06 Oct 2022

Wild About Wildlife: Exploring Loughmore Common

Wild About Wildlife: Exploring Loughmore Common

Special to the Shannon area, a turlough is a lake that is actually dry during certain parts of the year

IT WAS a beautiful day and one for sunhats and plenty of suncream. As part of Heritage Week myself and Harry joined the Limerick branch of the Irish Wildlife Trust for their trip to Loughmore Common. The walk was led by Dr Tom Harington and Mike Quirke. We had been on fungi and plant identification walks before with these two gentlemen and they impart their knowledge with ease and enthusiasm.
The common is located on private property so this was a rare opportunity to explore this unique habitat and the large crowd reflected the interest. After a short walk through a front garden, over electric wire and through a field full of cows we arrived at the edge of the turlough.
The hedgerows around the fields were tall and mature and some of the best I have seen in a long time. The large pink flowers of the dog rose were in bloom and this is an indication of an old hedgerow. A speckled wood butterfly briefly flew by before disappearing over the gate and along the base of the hedge.

We stopped at the bridge over the man made canal with the view of Mungret hill in the background. The canal was designed to take away storm water from the nearby industrial estate and Tom informed us that previously the rare opposite leaved pondweed had been recorded here but in recent times it has remained elusive.
Turloughs are habitats that change with the seasons. In winter they are wet while come spring and summer they dry out. This is reflected in their Irish name “Tuar lach” that translates as dry place.
The meadow was dotted with colourful flowers and it is a sad reminder of how once the countryside must have looked and a pointer around how grassland habitats could be developed and managed in the future.
The first plant species we examined was a colony of the rare meadow barley and this is a protected species in Ireland. This means it is illegal to dig it up or gather the seed. It does have that familiar cereal appearance and while I had heard of this plant I had never had it in the hand before.
Growing nearby we found Red Bartsica. This flower took me ages to identify and it is semi parasitic on the roots of other species. Another parasitic plant is Yellow rattle. This feeds on the roots of grasses and creates bare patches where the seeds of wildflowers can germinate. This is a great flower to include for anyone sowing a wildflowers meadow.
Autumn hawkbits has smaller yellow dandelion like flowers and it brilliant for hoverflies. These insects mimic the colours of a wasp but are perfectly harmless.
Silver weed feathery leaves are coloured like their name and the flowers are yellow and held at the end of long straggly stems. A former use was to place the fresh leaves in your shoes and this was meant to absorb excess sweat. Given that the temperatures were heading for 30 degrees this plant might be in big demand before the walk ended and perhaps for use under armpits.
Tom with help from Mike Quirke also introduced us to some of the meadow grasses. Perennial rye grass is the species of choice of modern grasslands but it supports far more wildlife as part of a community of plants like Loughmore common.
Other species were red fescue and one I am familiar with Timothy grass. This was once a very important agricultural plant before diverse meadows became fields of one species. Quaking grass also known as “dottery dillies “constantly shakes even on the calmest day.
We were also reminded by the birdwatchers among us to pause, look up and listen. We heard the harsh croaking of a raven flying nearby. Ravens were once very shy and retiring due to years of persecuting before in more tolerant times have recolonised many of their former haunts.
The little creatures were also evident in the long grass. With the sweep of the net Harry find a seven spot ladybird and these have a veracious appetite for greenfly and their larva.
A lady on the walk found a massive garden spider running up her bare legs. She was attired in shorts that were perfect for the weather but perhaps not for a meadow walk.
The ground beneath our feet started to become wetter as we pushed deeper into the turlough. The plant community also started to change to reflect the wetter conditions.
Eyebright give even the experts a headache due to the dozens of hybrids that can occur with sometimes only a miniscule difference between them.
In shallow depressions where there is more standing water greater pond sedge and American willowherb were growing.
Unfortunately we had to leave for another event but we really enjoyed the sense of sharing of knowledge and joy of plants. This turlough is an amazing community of plants and we had a community of experts to guide us on our discovery.

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