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.
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 www.irishbeekeeping.ie 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.
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.