The first Skerries Eco Night will not be the last! 

This is a report of sorts of the first Skerries Eco Night, 22 November 2022. It has also a list of actions. Join us in doing something – yourself, in your household, in your neighbourhood, group… Have a look through this blogpost and see what you’d like to do.
Or jump to very bottom for the web of ideas that resulted from the night!

The need to act

We all know that not just the climate, but also biodiversity is in trouble. In Skerries as much as anywhere.

We know something must happen, but where should we start?  And what can we here in Skerries do to tread more lightly into our future? 

Some 70 people met in Skerries Mills recently for the first Skerries Eco Night to explore those questions. 

Individuals, representatives of many committees and clubs. 

Fact box: Why, who, what?

  • The Skerries Community Association, through its committee, Sustainable Skerries, had invited local individuals, groups, and businesses, and some 70 attendees were at the first Skerries Eco Night on 22 November 2022 in Skerries Mills.
  • The evening was the first tangible result of the Skerries Eco Town Course organised by Sustainable Skerries and funded by the European Agricultural Development Fund, administered by LEADER Fingal through the Department of Rural and Community Affairs.
  • In six weekly classes and one intensive weekend in Cloughjordan Co. Tipperary, the first Irish eco village, more than twenty participants learned about the causes and consequences of the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change. 
  • The main focus was always on what we can do here in Skerries – active hope instead of passive fatalism.
  • On the night, five committees of the Skerries Community Association outlined what they are already doing: Skerries Tidy Towns, Sustainable Skerries, Skerries Cycling Initiative, Skerries Sustainable Energy Community Initiative and the Skerries Community Centre.
  • In a dozen small groups, all attendees then discussed one of the six topics in depth and made suggestions for practical next steps in Skerries. The topics were transport, energy, food, biodiversity, waste / the circular economy and water (water management, the sea, river, rainwater…).
  • All outcomes and the feedback from the attendees are now being put together and fed back to everyone, so that the next steps can be taken towards a more sustainable, maybe even regenerative Skerries.

A start has been made

It’s important and reassuring to remind ourselves that we don’t start from zero. A lot is already happening in Skerries, and nationally.

Tidy Towns groups all over Ireland for instance have changed from looking for manicured greens and front gardens to focusing on sustainability and biodiversity. The local members, represented at Skerries Eco Night by Anne Laird, are involved in many small and large activities to enhance biodiversity and to raise awareness. “No Mow May,” Anne reminded those present, means that there is food for pollinators at the beginning of the flower season, when there is little else than dandelions and similar early wildflowers. She also pointed to their cooperation with BirdWatch Ireland (whose Cathal Copeland was in the room) and asked everyone to make sure to bring home litter especially from the beach, and to keep dogs under close control when near the brook (Rugby Club end of the South Strand), where many migrating birds rest. 

Another very busy group is the Skerries Sustainable Energy Community Initiative, S-SECI for short. As the chair, Mike Mullen Jensen, was unfortunately sick on the night, John Fitzgerald represented the committee’s work. There was a lot of interest – energy costs have focused all our minds on the importance of reducing our usage.

He presented the main ideas in the Energy Master Plan for Skerries. Some two thirds of energy used in Skerries is used by private households, a lot of it for heating. Insulation and ensuring the immersion is not on unnecessarily are two quick steps everyone can take. Another great idea is to get together with neighbours – as has happened in Ardgillan View – and to organise a retrofit together. It seems this is the best way of ensuring a company will even look at your house these days…! 

Another important area and nearly a quarter of energy use in Skerries is for transport – making the point for considering how to change our habits for transport, especially small trips and commutes by diesel/petrol vehicles. SSECI will be part of trying to make alternative travel, such as active travel (bicycles, etc), local micro-mobility and community transport options more available.

