With the prospect of mass extinction in the news, it seems a good time to reflect on the loss of soundscapes. In Ireland, the corncrake and the curlew were once the background sounds of daily life; now they are nearly vanished.
I have posted before about nature recording artists such as Gordon Hempton and Chris Watson who have captured soundscapes in the natural world that one hopes will not vanish altogether. I came across David Monacchi and his Fragments of Extinction project.
Monacchi records (and streams) soundscapes from the dwindling number of intact, untouched forests around the world. What makes his work especially compelling is the clarity with which he illustrates how these ecosystems have a panoply of harmonious acoustic niches, across species and genera. The best way to get a sense is this short video:
Or, more specifically, Clonmel won the top pollinator prize in the TidyTowns awards. As readers may have noticed, September has been the month of commemorating species lost in Ireland since the coming of humanity. I included Perkin’s Mining Bee one of two bee species to have become extinct here. I have previously blogged about the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan: and it is good to see it bearing fruit, so to speak. Hopefully this will be reflected in pollination itself!
Clonmel has won the top Pollinator Award at the TidyTowns awards on Monday September 24th, at the Helix in Dublin, recognising all that has been done by the town to help pollinating insects.
One third of our 99 bee species are threatened with extinction from Ireland. This is because we have drastically reduced the amount of food (wildflowers) and safe nesting sites in our landscapes. The All Ireland Pollinator Plan was launched in 2015 as a shared plan of action to try to reverse these declines and work with communities, businesses, parks, schools and farms to make an Ireland where pollinators can survive and thrive.
The Local Authority Pollinator Award aims to encourage TidyTowns groups to implement pollinator-friendly actions in their towns and villages as part of the TidyTowns competition. It supports the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan and is co-ordinated and sponsored by the Heritage Offices and Biodiversity Offices of Local Authorities across Ireland, in partnership with the National Biodiversity Data Centre. There were 66 entries, from 22 counties, for the Pollinator Award this year and the standard of entries was extremely high.
To take home the top prize, Clonmel adopted a whole-town approach, mapping the town and pinpointing areas that could act as refuges for pollinating insects, to provide food and shelter.
Clonmel Tidy Towns were commended by judges for working with all sectors in the town to raise awareness of the plight of pollinators and how the local council, businesses, home-owners and schools could get involved. The Tidy Towns Committee worked closely with Clonmel Borough District Council to identify and protect existing pollinator-friendly features such as native flowering hedgerows. They also preserved existing pollinator-friendly areas in parks and council lands and helped to keep these pesticide-free.
They distributed the Pollinator Plan’s ‘Business guidelines’ to local businesses to encourage them to sign up as plan partners, and worked with Clonmel Men’s Shed to produce signage to help identify pollinator-friendly sites. Working with the Men’s Shed and other Community groups such as SuirCam and 2CanDo, they planted a ‘Community Orchard’, and amazing way to both help pollinators and also provide free fruit for the community.
The TidyTowns group took on the admirable chore of manually weeding kerbs, roundabouts and flowerbeds in the town centre so as to avoid using pesticides, and stone walls and soil banks were protected as nesting sites for solitary bees. They also promoted the ‘Garden guidelines’ and circulated a ‘Pollinator-friendly guide for estate management’ to local Residents’ Associations so that private gardens, roadside verges and green areas could all be managed with pollinators in mind.
They visited local schools to raise awareness of the importance of pollinating insects as well as planting pollinator-friendly flowers with the children in local parks.
The first butterfly to feature on the melancholy month of Irish extinctions is the Large Copper
Another permanent Irish extinction is the Straffan Butterfly Farm which is now permanently closed. The website is still online and tells the Irish large copper story:
The Large Copper L.dispar dispar became extinct in England around 1864 due to the great reduction and drainage of it’s marshy fen habitat. This was a result of the expanding human population at that time. In 1909 an attempt was made to introduce a subspecies L.dispar rutilus which was commonly found in Europe but this was only a partial success and required constant management of the fen to ensure that the larval foodplant of Giant Water Dock was available in sufficient quantities and growing in the right places.
