29 Sept 2022

Wild About Wildlife: Training communities in biodiversity

Wild About Wildlife: Training communities in biodiversity

Picture from the workshop in Doneraile on biodiversity

I LOVE being involved in positive projects that can help to sweep away the doom and gloom that often surrounds reports on the nature work. Recently myself and Harry took the long road to Doneraile in Cork to attend the first of three community Biodiversity Training workshops that were run by Ballyhoura development.
These workshops were designed to increase the participants' knowledge around biodiversity and also develop their skills around submitting records to the National Biodiversity Data Centre.
They also reflected the ethos that yes there is a biodiversity crisis but positive community engagement can encourage people to take actions on their own doorstep that can have a real impact.
The workshops were hosted by Cork Nature Network and this organisation strives to protect and promote Irelands Wildlife through education, research and conservation. You can become a member or volunteer and support their important work by checking out their website The workshop was funded through a NPWS grant for small recording projects.
The workshop took place in the Pastoral Centre in Doneraile. This was formerly a school and today continues the ethos of education with the subject now focused on the natural world. After a welcome cup of tea, biscuit and warm chat we settled into our day. The social side of these events is as important as it gives people the chance to share their experiences and passion for the natural world.
The heavy rain had been threatening all day and we had met a few downpours on the way down. Our tutor Jo wisely suggested that we head straight outside and make the most of the dry spell.
The school garden has been managed and developed into a haven for nature. Soon we were engrossed in identifying plants. We started off by learning about the some of the different families of plants. The bramble is a member of rose family and the key features are five leaves with small serrated edges.
Apples also belong to the same group and there were several growing along the back fence. Pollinators like bees find plenty of pollen and nectar in their flowers and the fruit is eaten by birds and insects.
Red clover is a member of the pea family and these plants are very important as they can fix nitrogen from the air and make if available for other crops. Peas can colonise poor ground and are often the first pioneering plants. Plant succession is a fascinating subject and this can be influenced by the addition or absence of fertilisers both natural and manmade.
Creeping buttercup mops up excessive nitrogen and its presence can be an indication that there is too much nitrogen presence in the soil.
Black medic has small yellow flowers and identification is often about the smallest of details. The leaf of the medic has a tiny tip in the centre and this helps separate it from similar species.
Another great tip is to look for differences. What we thought was broad leaved dock turned out to be a hybrid bock as it had broad leaves with wavy edge.
Harry was curious about a plant we had come across before but had not positively identified. It turned on to be cut leaved cranesbill and it has deeply cut leaves.
Recording biodiversity is not just about the rarer species but also the commonest. The daisy fits into the latter category but unless you record their presence on your lawn they will be a blank on the national map. Also by focusing on the common plants and insects you will build up your id skills and confidence over time. After a few seasons you will then start to notice different features and this could lead to discovering something rarer.

There was also time for natural sweet treat. Raspberries were ripe and juicy and the gooseberries were surprisingly sweet.
If you follow the stem of creeping bent grass nearly all the way down to its base it has very distinctive red socks.
The front of the old school is equally impressive. This would have once been a neat cut lawn but is now been managed for nature. Tall ox eyed daises swayed with the grasses and we also found scarlet pimpernel. This is also known as poor man’s weather clock as the flowers close with the approach of rain. In folklore if you carried a piece of the plant in your pocket it gave you the ability to understand what animals were saying.
Future plans include a path through the meadow and cut a neat edge to define the meadow. Also the addition of yellow rattle, a semi parasitic plant on the roots of grasses would create bare patches of soil for wildflower seeds to germinate.
Back inside we learnt how to identify our common species of butterflies and bees. A shocking statistic was that 90% of our EU protected habitats are in unfavourable conditions. On a wider countryside scale the lack of splattered bugs on your car window after a drive is another indication that overall insects are declining.

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