Biodiversity Eco Night April 2023: The Table Reports
At our recent Skerries Eco Night: Biodiversity, we explored a number of questions related to biodiversity in our town. The small groups / tables reported back to the plenary session, and most of their rapporteurs also sent in their report by email.
Here are those reports. There are a lot of nuggets in them – let’s make most of the insights and use them to fertlise our work!
Front/ back gardens Group 1
(on food waste: need for vendors in shops and supermarkets to consider the requirements of single or elderly people who may need to purchase smaller quantities of food to avoid waste)
1 No mow May
The group thought this was a good idea but it could be problematic in that it could annoy neighbours. Having signage, telling people that the apparent neglect of lawns and gardens is actually deliberate, and designed to help the bees etc. could be a good way to go.
2 The group were very impressed by Fingal County Council’s work and were surprised by the cumulative effect of many small interactions across the whole county.
3 It was inspiring to hear how quickly the powers that be within Fingal County Council and local people can change their attitudes to mowing and come to support the idea of mowing much less. It shows that things can change for the better- very quickly once people understand the ‘why’ and buy in to the changes needed.
4 The group suggested that housing estates might agree amongst themselves to leave the front verges or gardens to grow. If there were agreement in advance, this could remove pressure and stigma.
5 Need for more estate groups to link up to the overarching skerries neighbourhood WhatsApp
6 Important to encourage people to think through their actions more consistently.
For example, the local hardware shop is advertising a device to frighten away birds. Presumably this is intended to frighten off seagulls but what would the consequences be for ordinary garden and song birds if such devices were used throughout Skerries?
Front/ back gardens Group 2
1) Encouraging Large Carder Bee and other insects/more wildlife to our gardens
Don’t be tidy – insects like hiding places (as do slugs, unfortunately – but do we want to kill hedgehogs with poisoned slugs??)
Select open flowering plants, ie single flowers like strawberries, not full ones with lots of petals, bees find it hard to get at the nectar if there are too many petals)
Plant perennials rather than annuals – it is also cheaper, as they come back year after year, many seed themselves:
Bumblebees love blue and purple flowers, ie: foxgloves, lupins, delphiniums, lambs’ ears, purple toadflax, echium (can become invasive, but is easily controlled in a garden setting)
All plants with umbelliferous flowers (lacelike flowers like wild carrot) ie flowers of Alexanders and hogweed are very good for pollinators, including hoverflies
Ivy is a perfect multipurpose plant: it provides nesting spaces for birds, its flowers feed pollinators and its fruits feed birds late in the year
Hedgehogs cover large territories, to allow them into your garden, you need to provide a hole in the fence (they are excellent in the fight against slugs – never use pellets, as hedgehogs eat the dead/dying slugs and get poisoned)
2) Be aware when buying plants, even if it is just for window boxes – buy bee friendly. Many traditional “bedding plants” are not. Watch out for labelling.
3) Tidy Towns need an image change, as tidy is not desirable any more (see above).
Their work includes many biodiversity actions, but this is not reflected in their name. Needs to be made more attractive to young people. We need a change in what is considered beautiful – some countries have prizes for “untidy”, “brown” (rather than green grass in times of drought) etc
A number of needs were discussed:
– Balancing act between letting the garden go vs maintaining it so that it’s pleasing to the eye
– The group see the importance of the garden for a positive mental state linked to how they feel when they are in the garden space
– Different generations have different needs and styles relating to gardens
– The need for action was seen as stark – particularly with the shocking stats which were presented in the earlier
– Often the issues are about two different mindsets which need to find a space in the middle as many people do want to see a change but don’t now how to go about it or think they can make a difference as individuals
A number of solutions were also discussed:
– Communications were seen as key to progress but need to be many-pronged to meet different people with different communication preferences e.g.,
o Newsletters for some – not always getting into the full email list for Sust Skerries so one to check
o An app for topic based discussions – perhaps WhatsApp needs to move on to a more intuitive form as it can be hard to search historically
o A problem page – with questions and answers relating to gardens
o Word of mouth should not be underestimated – a skills and knowledge exchange would be beneficial for those who want to know and understand more where they are matched with others who can share advice – informal channels also work well
– Tree Week – a suggestion was to swap out silver birch for fruit trees for example
Christine also noted she is conducting a study on biodiverse gardens as part of her Environmental Psychology Masters so anyone with ideas should feel free to get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org
Schools Table Feedback
- Triple AAA Approach
This is an approach framework to help tackle the biodiversity crisis. Raising Awareness of the relevant issues, developing an understanding of these issues which helps nurture an Appreciation of nature and then initiating Actions needed to protect and enhance our biodiversity. This helps create a coordinated approach with real ownership and ‘buy-in’ by the main stakeholders.