Many areas overlap – the need for more active travel featured centrally as well (of course) in the input by Michael McKenna of the Skerries Cycling Initiative (SCI). He highlighted the SCI’s long work for better cycling and indeed walking infrastructure. It finally looks like there will be some tangible progress, with the Greenway about to connect Balbriggan, Skerries, and Rush on the one hand, and the Skerries Active Travel Plan improving the situation in Skerries itself on the other. The SCI, Michael assured us, will continue to liaise with Fingal County Council on both!

Charlie Heasman is no stranger to the people of Skerries, and biodiversity is his main concern. Many parents were very impressed with the enthusiasm with which their children came home from school after one of Charlie and Marion Heasman’s guided pollinator walks. This evening, Charlie drew the attention of the audience to the urgency with which we need to do something about biodiversity loss. Having said that, he has every reason to be very pleased with the first results of the Sustainable Skerries Pollinator Action Plan – the Large Carder Bee, under pressure everywhere in Ireland, is extending its locations in Skerries and was found in the Community Garden just outside Skerries Mills this past summer. It goes to show that seemingly small, real actions can and do make a difference. 

Helen Scullion, also of Sustainable Skerries, then briefly outlined what else this very active committee does – mentioning their awareness-raising and skill-sharing work in e.g. the Sustainable Food Festival, Repair Cafés, car-boot sales, and the monthly First Friday For Future events, which draw attention to various aspects of the climate change and biodiversity crises.

In short, a lot is already happening on part of the SCA committees. And then there is Skerries Community Centre, run by its own Board of Management for the Skerries Community Association. Sharon Guinane, the manager, gave us a wonderful example of how much can be done in a short amount of time, once the commitment is there. Insulation, upgrading of the lighting to LED in nearly all places, improvement of switches and more waste segregation have already taken place. Applications for solar power and a heat pump have been made, and 2023 will see a bee-friendly wildflower garden and first steps towards using rainwater in the toilets. Sharon says that she is very happy to share her experiences with any other groups managing community buildings in Skerries.

The Background: The Skerries Eco Town Course and What We Learned

It’s near impossible to distil the learning of six 90-minute sessions and a full weekend into fifteen minutes. Sabine McKenna of Sustainable Skerries tried all the same, and did give a taste of what had been explored this September and October just gone.

The most important take-aways from the Skerries Eco Town Course were that the situation regarding both climate and biodiversity is serious, and that it is important that we do all we can to effect a change in the way our society, economy, country and in the end most directly our community is structured, so that it gives more people an easy option to live a sustainable and even regenerative life. Sustainable is what can be sustained, what can be kept up over a prolonged time – regenerative is what improves things from the way they are. 

Isn’t it a wonderful thing to consider how we could leave our environment better than we find it (be regenerative), not just keep it going as it is (be sustainable)?

Anyone interested in learning more about the state and implications of climate change and biodiversity loss, about energy, about food security… please see our suggested links at the bottom!

Community is at the heart

One central take-away from the course was: Community is at the heart of all solutions. We experienced its importance for ourselves during the weekend there, as a group and in the eco village. [a few cj pictures]

The ability of a community to cope together with challenging situations – community resilience – can be estimated, if not measured, and it can be strengthened. It needs 

  • healthy and engaged people; 
  • inclusive, creative cultures shaping a positive, welcoming sense of place; 
  • an economy adapted to, and improving, the local area that sustains food, energy, water, housing and other resources; 
  • strong links to other places and communities. 

Are we surviving, existing, or thriving in these four areas? And what can we do to thrive in all? That question underpins what we are hoping to do now, and it also informed the small-group discussions that followed.

The discussions at the tables

We experienced the importance of coming together as a local community first hand at this first Skerries Eco Night. Given the space and time, we can come up with amazing solutions. 

What was most memorable – and mentioned by nearly everyone as they left after a very engaged evening – was the buzz, the energy, the palpable sense of participation everywhere.

This extended to the report from the individual tables, and the feedback forms filled in by participants. Put together, it is actually a very long list of diverse small, medium and large actions we can take individually, in groups, and as a society. 

The first step is taken … We have come together for a first time, and started the conversation across group and association boundaries.

