Committee member Tamara is compiling a list for a Sustainable Shopping Guide for Skerries.

There are so many good places, so many eco-friendly ways to shop – only people aren’t aware of them!

Please share your knowledge and experience in this quick form.

You can alternatively just send an email to sustskerries@gmail.com if you prefer. Looking forward to all your inputs 🙂. Thank you in advance!

When it comes to pollinator friendly gardening one question a lot of people ask is “I’ve only got a patio/balcony/window-box/roof terrace, can I really make a contribution?” The answer is an emphatic “Yes, yes, yes and yes!”

We’re not all blessed with a large garden with the potential to make a significant difference, but that doesn’t matter; if everyone does what they can the impact will be huge. So get planting and, equally importantly, spread the word and encourage others around you to do the same. And don’t worry that your flowers might be too high; they won’t be. Bees, after all, can fly. They’ll find them.

So what to plant? Pollinator friendly obviously, but beyond that it’s up to you. Grow what you also like yourself. It’s also a very good idea to grow a few different plants that will flower at different times through the Spring and Summer for continuity of supply of nectar and pollen.

You might like to grow herbs, and why not? The bees use the flowers; you use the rest.

Rosemary is a good bet. It’s pretty much bomb proof in that it will grow as well in a pot as in open ground and will survive a haphazard watering regime. It flowers early, from February onwards, and carries on till late Spring, going well with roast lamb all year round. Chives could be used to follow, flowering as they do in late Spring and early Summer. Pinch off the flower heads as they die to prolong the season. For later in the Summer you might consider one of the numerous mints. It might not be the best for culinary purposes (I don’t know, I’m a lousy cook!) but bees go mad for catmint.

These days most good garden centres have their pot plants labelled with information as to their pollinator friendliness. Perhaps one day in the not too distant future we’ll be able to wander round reading them again.

If you prefer flowers to herbs that’s fine too, just try and pick the right ones. But it might be easiest to talk first about what constitutes a ‘wrong one’.

It would be fair to say that any wildflower is pollinator friendly. After all, plants have evolved their flowers to attract pollinators; that’s their job. But cultivated flowers can be a different matter. Don’t worry, some are excellent, but others are useless. The reason being that they have been so intensely selectively bred that, while they might be incredibly showy, the pollen and nectar has been all but bred out of them.

A good example, particularly as we’re talking here about this type of environment, is that old hanging basket favourite of banks and supermarkets alike, the petunia.

It’s incredibly showy and totally useless. Avoid it if you can bring yourself to do so.

Sunflowers are generally an excellent bet, but there are a few cultivars that are not. This is because they too have had the pollen deliberately bred out of them. The reason? So that as cut flowers they don’t drop a yellow dust of pollen over the sideboard. Check what you’re getting at the time of purchase.

In general ‘double’ flowers of any type are of very little use. Through selective breeding the stamens have been effectively turned into petals. No stamens equals no pollen. An example would be open faced dahlias (good); pom pom dahlias (bad). The same applies to roses: the more ‘natural’ and open centred they look the better they probably are.

So that’s a brief guide to what you shouldn’t plant; what about what you should be?

Here’s a list of possibles for starters:

Now, you’re not likely to grow Comfrey or Broom on a balcony, there just isn’t the room. But most of the rest are contenders. There are many,many others of course. Go to https://pollinators.ie/gardens/ to find out more. Check out the Garden Centres and scrutinise the labels.

Above all, watch your own patch this Spring and Summer and see which plants attract the most insects. Do it too for neighbouring gardens and planted areas; the bees will tell you what they like best.

The Sustainable Energy Future of Skerries – A Community Effort!

We all try to do our bit to make our way of life more sustainable. We recycle, try to reduce our water usage, maybe buy more organic food and reduce food waste. The way we heat our homes and use electricity and other sources of energy is no different – there is a lot we can do to be more sustainable energy users. But how do we prioritise what to do first, and how do we help each other to make a sustainable energy difference in our community?

Skerries recently joined the SEAI Sustainable Energy Communities and we would like to talk to you about ideas for how to make sustainable energy projects in Skerries – driven by the ideas of the community, and supported by the SEAI and others.

 We invite you to come along to our first online community engagement event:

  • Wednesday 17 February from 8pm. 

