space has also been shown to increase longevity and social interaction among urban senior citizens.

In addition to physical health benefits, further studies have shown that contact with nature can improve psychological well-being and social cohesion among all members of society. Access to safe green-spaces and contact with wildlife has been shown to be particularly beneficial for exploratory mental and social development of children and young people, in both urban and rural settings. Contact with nature, or even views of nature from hospital beds, can speed up recovery time for patients and for others can have a positive impact on stress and fatigue.

Green spaces have been closely linked with neighbourhood identity and safe, accessible green spaces have been shown to encourage activities across different social groups as well as increasing the satisfaction of residents within the area and reducing levels of anti-social behaviour. Community gardens, parks and other common areas provide space for recreation, facilitate neighbourhood improvement, and strengthen a sense of community and connection to the environment, thus contributing to improved health and well-being.

The role of urban allotment gardens in food provision is also important, especially in the context of food sustainability and promotion of locally-grown food. There is also a value in (re)connecting urban citizens with nature, and increasing everyone’s awareness of the value of nature and ecosystems services. Furthermore, greening the urban environment plays an important role in the context of climate change, increased biodiversity, protection against air pollution (by absorbing particulates, heavy metals, gases etc.), reducing the effects of noise pollution, flood control and prevention of soil erosion as well as regulating our micro-climate.

In 2005, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment introduced the concept of Ecosystem Services. This concept linked human health and well-being to biodiversity and the functioning of ecosystems. The assessment identified a range of services provided to us by our ecosystems e.g. provisioning services (e.g. food, fibre), regulating and supporting services (e.g. nutrient, water and carbon cycling) and cultural services (e.g. recreational opportunities). Well-functioning ecosystems thus contribute in multiple ways to human health and well‑being.

In light of the many critical links between green spaces, ecosystems, biodiversity and human health highlighted above, the European Commission released their Green Infrastructure Strategy in 2013 aimed at improving the provision and quality of green spaces across its member states. In County Monaghan, we are lucky to be living in a relatively high quality, natural, rural environment. However, the facts above emphasise the importance of retaining and enhancing the quality and use of our existing green spaces as well as planning and creating additional new spaces which are accessible to the public and provide a range of uses and benefits. This is particularly important around our towns and villages and in the context of the development of residential areas.

Permaculture Course Provides Food for Thought at Wetlands Centre


The beautiful Ballybay Wetlands Centre provided a very suitable location for a weekend of discussions and workshops on living sustainably. The sun shone on the drumlins surrounding the Dromore River, and the birds gently tweeted as Marella Fyffe, from Omagh Co. Tyrone, led Transition Monaghan’s weekend workshop on Sustainable Living Skills / Permaculture.

Participants of  the Permaculture Course at  the sunny Wetlands Centre

Participants of the Permaculture Course at the sunny Wetlands Centre

Permaculture, a principle that originated in Australia, is all about careful design of systems that enables us to interact with nature and our surroundings in a positive way that can enhance our lives without having a negative impact on the environment. It can be defined as a method for building sustainable human habitats that are ecologically sound an economically viable. We can apply principles related to sustainability to enhance every aspect of our lives.

Our early discussions revolved around the importance about us as individuals being focused and not taking on too many projects. The role of ethics and values was also discussed ,and how determining these with respect of the environment in mind can lead to better decision making and long term planning. Marella introduced us to the 12 Holmgren Principles, which are key to permaculture’s holistic outlook on the design of systems, whether that be a household, a suburban garden, a small agricultural holding or a community garden or forest. These principles focus on the importance of planning, and making  sure that elements of a system are in the right place and that every aspect of a system can be utilised without creating much or any waste.

One of the tasks that we were given was to arrange a layout for a permaculture small holding. This comprised a grazing area for animals, out-houses, a river, a small wind turbine, water mill, forest garden, vegetable patch, reed bed system and more. Arranging these according to permaculture principles we had to take careful consideration of the best location for each element of the system. For example, the house was placed in a south facing direction, while the herb and vegetable garden was placed near the house, so that the occupant could keep an eye on these parts of the garden that need regular maintenance. Forest gardens and agro- forestry plots would be placed further away from the house, as they did not require the same level of attention. It was commented that all these elements would be difficult for one person or family to maintain, and it would be better if a community would have access to these different resources that would help them become more self-sufficient and resilient. This is the case in the Eco Village in Co Tipperary.

While permaculture is an abbreviation for permanent agriculture it is so much more than simply about farming or growing food. The underlying message of the weekend was that we can all take aspects of permaculture’s teaching to make a difference in various areas from our personal lives, to our house and garden and to our community. If we all take small steps such as growing a small amount of our vegetable of choosing the bike over the car when possible, then these small actions collectively can be very powerful.

The Transition Town movement, which aspires to build a more resilient, low carbon world, is built on the principles of permaculture. Transition Monaghan is a voluntary initiative that applies these ideas here, and we always welcome new members, whether experienced activists or those wishing to get more involved in their community. We will soon be planning our next event, and would love to hear your ideas! Email