About 1912 Mr.W.B. Purefoy lent lands including a snipe bog in Greenfields, Co.Tipperary so that an attempt could be made to introduce the Large Copper to Ireland. Preliminary work commenced by way of clearing the land and planting the roots of Giant Water Dock which were imported from England. Capt. E.B. Purefoy oversaw the project and in May 1913 ten dozen larvae of L.dispar rutilus were imported from Herr H. Ragnow of Berlin but these produced only eight butterflies. In May 1914 Capt. Purefoy travelled to Germany and collected nearly 700 larvae in the marshes north of Berlin but when he returned to Ireland it was found that most of these larvae were parasitised and as a result only about 300 butterflies actually emerged. However a spell of good weather helped and these butterflies quickly set about laying eggs on the Giant Water Dock and for the first time a breeding colony had been established in Ireland.
With careful management the colony survived until 1928 but that was it’s last year in existence and sadly it died out. A further re-introduction attempt was made and these butterflies survived until about 1938. A last attempt was made in 1943 and this colony survived until about 1953.
They were the last of the Irish Large Coppers and no further re-introduction attempts have been made.
Moving from yesterday’s flower, the meadow saxifrage, to a moss species no longer found in Ireland. The demise of “mud capped stone walls”, as outlined below, is another example of habitat loss, by far the biggest contributor to extinction.
From the National Biodiversity Data Centre:
The Spiral Chalk-moss (Pterygoneurum lamellatum) is one of 596 different species of moss recorded in Ireland, but 35 of these have now gone extinct from the island. The Spiral Chalk-moss was recorded from in and around Dublin city during the mid-19thCentury, where it grew on mud-capped stone walls, a habitat that has now disappeared. This species has not been recorded in Ireland since 1870
Two weeks ago I walked on Slievenamon, not all the way to the summit but simply up the path near Kilcash and then around the area just where this path meets the main route to the summit.
There are fine views from this area – not as extensive as further up obviously but nevertheless giving a great view of the Suir valley from Clonmel via Carrick to Waterford. The Suir bridge at Waterford seemed eeriely near.
On one side of this path there is a conifer plantation. A very brief walk in revealed, starkly, a major truth about conifers packed closely. They are essentially deserts in terms of biodiversity.
Only the edges of the plantation and the very tops of the trees inside showed any greenery. The bulk of the tree trunks, and most vividly the forest floor, showed no growth. Some birdsong aside, no sign of other life.
I have read much about the negatives of conifer plantations, but this haunting and – not to be overdramatic – actually rather distressing experience brought the lack of biodiversity home vividly.
Of course, no doubt with more expertise (and equipment) more life could be found in this habitat than my eye could find.
But the contrast with a different approach to forest is stark.
To illustrate this, here’s two shots of mixed woodland in Marlfield Woods:
I have blogged here and here about the relative lack of magpies in my garden. As is probably obvious, I have recently been in Donegal and in the last week was away again. So my focus on the birds of my garden has been a little less. And, in any event, it is the slow time of year, with a certain heaviness this Irish summer. Most of the time you feel the weight of imminent rain, rather than the rain itself.
About a week ago I suddenly not only one or two but three magpies, all with a slightly disheveled and underfed look that I take to denote juveniles, gawkily scavenging in the garden. As I have not been used to magpies, and I don’t share widespread anti-corvid prejudice, this was something I greeted.
I haven’t seen all three since, but this evening I noticed one (one of the same three?) rather tentatively maneuvering for some scraps. I noted that rooks and jackdaws seemed to, put all too anthropomorphically, intimidate it. Initially it flew away but then returned to the edge of the spoils, while a jackdaw strutted with an air of possession. I have speculated whether my lack of magpies is attributable to a proximity to a rookery and I suppose over the coming weeks I will see if my observations of the birds interacting will support this.
I posted a while back about my reservations about submitting biodiversity data. I hoped it was clear from that this was more a personal reservation about a certain habit of mind I myself was forming. In recent days I have returned to submitting duty.
Some of the reason for this is realising how many areas of the country are not being counted. Here is the breakdown from the 5000 record challenge;
Some counties were entirely unrepresented:
Does Wexford have 10 times as much biodiversity as Donegal? Or infinitely more (well, you know what I mean) than Monaghan, Cavan and Armagh? Furthermore, looking at the maps of Recording Effort and Recording Locations it is clear that there is a high regional concentration even within counties. Not much recording from the Western part of Donegal.
For me, this is a better to light a candle than curse the darkness moment. Some of the issues I discussed in my prior blog post remain, but in recent days I have found myself not automatically recording but thinking about what I am looking at. In the last few days I have been in Donegal. The differences between South Tipperary and North West Donegal are pretty obvious in many ways, and biodiversity recording reflects this, although commonalities are also found. And I have found having a small guide book has been very helpful for identifying plants and flowers particularly.