- Green Schools
The An Taisce Programme has been adopted by many schools at primary and secondary level and more recently includes third level colleges and other organisations. The current programme covers a variety of areas such as recycling, water conservation, litter, energy conservation and biodiversity. The programme has seen a wide variety of initiatives developed and implemented across the country. Given the urgency of the biodiversity crisis and that all the main themes sit within biodiversity there is a very strong case to be made to adapt the traditional programme to focus more effectively on tackling the biodiversity crisis in every participating school, institution, and organisation.
- Skerries Outdoor Nature Classroom
Learning in the outdoors. Given the proximity of so many schools to the Town Park / Biodiversity Corridor there is real potential to create an outdoor classroom and nature trail which could be used by primary and secondary school students to gain an immersive experience of nature as well as an opportunity to learn in an outdoor setting.
- Biodiversity Mindset
Young people have an innate connection with nature which can be nurtured in an educational setting. The initial spark is often ignited in school and goes on to light up a lifelong interest in the natural world. Young people also can create a ripple effect in their school, family, local community and beyond.
- Travelling to School
Walking bus is an initiative that would help reduce traffic congestion in the town and would have another benefits to students such as exercise, social interaction and connecting with their local environment both natural and manmade.
- School Campus
The school buildings and grounds should have an integrated approach which visibly highlights the importance of protecting and enhancing biodiversity. This could be incorporated into facilities management and the day to day running of the school to ensure sustainability. Wildlife gardens, nest boxes for birds and bats, recycling, water and energy conservation are some examples.
- Discuss with An Taisce the criteria for Green School accreditation and increase the importance of biodiversity in that scheme
- Create opportunities for children to connect with nature, appreciate its importance and take action to help
- Simple things like nesting boxes and bug hotels that do not need maintenance during school holidays
- Create an outdoor classroom within the town park that all schools could avail of an book (? through the community centre)
- Promote walking buses to school (for lots of reasons – exercise, mental health, connection with nature, as a social activity)
- Try to remove the expectation that all the school grounds will be kept neat and tidy (this will need to involve parents as well as school staff)
- Create projects for transition year students that increase awareness of biodiversity and the food chain
- Promote the Herb Patch Project for schools
Public Open Spaces
This theme was the central focus of the two presentations on the evening. Charlie Heasman’s talk spoke to the fact that for wildlife to thrive we need to allow growth which means less cutting, mowing and flailing and where feasible additional planting and sowing. Aileen O’Connor’s presentation outlined the scale of the job being managed by Fingal Operations. Aileen made it clear there is change underway that FCC are on a journey in that regard but that it will take some time.
For wild flowers to thrive, cut grass must be removed to avoid the soil becoming too fertile which favours grasses. Removal of cuttings is a challenge as the question arises of where they should be put and there is significant added cost in doing so.
In Ardgillan a local farmer cuts and removes grass for use as silage. However grass in smaller areas such as in urban areas (estates, smaller parks) is not of sufficient volume to interest farmers and is very often contaminated with plastic and metal litter, often shredded by mowers into small fragments. No farmer wants to feed cattle plastic and metal. It was suggested that volunteers like TidyTowns could litter pick grass areas in advance of mowing but this has been discussed previously and TT can’t scale or commit to cover the 26 or so grass areas currently cut by FCC in Skerries.