There were business owners and committee volunteers. Individual residents and chairs of parents’ associations. Sports clubs of many different kinds were represented, on land, in and on the water. Real estate agents and ornithologists. Artists and farmers.

Skerries is amazing, and we have made a first step into a future in which we tread more lightly. Who knows, we may yet become the first regenerative town in Ireland – a town the community of which leaves the local ecosystem in a better shape than it is now.

Will you help us?

Next steps

Here are just a few suggestions from the night. 

  • yourself: Subscribe to the Sustainable Skerries Newsletter to be kept informed of future events and opportunities to get involved! 
  • your household: Check windows for drafts, and create a wildflower front garden
  • your neighbourhood: Make sure your road does not lose out on information! Are you part of Skerries Neighbourhoods Network? See https://www.skerriesca.com/hom/neighbourhoods-network/ for a list of areas that are already in it. If you don’t have a network in your road, use the tips on how to set one up!
  • your kids’ school: Swap as many things as possible, toys, uniforms, party equipment, bikes… many of these will already be happening. Be active in your parents’ association and help them along.
  • your business: How can you nudge customers towards more eco-friendly choices? Make it easy for those who bring bring cups, reuse packaging, opt for organic / plant based. And check your energy use – how can you help the climate while saving money? Get in touch with S-SECI!
  • any group you’re in… Make sure that biodiversity and climate action underpin everything you do. Share lifts. Avoid single use. Reduce energy consumption. Plan for the future. Grow some wild plants.

From little acorns, mighty oak trees grow. 

Watch out for more events soon, and stay in touch! See below the photos for the web of ideas incorporating suggestions made during the night and afterwards.

  • Would you like to join our Sustainable Skerries Chat Group on WhatsApp? Send an email to sustskerries@gmail.com [that’s the correct email] with your name and phone number!
  • Follow us on Facebook, on Insta, on Twitter – and please, please, like, share, comment on, our posts so our reach grows!

Ideas from the Tables and from the Feedback Forms from Skerries Eco Night 22nd November 2022 

So what was the outcome of the first Skerries Eco Night? A colourful web of ideas!

We tried to tease out some strands and to summarise the suggestions here by theme.

In general:

As individuals, we all can be open to information about the current situation regarding climate and biodiversity.

We all can look for small, sustainable solutions.

We all can let politicians of all parties, and none, know how important these issues are to us.

We all can do our best in our households, families, groups, businesses, on our commutes and places of work.

We all can help spread awareness that living a more environmental life usually means more, not less enjoyment.

We all can start by not judging anybody, just doing our own best.

As parts of groups, we can make sure environmental and climate awareness underpins all we do. (Maybe have a ‘green officer’?)

We can cooperate with other groups, seeking overlaps, synergies, sharing information.

We can participate actively in future Skerries Eco events – a series of evenings that focus on one issue each, maybe, a Skerries Eco Festival perhaps, or even steps towards a Skerries Eco Hub for information and tool sharing.

There are many, many suggestions here. Some may be easier than others, some might have a bigger impact. Some may even contradict others! We did not sort them by relevance, we did not have the time to fact-check them all (and if there is anything that is actually counter-productive in this list, please let us know by email to sustskerries@gmail.com and we’ll take it off)… we just tried to harvest the ideas triggered by the first Skerries Eco Night and to group them loosely. Why not pick something that speaks to you, suggest them to your group, join a relevant group or find some others who might be interested and set up a group, and have a go?!

