Behind the News: Scoil Chonglais bug hoteliers

A B&B for birds and bugs has won the top Eco-Unesco Young Environmentalist Award for 10 inventive students from Baltinglass, in Co Wicklow

Bug-and-bird B&B: Scoil Chonglais’s winning team. Photograph: Tommy Clancy

Bug-and-bird B&B: Scoil Chonglais’s winning team. Photograph: Tommy Clancy

 

A group of students who came up with an unusual solution to the decline of the bug population in the grounds of their school scooped the top prize at the Eco-Unesco Young Environmentalist Awards in Dublin this week.

The 10 pupils at Scoil Chonglais, in Baltinglass, Co Wicklow, decided to create a B&B for birds and bugs after concluding that building work on an extension meant that there were fewer insects – and therefore fewer birds – in their school’s environment.

“We built a bug hotel from recycled materials in the community garden next to the school,” Merlin Fernando James, a fourth-year student, says, “and we put up bird nesting boxes and bird feeders in the community garden and the school grounds.”

James and her fellow fourth- and fifth-year students used social media to spread awareness of their project at their own school and at the primary school next door; they also fitted the feeder with a webcam, so everyone could watch the birds.

Having the community garden close by was also a bonus. “Everyone in the community is involved in the garden, so it was great to have the bug hotel there,” says Hannah Kehoe, another Scoil Chonglais student.

The group’s project highlights the way that a seemingly small problem, such as a decline in an insect population, can have a knock-on effect on other species and so contribute to global ecosystem collapse.

The students also point out that having fewer bugs and birds has a negative effect on recreational amenities and the beauty of the natural world, by reducing the variety of fauna and flora and by making soil less fertile.

The group were thrilled to be chosen from more than 80 groups shortlisted from projects involving 4,000 young people at the largest celebration of youth eco-action in Ireland. “It’s great to be acknowledged by the United Nations,” says James.

A group of first- and second-year students from Scoil Mhuire gan Smál, in Blarney, Co Cork, won the overall junior award for their project. Blarney Bats Babes highlighted the role bats play in preventing disease.

“Bats eat midges, which spread the bluetongue disease to livestock, and mosquitoes, which spread malaria,” Emma Kelleher, one of the pupils, says. Ruth O’Mahony adds, “The long-whiskered bats are being introduced to Kenya to control mosquitoes, to prevent the spread of malaria.”

Elaine Nevin, director of Eco-Unesco in Ireland, says, “The work of these young people can be replicated anywhere in the world to help protect and conserve our environment. We hope that Unesco clubs worldwide will strive to do their bit and follow in the footsteps of their Irish counterparts.”

The shortlisted projects will be on display at the Greenhouse, Dublin 2, over the summer. To find out how to enter next year’s Young Environmentalist Awards, see ecounesco.ie

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