The idea of bio-digesters for large volumes of cuttings was mentioned.
We discussed the idea of community groups purchasing or hiring their own cut and lift machinery to manage meadow areas on public land. Aileen said the cost of insurance cover (for millions of euro) would be prohibitive.
It was pointed out that while for a biodiversity-friendly audience reduced cutting, mowing, flailing is desirable other parts of communities take opposing views and want everything cut back for a “neat” appearance. It was also pointed out that unmanaged hedges and trees can lead to “anti-social behaviour” in such areas. Charlie pointed out however that trees do not cause such behaviour but merely provide cover for it.
In Balbriggan a pilot project has been started where community groups like Balbriggan TidyTowns were able to nominate grass areas for a reduced mowing regime. This got off to a bumpy start when areas were mowed regardless but it is hoped that won’t happen again. This project will inform grassland management in other parts of Fingal.
In the context of Skerries it was agreed that the forthcoming ecological study of the town park by Dr. Niamh Burke from Coisceim Consulting would greatly help in agreeing a plan for mowing, cutting and flailing of hedges and stream banks and possible new meadow creation.
FCC have a strong preference for working off written plans, especially plans with the widest possible community buy-in.
- All interested parties to give input to Dr. Niamh Burke from Coisceim Consulting for ecological study of town park in Skerries.
- Skerries stakeholders should await the outcome of Balbriggan mowing pilot and FCC grasslands management plan.
- SuSk and STT should have an agreed list of areas for reduced mowing, cutting, flailing and suggested areas for “rewilding” / meadow creation.
Actions for individuals
Citizen science should also mention CoastWatch and Explore Your Shore.
It would be great if people with gardens could take at least one action in the Gardening for Biodiversity booklet each year. The more actions people take the better. https://laois.ie/wp-content/uploads/Garden-Wildlife-Booklet-WEB-17MB.pdf
Actions for groups
I think the links I have shared from the NBDC / pollinators.ie are really useful. Biodiversity is of course not just about pollinators but actions for pollinators will help other wildlife too.
- How can SuSk engage these audiences to promote biodiversity or as importantly sustainability more broadly?
Further resources / websites
1. What can we do in our front / back gardens / on our balconies to improve biodiversity? https://pollinators.ie/gardens/ as well as Gardening for Biodiversity – Create a Haven for Wildlife | Fingal County Council
2. What residents’ associations / neighbourhood groups do to improve biodiversity? https://pollinators.ie/communities/
3. What can schools do to improve biodiversity? https://pollinators.ie/schools/
4. What can sports clubs / community centres do to improve biodiversity? https://pollinators.ie/sports-clubs/
5. What can farming / food production / our consumer choices regarding food do to improve biodiversity? https://pollinators.ie/farmland/ & https://pollinators.ie/businesses/
National Biodiversity Data Centre
The National Biodiversity Data Centre’s website provides information on Ireland’s biodiversity and offers resources such as ID guides and citizen science projects.
Green-Schools Ireland provides resources and support for schools to become more sustainable and promote biodiversity through their programs.
Gardening Know How provides tips and advice on how to improve soil health and promote biodiversity in your garden through organic gardening practices.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s website offers information and resources on biodiversity in Ireland, including tips on how individuals can take action to protect it.
BirdWatch Ireland provides information and resources on Ireland’s birds and their habitats, as well as ways to get involved in bird conservation efforts.
National Parks & Wildlife Service
The National Parks and Wildlife Service’s website provides information on Ireland’s wildlife and protected areas, as well as resources for individuals and groups looking to get involved in conservation efforts.
The Irish Wildlife Trust is an advocacy organisation working to protect Ireland’s wildlife and habitats, and provides information and resources for individuals looking to get involved in conservation efforts.