Skerries biodiversity action plan: the first meeting
From the reactions of the participants and feedback received it would appear that our first online meeting about the Biodiversity Action Plan was a success!
Having been frustrated by Covid and waiting all year for things to get better in order to be able to host a real-life public meeting it finally became apparent that this was not going to happen any time soon. We went online and hosted via Zoom.
Because we wished (and still do!) to reach as many people as possible, every effort was made to get the word out and attract as many as we could. Our efforts paid off and we had an excellent attendance. What’s more, there was equally excellent interaction from all present.
Charlie Heasman opened with an introduction to the plan: who funded it (Community Foundation of Ireland); what we were expected to do and how we were expected to do it; and what we have achieved so far.
This can be summarised thus:
- 2019; application made and grant awarded for phase 1 of the plan.
2. Work was to start Feb 2020 and be completed by end of year. Because of covid the deadline for completion was extended to June 2021.
3. Professional ecologist (Simon Barron) engaged as per terms of the grant.
4. Site surveys and assessments carried out, mapping, research, desktop surveys etc.
5. Our first Public Meeting; Jan 13th 2021!
6. Further work by our ecologist, direct discussions with other stakeholders, especially Fingal County Council, and possibly another public meeting.
7. Once this stage is completed, in June, we apply for further funding to implement these plans and move to phase 2 of the plan where we actually do the work!
Charlie then went on to talk briefly about the bees we have in Skerries and the fact that we have one special bumblebee in particular: the Large Carder Bee. He then handed over to the next speaker.
We were delighted to welcome Dr Úna FitzPatrick from the National Biodiversity Data Centre. Úna is head of the Irish National Pollinator Plan and there could be no better guest speaker to talk about pollinators.
The four year Pollinator Plan for 2016-2020 has drawn to a close and the new 2021-2025 plan will be published shortly. Una told us that a major focus of the new plan will be the protection of two species of bumblebee. One is the very much endangered Great Yellow, which we in Skerries can do nothing about because it is now only found on the Mullet Peninsular in County Mayo. We actually did have it here once. The other is the aforementioned Large Carder Bee, which has gone into significant decline in recent years.
Una professed herself absolutely delighted that Skerries is the first town in Ireland to come up with a plan specifically aimed at this bee and hopes that if we are successful we will be a role model for other communities.
She went on to say that the bee needs both a flower-rich environment and nesting habitat and that wherever possible the individual populations should be joined with corridors in order to safeguard against inbreeding and localised extinction. Happily all these actions are on our list.
She also stressed that while a project might be aimed at one specific species this does not mean that this one species is being helped to the exclusion of all else; quite the reverse.
If a threatened species of bumblebee is protected than all the other bumblebees in the area benefit. So in turn do other pollinators such as moths, butterflies, hover flies and solitary bees. In fact insects in general increase. Insectivorous birds with a renewed food source start making a comeback as do seed eating birds such as goldfinches (assuming wildflowers are left unmown for long enough to bear seeds!). Enhanced habitat benefits bats, voles, hedgehogs and other small mammals.
Biodiversity rebuilt from the ground up.
Una’s slides can be found here:
Third to speak was Simon Barron, our resident ecologist.
Simon presented maps of Skerries which not only showed where the Carder Bee has been recorded but also which areas have promise and potential for improving habitat and establishing biodiversity corridors and pointed out what actions could be taken in these locations. All of which, happily, tied in with what Úna had said previously.
He also said that he had been an ecologist for some 20 years and in all that time all he ever seemed to do was document decline; it was a nice change to be working with a group of people who were actually attempting something positive. A nice thought.
In between these talks we had two breakout sessions where four or five people would chat together and then report back their collective thoughts to the meeting as a whole. The first was focused on what has already been done in Skerries; the second on what could be improved. This concluded with a general discussion involving everyone.
This in itself proved interesting and informative. There was a lot of discussion around revised mowing regimes and the need to let flowers grow instead of keeping everything cut tight at all times. One man said that he was involved with one of the lodal football clubs and that they’d always badgered the council to mow the grass round the football pitches; now they were beginning to have a change of heart. Councillor Joan Hopkins, from Baldoyle, was able to tell us that quite often councils put out their grass cutting on four year contracts, so they might themselves sometimes not be able to make changes as quickly as they’d like. She added that local authorities in general have tended to revise their attitudes to grass mowing in recent years, and if we were to press for more liberal mowing regimes we would probably find ourselves pushing at an open door.
Signage in order to let the public know what is going on was uppermost on many people’s minds. Rest assured everyone, plans are afoot but we’ll largely have to wait for stage 2 of the funding before we can proceed fully. One respondent wondered could we not have customised signs for Skerries. Answer: good idea, we’re working on that too!
‘Are rooftops and balconies any good?’ asked one lady. Answer: they most certainly are. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a large garden but every little helps and the bees will find your flowers.
Most people were asking what’s the best thing they can do in their garden and many were looking for advice on what to plant. We may be able to get hold of a few copies of Gardening for Biodiversity’ – by Juanita Browne to hand out. Alternatively it’s in PDF form: https://www.fingal.ie/sites/default/files/2020-04/gardening-for-biodiversity-booklet.pdf
The NBDC website has a wealth of information and is well worth a look: https://pollinators.ie/
Thanks to all who attended, it was great to have you. Most have already subscribed to our email newsletter, and if you haven’t, maybe now is a good time! We will be in touch that way with further information. Keep your eyes out for it in your inbox! Also follow our web-page: sustainableskerries.com which has plenty of posts on the subject with more being added all the time. If you have comments or suggestions, you can also send us an email to SustSkerries@gmail.com in general or, if it’s to do with the pollinator plan in particular, Charlie Heasman’s email is email@example.com, and he’d be more than happy to communicate!
Which just leaves me to thank Sabine McKenna for all the time and effort she put into organising the event. Her IT skills made it run smoothly and without them it would not have been possible. Thank you Sabine!