By theme:

Food growing, food production, food quality and food waste

We all individually can:

  • Grow food, make compost & share about it so others see how easy it is
  • Participate in Open Garden events (see below)
  • Reduce food waste (and money waste) – make a list before shopping, and maybe take a “shelfie” (snap a photo of your shelves and fridge so you know what you already have) , be creative with left-over food and do batch-cooking – as a last resort, compost any food waste (this is still important as it feeds the soil)
  • Purchase as much as possible what is seasonal, local, organic, waste-minimising, ecosphere-enhancing and regenerative (s.l.o.w.e.r.)…

Groups can:

  • Organise Open Garden events where local people who are growing food themselves can show others 
  • Organise gardening classes
  • Use some of their available space for growing fruit or veg
  • Organise cooking classes both inside and outside schools:
    • using seasonal vegetables and fruit including how to make jams and jelly
    • how to do batch-cooking
    • making most of left-overs
    • plant-based cooking for non-vegans / vegetarians
  • Organise foraging workshops throughout the year
  • Get together and also bring in knowledgeable individuals to draw up a foraging map of Skerries
  • Open Orchards group: Find more areas to plant fruit trees, maybe linear orchards on grass verge to Skerries Point and beyond: Apples, Crab apples, Currants, Pears, Plums…

Local farmers can:

  • Engage with local groups and the public to see how we could support them to move more towards farming for nature to enhance the natural health of the countryside
  • Consider inviting locals to forage for blackberries etc, if that is possible from an insurance point of view (especially if they do not use any chemicals on their farm)

Businesses can reduce food waste:

  • Reduce Food Waste by reducing the price of more food as it goes out of date (SuperValu has increased the amount of reduced items by over 60%, we heard.)
  • Follow the change of regulations regarding Best Before with the relevant changes in labelling
  • Reduce pre-packaging so that customers can select the number of carrots they want themselves, and make loose fruit & veg no more expensive than pre-pack
  • Look into misting certain fruit & veg as shops in the Netherlands have begun to do.
  • Bring more local foods / product into their shops (we recognise that SuperValu, Gerry’s, Olive, the Skerries Mills Farmers Market, local farm shops Skerries Organic Farm and Bare Acre Farm and others already do a good bit in this area, and we would encourage them and others to build on this and extend what is available)

The Government can (and we can lobby it to):

  • Make it easier for small farmers to grow and sell organic food to a local / regional market
  • Put the onus on food distributors to make it easier for franchisees (local supermarkets) to bring local food / products onto their shelves

Food Wishes:

  • We’d like a bigger diversity of Irish-grown food on our shelves – but imports are often cheaper
  • We’d like more organic food, ideally seasonal and local as well, and at a fair price to consumer and farmer
  • We’d like another Sustainable Skerries Food Festival!

Circular Economy / Waste Reduction

As individuals, we can:

  • Contribute to the reuse of items by offering them
    • to local charity shops, and by purchasing things from them
    • on Skerries Free Stuff (Facebook group with 5,800 members):
      Scan the code to ask to join the group
  • Use reusable Cups (all Skerries coffee shops etc are accepting them, most give a discount!)
  • See also GoCar, Bike Rental, Community car under Transport & Active Travel – all helping to reduce the need for a second family car!

Some wishes regarding the circular economy:

  • We’d like more of an incentive to bring KeepCups so that the use of single-use cups can be reduced more – and a better management of the disposal of ‘compostable’ coffee cups that are still used.
  • We’d like shops and take-aways to make it easier to bring containers instead of using single-use plastic containers

Transport & Active Travel

As individuals, we can:

  • Walk, scoot, roll, cycle whenever possible and make that our first choice, e.g. by keeping the bike in a place that is easy to access, and by having good rain gear ready for walking and cycling.
  • Use GoCar instead of a (second) car: There are currently four GoCars available for rent in Skerries. https://www.gocar.ie/how-it-works/ 
  • Use rented bikes instead of cars. Bike Rental: Bleeper bikes, Tier bikes can be found in many locations in Skerries.
  • Spread the word about the Fingal Community Car and maybe become a volunteer driver. Skerries is one of only two places which currently (2022) have such For those who can’t drive themselves. Trained drivers will take them to medical appointments, community events, to see people in hospital etc.
    https://www.fingal.ie/fingal-community-car 

All of us, groups and individuals, can:

  • Lobby for reduced transport chargers and better local transport
  • Lobby for more and better active travel facilities including better footpaths, safer cycle routes, better bike parking

As schools / clubs / organisations, we can:

