National Biodiversity Week 2020 is offering a large number of opportunities to get up close to nature – even if Covid-19 has forced a switch to online.
Undeterred, the Bealtaine Living Earth Biodiversity festival taking place up to Sunday May 24th is offering a "biodiversity virtual tour" every day at 5pm from its website livingearth.ie
It will be used to provide access to Ireland's rich mix of biodiversity including flaura, fauna and ecosystems, by bringing together experts and guides from across the south east, the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC).
In its 16th year, it is coordinated by Calmast Stem Engagement Centre at Waterford Institute of Technology, and is Ireland's biggest biodiversity festival.
Normally it has expert guides leading guided tours and talks in beautiful settings. "With the current restrictions in place, the festival will be bringing these events directly into people's homes through online curated walks," said festival spokeswoman Dr Sheila Donegan.
"Each day we will feature a different location, such as a curated online tour of Lafcadio Hearn Japanese gardens in Tramore; rock pooling with sea gardener Marie Power on the beaches along the Waterford coast, and a 'wellness walk' in the JFK Arboretum outside New Ross, Co Wexford. "
In addition, a range of workshops, homeschooling opportunities, and activities exploring biodiversity in the garden will be provided along with NBDC videos on looking for pollinator and bird species.
“We are celebrating World Bee Day on May 20th, with activities based on the wonderful world of bees, exploring why we need to protect bees and their ecosystems and other pollinators through videos and activities to do – as they are key to conserving biodiversity – and a cornerstone of the UN sustainable development goals,” she added.
The Irish Environmental Network (IEN) has postponed its main events until the autumn, but with NPWS support is hosting a celebration of nature online.
It will be sharing identification guides to common Irish species, running backyard biodiversity activities for all ages and it will culminate in the Backyard Bioblitz from May 22nd to May 24th.
"We are encouraging everyone to step outside and see what plants, animals and insects can be found. Document your garden residents, or visit the local park or other green and blue areas whilst maintaining social distancing guidelines of course," said IEN chief executive Karen Ciesielski.
Biodiversity experts will be on hand to assist on finds, identifying any plants, birds or insects that people come across. "Simply post your photos to Instagram or Twitter and tag us in them."
The NPWS is also hosting a week of online events and activities in the run up to the International Day of Biodiversity on Friday, while the NBDC is “working to ensure biodiversity remains an important source of inspiration for people during difficult times”.
"Despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions on physical social events, thankfully we are all still very much connected in a virtual world that is thriving and will help us to celebrate this important week in the calendar," explained its engagement officer Ben Malone. You can find more details on Biodiversity Ireland's website.
“This year is an opportunity to celebrate biodiversity and to reflect on our dependence on nature,” he added. “Observations of flourishing roadside grass verges filled with dandelions and cowslips were commonplace in April in the throes of the lockdown, indicating the natural world appears to be thriving too, while green spaces in some residential areas have been blossoming with red clover and cuckooflower providing important food resources for our beleaguered insects.”
Government health measures restrict movement up to 5 kilometres but there is still opportunity to explore "what nature you can find in your own locality", he said. These include a "seashore splash" and "dragonfly dash" – records can again be submitted aton Biodiversity Ireland's website.
The centre is also encouraging members of the public to engage with a variety of their ongoing citizen science initiatives documenting biodiversity in Ireland.