The Living Land Series at An Sanctoir in Ballydehob kicked off in February and will run throughout 2017, with all events hosted on its 30-acre nature reserve. The varied programme includes workshops, plays, talks, concerts and guided nature walks. Its aim is to celebrate the landscape and Irish wildlife and to highlight the wonders of the Seasons.
Coming up in the next few months, Tim Pat Coogan, writer, journalist and former editor of The Irish Press, will reflect on ‘Our Land in My Life’ with broadcaster Leanne O’Donnell on Friday March 24 and on Saturday April 1, Eanna Ni Lamhna, radio presenter and wildlife enthusiast, will give a talk on ‘West Cork in the Springtime’.
The Spring Series will end with Johnny Walshe of Living Wilderness leading a two-day Bushcraft experience in April. A modern day Fionn MacCumhaill and Ireland’s answer to Ray Mears, Johnny will teach people how to read the landscape, light fires and survive in the wilderness and will focus on essential knife skills and the craft of wooden spoon carving.
To get information on the complete programme for the Living Land Series or to book an event please contact Fodhla on 086 1025484
Well-known ecologist and broadcaster, Éanna Ní Lamhna, who has a penchant for bats, tells Mary O’Brien that her passion for wildlife began very early on. “When I was growing up, television wasn’t even invented,” she says smiling “we were sent outside to play and my mother used to tell us not to come inside unless we were bleeding! We climbed trees and went to the river and fished and looked for bird’s nests. The countryside in Co Louth was our playground. I’m always amazed when people aren’t interested in the world around them,” she says incredulously.
Éanna qualified in the biology area at UCD, including botany and microbiology and postgraduate studies in plant ecology, going on to pursue studies in the area of entomology (the study of insects). She went to work for State environmental agency An Foras Forbartha (now the EPA) and played a key role in groundbreaking species distribution mapping carried out in Ireland by that body in the 1970s and 1980s. “We mapped the locations of animals, plants and flowers, so special conservation areas could be created to protect them.”
She went on to work as an educator and broadcaster, lecturing in Dublin Institute of Technology and working with Derek Mooney on the ‘Mooney Goes Wild’ show, as well as other programmes. She is the author of a number of books on wildlife.
“All of my work has been about the environment and the fact that there are two or three generations of people who know what the world is like thanks to the work I’ve been doing over the years gives me great satisfaction,” she says when asked about the highlight of her career.
“The whole point of the Living Land series is to bring people outdoors so when I’m in West Cork we’ll take a walk outside and look at how the world reacts when spring arrives – the trees, plants, birds, insects and so on. There should be quite a bit happening at that time of year.”
Can wildlife really make a gardener’s life easier? “Why should we want to make life easier for gardeners,” she says laughing. ‘I suppose if we have to make life easier for them, it’s about increasing the number of carnivores in the garden. The enemies of the gardener are things that eat their plants like slugs and snails and aphids so their friends are anything that eats these – hedgehogs or birds that feed on caterpillars, spiders and bats. Bats and hedgehogs can only eat and digest meat; in the case of bats, insects such as moths, midges and mosquitoes; while hedgehogs are particularly partial to snails and slugs.”
Wildlife gardens can also play an essential role in biological pest control and promote biodiversity. “The first thing you have to do to create a wildlife haven in your garden is stop using poison,” says Eanna passionately “if you put out poison and pellets, you’ll not only kill the slugs and the aphids, you’ll also kill the ladybirds and bees. You’ll lose a few things to the snails and the slugs, but these are food in the next level of the food chain and biodiversity is very important in a garden.”
Eanna encourages gardeners to go a bit ‘wild’. “What you want in your garden is less grass, all these bloody lawns that people spend time mowing and cutting and then trying to get rid of it. You want trees that are going to have food on them for the bees and birds – flowers and berries – and also to provide cover for birds. Mountain ash, holly, hawthorn or blackthorn and shrubby areas where the birds can build nests will make your garden a good habitat for wildlife.
Birds are very territorial so putting up more than one bird box in your garden won’t work. “Birds don’t’ live in flats!” says Eanna. “Place a bird box at the side of the house, about 10 foot high, in the line of sight of a tree.
“Or put up a bat box, similar to a bird box, except it has a slit instead of a hole. Bats really are friends of the gardener.”
Bird boxes should ideally be cleaned in September and at the very latest in February before the birds start nesting. “Use hot soapy water to kill any parasites or disease,” says Éanna.
A pond in a garden can be a great haven for wildlife. “You do not have to plant up your pond at all; natural colonisation by plants and wildlife will occur surprisingly quickly, especially if you use water from another pond or river.”
Creating ponds to support frogs, newts, dragonflies and lots of other insects; leaving rotting logs in a corner of your garden to create a comfortable home for hedgehogs and insects; drilling holes in pruned branches and logs to provide insects with shelter and nesting space; leaving areas of your garden overgrown to provide places for animals, such as hedgehogs or foxes, to rest or hibernate; and using bird and bat boxes are all things that gardeners can do to encourage wildlife and biodiversity in the garden.
Gardens are also very important places for our bees, which should be kept in mind when planting. Hawthorn, willow, fuchsia, honeysuckle, heathers, lavender all provide plenty for bees to forage on.
Bees are the most important pollinator of crops and native plant species in Ireland. According to the National Biodiversity Centre in Ireland one of the main reasons our bee population in Ireland is declining is the varroa mite introduced accidentally in the late 1990s. Others include loss of habitat, a decline in wildflowers, poisoning from pesticides and climate change.
‘Colony collapse disorder’ is a phenomenon in which worker bees from hive abruptly disappear. It has been having a devastating effect on global honeybee populations, particularly in the US. Fortunately, there have been no reports to date of colony collapse disorder in Ireland.
“We’re lucky we don’t live in the US but we still should be worried about our bees,’ says Éanna. “This is the reason we need to plant trees and flowers that the bees can get pollen and nectar from. A lawn won’t give the bees any food.”
If you do have a lawn, try to leave an area of it uncut during summer to allow clovers and bird’s-foot trefoil to flower.
“And stop putting our poisons…and shoot the cat!” says Eanna laughing. “Seriously though…if you have a cat put a bell around his neck so that the birds will hear him coming. Try using washing up liquid on your roses to keep the aphids off and put beer out for the slugs. If you’re putting out food for the birds, only do this during winter time and avoid foods like rice and white bread, which swell in their stomachs.”