National Biodiversity Week which continues until Saturday, is a celebration of Ireland’s native flowers, trees, insects, animals and birds.
Environmentalist Éanna Ní Lamhna says it infuriates her when people say "biodiversity" is hard to understand. "'Bio' means living and 'diversity' means lots of different living things," she says. In fact, the term first originated in the 1960s as biological diversity and was reduced to biodiversity in the 1980s. And, in this 25th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, the Irish Environmental Network highlights walks, talks and workshops all over Ireland this week.
However, it would be naive not to acknowledge the ongoing destruction of biodiversity by humans in this, the Holocene or Anthropocene extinction – the fifth massive extinction of species since life on Earth began.
“There is more awareness of biodiversity now but there has been a great reduction in biodiversity in Ireland due to intensification of agriculture,” says Ní Lamhna. Specifically, she refers to how most pastureland is now rye grass compared to meadow grass which had up to 60 species of wild grasses and wildflowers. “Cutting silage instead of hay also has an enormous affect on pollinators, other insects, birds and animals like hares,” she says. She is however encouraged by the efforts by Tidy Towns groups to plant native trees and let wildflowers grow – all of which encourages biodiversity.
Ní Lamhna joined other environmentalists to celebrate the range of habitats, insects, birds and animals on the conserved Abbeyleix Bog in Co Laois last Saturday. Ecologist and Eco Eye presenter Anja Murray was also there.
“Biodiversity Week is a lovely event which celebrates natural habitats and encourages people to open their eyes and get out in nature. Abbeyleix Bog for example is teeming with wildlife from carnivorous plants to rare flowers and birds,” says Murray. More than 550 species have been recorded on this community-led project since it was leased from Bord Na Móna in 2009.
Like Ní Lamhna, Murray is keen to point out that Ireland has lost much of its species-rich grasslands and wild woodlands.
"I think there was a backlash against nature when the Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas were designated in Ireland. Part of this backlash resulted in reduced funding to organisations like the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Heritage Council, " says Murray.
She says that it’s important to be positive about nature now.
“It’s not a battle. The natural world should be protected for all our benefit not just because of scientists and bureaucrats. There is an inter-dependency between us and the natural world. My main hope for the future is in community and volunteer-led initiatives like the Abbeyleix Bog project,” she says.
Chris Uys is one of the volunteers on Abbeyleix Bog. "It is a multi-disciplinary collaborative project. We have the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Irish Peatland Conservation Council and Laois County Council on our advisory group and we work with environmental non-governmental organisations including Groundwork, the Irish Wildlife Trust, Birdwatch Ireland, Bat Conservation Ireland as well as researchers and citizen scientists for surveys for the National Biodiversity Data Centre," he explains.
But, alongside all this conservation work is public engagement. Abbeyleix Bog is an open access amenity with looped walks and boardwalks.
“More and more people are coming here to walk and when they are here, they start asking questions about butterflies and bees. The solution for our future wellbeing is looking after the environment for everyone,” says Uys.
Highlights of National Biodiversity Week
1) Biozone at the Young Environmental Awards: The Bio Zone is an interactive biodiversity exhibition held as part of the Eco-Unesco Young Environmentalist Awards Showcase in the Mansion House, Dawson Street, Dublin. It is open to the public on Tuesday, May 22nd, from 10am-1pm.
2) Celebrating Biodiversity in Lough Foyle: A cross-Border exhibition of biodiversity in Lough Foyle, Moville Library, Crawford's Square, Moville, Co Donegal, on Tuesday from 11am-2pm.
3)The Liffey in the City – wildlife on our city's river: Lunchtime talk on the Liffey's birds and wildlife on Tuesday at 1pm in Dublin Civic Trust, 18 Ormond Quay Upper, Dublin.
4) Dining with Dippers: a walk along the river Camcor on Tuesday at 6pm to observe the dippers during their peak nesting season (starting from Camcor River Park, Birr, Co Offaly)
5) Nature in Culdaff and the sea shore, a guided nature walk on Tuesday, at 7.30pm, starting from McGrory's Hotel, Culdaff, Inishowen, Co Donegal.
6) Urban Nature Explorers: Join the biodiversity trail at the Rediscovery Centre, Ballymun Road, Ballymun, on Wednesday at 2.30pm. It is a chance to see features such as the living wall, the constructed wetlands, the bug hotel, sensory garden, vegetable garden and other green infrastructure at this environmental centre.
7) Greening the City – creating space for biodiversity: Illustrated lecture on the importance of city trees on Friday at 1pm in the Dublin Civic Trust, 18 Ormond Quay Upper, Dublin.
8) Nocturnal walk in the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin: Find out which creatures roam this beautiful garden by night on this guided walk on Thursday, at 9.30pm, led by the Irish Wildlife Trust.
9) An Irish Whale and Dolphin Group talk about the whales and dolphins in the northwest will be held in the Pier Hotel, Mullaghmore, Co Sligo on Friday, at 7.30pm. Also a whale watch on Loop Head, Co Clare on Sunday at 3pm.
10) Blossom Week by the Irish Seed Savers Association, Capparoe, Scarriff, Co Clare: Free tours of gardens and orchards every day until Saturday at this centre whose focus is on protecting Ireland's food biodiversity and heritage crops.
11) St Stephen's Green, Dublin: Join this two-hour guided tour of Dublin city wildlife hotspots, on Saturday, at noon and 6pm.
12) An outdoor workshop in Bull Island, Dublin: Learn how to identify the seashells in Dublin Bay on Sunday at 4pm at this workshop, led by Karin Dubsky.