  • Encourage our teachers, students, parents, members to use active travel (establish first how people arrive, then try to improve on those figures – make sure you get the baseline  data as this will help see any progress and also assist Skerries Tidy Towns in their 2023 report!):
    • Have good pedestrian and cycling routes to our facilities
    • Have good bike parking where bikes can be locked and are maybe even kept dry
  • Encourage car sharing where using cars is necessary

As businesses / shops, we can:

  • Make it easier to shop without a car, e.g. by
    • offering good bike parking facilities including for cargo bikes
    • encouraging people to use delivery services instead of driving
  • Make it easier to walk to our premises e.g. by
    • favouring pedestrians over cars on the car park
    • lobbying for safe pedestrian routes to our premises

We can all help improve the situation regarding commuting so that we can reduce the commuting by car. We can engage with NTA, Iarnrod Éireann, bus companies and BusConnects on the following.

  • A better train service, reliable and frequent (some of this may happen with the new hybrid DART-like trains)
  • A more attractive bus service with improved connection to Swords, the airport, Santry, Whitehall, DCU.
    • reliably delivered
    • with reasonable journey times. 
    • also serving the newer estates in the town (Kelly’s Bay, Barnageeragh Cove and Hamilton Hill towards the north, as well as Ballygossan and Hacketstown). 

We also should engage with the local authority in order to ensure that all the projects to improve the town (public realm and active travel initiatives) are sensitive to the impact on the quality of the bus service. This may include treating roads that are bus routes differently to others for speed ramps, traffic light phasing, car parking etc.

Water Management: Water & Waste Water, Flood Management, the Sea, our brook…

Households and individual and community buildings

Even though water is free, it is a limited resource that we need to preserve so that the quality of our drinking water does not deteriorate (which it does with every circulation through the system). Flooding and droughts will increase with the changing climate

  • Harvest rainwater: Install a (second) water butt
    • to reduce flooding risks
    • to reduce erosion
    • to have water for user during drier times
  • Reducing usage: See the Irish Water website for tips, such as put a brick into the cistern of your toilet, turn off taps when brushing teeth, take (shorter) showers, use the water from rinsing veg for watering your plants. 
  • Increasing the amount of rain that can drain into the ground by keeping as much ground as possible free from tarmac / cement / paving, e.g. by using permeable driveways 

Buildings and hard landscaping – especially for new estates

  • Encourage people to keep front gardens green instead of concrete: Porous solutions for drives etc reduce erosion and flood risks
  • Engage with the builders to see whether rainwater harvesting systems could be offered to prospective buyers, as it is a lot easier and cheaper to install them during construction.

The quality of our sea water

Effluent Inflows

Skerries does not have raw sewage entering the sea but raw sewage does enter the sea at Howth (Doldrum Bay), Malahide and Ringsend as well as in Louth and Wicklow. 

After heavy rain in the bathing season the water quality at the south strand in Skerries is occasionally deemed unfit for swimming due to sewers overflowing. Works should if possible be carried out by Irish Water to reduce this.

A possible foul water inflow at Red island was noted recently and needs investigation.

Litter on our beaches, especially plastic

  • Signage encouraging people to remove litter and other environmental messaging (e.g. keep dogs on lead) should be installed at south strand, Red Island and north beach. “Take 3 for the Sea” resonates with people. 
  • In the absence of bins or when bins are full people should be encouraged to take their litter home.
  • Adopt a Beach should be revived or a similar programme put in place.
  • A campaign should be run in local schools against littering and dumping at coast, stream and green spaces. Green Schools could be a way to do this.
  • We need bins at Red Island and north beach.
Green and Blue Flags
  • An assessment should be made as to whether the South Strand could be made eligible for these awards and the work required. Three Fingal County Council beaches had the Blue Flag status in 2022.
Harbour
  • There are no waste disposal facilities at the harbour and pier and no bins. The sea bed is heavily littered and a clean-up is needed at low tide.
MILL STREAM / “The Brook”
  • A lot of clean-up work has been carried out by volunteers over the last two years. We need to reach kids in schools to try and stop littering and dumping.
  • Less cutting of the banks by FCC would be good for biodiversity as would planting of trees on the banks.
  • Water quality needs monitoring for upstream pollutants. A recent test showed nitrate levels within allowed limits but this can vary over time.
  • It was suggested to have a part of the stream that would be accessible for young children to remove tadpoles etc.

