Wildlife expert continues bike tour to celebrate island’s biodiversity

Merlin Woods one of 60 sensitive habitats on itinerary

Dr Liam Lysaght on his arrival to visit Merlin Woods in Galway. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Dr Liam Lysaght on his arrival to visit Merlin Woods in Galway. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Wed, Aug 13, 2014, 01:00

Close encounters with a Kerry natterjack toad, sightings of a fin whale and a glimpse of the artistic skills of the Marsh Fritillary, Ireland’s only legally protected insect, are among highlights recorded so far by Dr Liam Lysaght on his circumnavigation of the island by bike.

Dr Lysaght, who is director of the National Biodiversity Data Centre in Waterford, had completed about a third of the cycle when he reached Galway city’s Merlin Park woods yesterday evening en route to Connemara.

The oldest woodland in the city, Merlin Park is home to red squirrels, some 16 species of butterfly, five species of bat, the short-eared owl, the rare small white orchid and Burren-type limestone pavement and flora.

Campaign group Friends of Merlin Woods was there to meet him, and to highlight its concerns about the impact on the woodland of a proposed 1.9km bus corridor.

It is one of some 60 habitats in 19 counties Dr Lysaght is visiting on his sunwise cycle and “celebration” of Ireland’s diverse wildlife.

“We really do have the most stunning landscape, and while there are conservation issues in almost every corner, there is a cohort of communities with a real appreciation of the natural heritage,” Dr Lysaght said.

“A real learning experience” is how he describes his tour so far, in which he has been accompanied by his 17-year-old daughter Bella as support driver – and his 11-year-old son Felix for the first week.

Bella is due to receive her Leaving Certificate results while on the road today – “sacrificing celebrations in Magaluf for somewhere in north Connemara”, her father quips.

Reserves and Ramsars

Dr Lysaght’s itinerary takes in 19 special areas of conservation, 13 nature reserves, 12 Ramsar sites where wetlands are protected, three forest parks, three golf courses, a world heritage site – Co Antrim’s Giant’s Causeway – and the world biosphere reserve on Dublin’s Bull Island.

It involves some 27,000 metres of climbing – three times the height of Everest – and he has already completed the gruelling 8km ascent of Kerry’s Conor Pass.

The 70,000-calorie-consuming trip, which continues until the end of August, involves about 128 hours in the saddle, followed by daily homework in the form of an online diary, which can be followed at: wildirelandtour.ie