Biodiversity

For individuals:

  • Learn about biodiversity, e.g.
  • Join the Gardening for Pollinators Whats-App group (send an email to sustskerries@gmail.com if interested, make sure to mention Gardening for Pollinators Whats-App Group and to send your phone number)

For groups, organisations etc

  • Keep areas wild! Example: The Sailing Club has a wild patch 1 m wide behind the sheds. They will keep it as is.
  • Organise information sessions on how to help biodiversity in one’s garden:
    • pollinator-friendly gardening
    • biodiversity-friendly gardening including if and what to feed birds, how to help hedgehogs etc
  • Tidy Towns have moved to awarding sustainability, so the local awards could change as well
    • Tidy Towns could emphasise even more that they are awarding prizes to the most bio-diverse front gardens, not the “tidiest” ones, e.g. by posting photographs of the last few winning front gardens if owners are happy to allow this
    • New categories could be added for most biodiverse sporting club, bee-friendliest school – maybe find additional local sponsors for these?

Specific aspects and areas

Pollinators
  • Individuals, pledge your front garden, your back garden, your balcony and help pollinators with wildflowers or pollinator-friendly plants
  • Check the Large Carder Bee Action Plan and see if you can help with any of the suggested actions, as an individual, group, or business.
  • The coastal strip extending from Red Island along south strand and on to Shenick point is an important biodiversity corridor and should be designated a local conservation area with signage on species including birds and Large Carder Bee.
Fishing: Given that the Skerries islands are a Special Area of Conservation should the surrounding sea be a Marine Protected Area? 
  • What is the ecological impact of fishing / dredging for razor clams near Skerries on the seafloor and on biodiversity?
  • Is there a possible contribution to coastal erosion? 
  • Overfishing leads to smaller sized creatures with further knock-on effects.

It was acknowledged that fishing is a livelihood for those involved.

Energy

The rising cost of energy has focused minds on the desirability, if not need, to cut down on energy consumption through better insulation and more efficient use of energy, as well as moving to more sustainable and possibly local energy sources. This is true for individuals, who often are faced with unacceptable choices, and sports and community groups, who feel that their operations can be endangered by rising energy costs.

The average BER of a house in Skerries is D, which means that there are probably a lot of E-rated houses…

Here are a few things that could be done.

Individuals:

  • see if a full retrofit is possible / desirable
  • What about solar power on your roof?
  • explore ‘low hanging fruit’ such as getting the seals of draughty windows replaced, investing in better curtains (and remembering to pull them) – see SEAI Energy Saving Tips for more ideas

Neighbourhood groups:

  • explore the possibilities of getting together with neighbours with similar homes to make work from window repairs to full retrofits and solar power
  • explore the possibilities of district heating

Groups / clubs / schools:

  • explore what is possible with Skerries Sustainable Energy Community Initiative
  • get together with others to explore communal solutions to common problems

Skerries Sustainable Energy Community Initiative might:

  • make information easily available to everyone regarding attic insulation, window and door seals, time and thermostat on immersion 
  • possibly run an energy upgrade / information fair to help people access information and / or builders, plumbers etc 

Political framework:

  • ensure all new builds are passive energy homes, as well as harvesting rainwater

In the bigger context, given that Statkraft are going to be building a wind energy farm just off our coast, can the money that they are promising local communities be used for local energy projects? Could some energy that is ‘landed’ nearby be used locally?

Would local energy generation be possible?

There was more!

We have have read all the many ideas which reached us through the feedback forms, but have not yet (as of 01 Dec 2022) managed to put them into a meaningful list – we’ll probably add them to the text above when we get to it. Consider this a work in progress!

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