This information and consultation evening will take place on Zoom, and you can register for it here:

The Skerries Sustainable Energy Community committee will introduce itself and you will hear more about how the Sustainable Energy Community program works. We will open the floor for discussion groups and capture all the great ideas about how we can make Skerries a sustainable energy community.

All interested parties from Skerries and the surrounding area are welcome to attend, from interested individuals / families to businesses, sports clubs and not-for-profit organisations.

 For any further information or questions about Skerries Sustainable Energy Community, please write to the Committee Chair, Michael Mullan-Jensen at skerries.seci@gmail.com

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!

Ballast Pit, 21/07/20

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:

  1. 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.

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We were delighted to welcome Dr Ăšna FitzPatrick from the National Biodiversity Data Centre. Ăšna 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:

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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 Ăšna 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.

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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/

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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  charleseheasman@gmail.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!

Charlie Heasman:19th Jan 2021

[This post should have gone up last October; due to an oversight it did not. Here it is now]

South Strand – what nature can achieve if given the chance

Sustainable Skerries have partnered with the Educate Together School to create Skerries’ first wildflower meadow.  This is part of our Biodiversity Action Plan and it is hoped that it will prove to be the first of many such areas..

The site is particularly well located in that it runs the length of the school grounds just inside the fence where everyone can see it.  If we achieve the colour and diversity that we hope for next summer it may inspire other clubs, organizations and resident’s associations to do the same.

So what’s involved?

The first thing to consider is that (rather paradoxically for anyone with a gardening or growing background) the soil is probably too fertile.  Rich soil encourages strong grass growth which outcompetes and swamps the intended wildflowers.  Again, we appear to be lucky with this site in that the builders of the school look to have done an excellent job back in the day of spreading low grade subsoil when they levelled the site

Nonetheless, we decided to remove as much organic matter as we could.

First step was to stake out the area and get the school groundsman to mow it as tight as possible.  Unfortunately this proved ineffective; he cut it as tight as he could, but nowhere near tight enough.  Having considered our options we decided to strim it.

This was the most tedious and protracted part of the operation.  It took four days in total but at the end of it we had the whole lot down to bare earth.  The result was threefold: not only could we remove the cuttings, but having done so we would have good ground contact for our seeds.  Meanwhile the grass had been knocked back hard in order to give the seeds a chance to germinate and grow.

Next was the fun part.

The call went out and last Saturday a team of volunteers turned up armed with garden rakes.  Every last inch was combed and the spoil barrowed away for composting elsewhere.  With a plot 100 meters long and ten wide crowding was not an issue and everyone could spread out into an empty space.  More than one person was heard to remark that it was pleasant to get out and about and actually meet people again.

Emily Mullen-Jensen hard at work with her Dad.

At the time of writing it looks like we’ll soon be back in lockdown, so once again we were lucky in that we did it when we did.

The next day we scattered our seeds and now all we have to do is sit back and wait.

But where did the seeds come from and what were they?

To answer that we go back to last summer.

With a project such as this it is highly recommended that seed should be sourced as locally as possible, thus protecting its genetic purity. Local species have evolved over time to match local conditions, and are thus best suited to thrive in them. Most of our seeds came from either Ardgillan or the Ballast Pit.  Marion could be seen out and about collecting, then taking them home to dry and store.

Naturally we concentrated on the most important pollinator friendly flowers and these included Red Clover, various Vetches, Campion, Mallow, Knapweed and Poppies.  Because we want not only a lot of flowers, but also a long flowering season, we also included Devil’s Bit Scabious, a late flowering species that will go on way into September and is a lot prettier than its name might suggest.  This is another native but we had to go a little further afield to collect it; County Wicklow in fact.

Finally, and possibly most important of all, Yellow Rattle.

This unassuming little plant only grows to a height of 15” and is easily overlooked, but it has one important trait: it parasitizes grasses.  By tapping into their roots and sucking out nutrients and moisture it keeps them in check; one of its colloquial names is Meadowmaker.  It will never completely eradicate grass because then it would have deprived itself of its own food source, a balance is reached.

So that’s it, all done, now we have to see how it turns out.  I’m off to hibernate for the winter, wake me up in May.

muscorum queen.jpg

Sustainable Skerries are pleased to announce a Public Consultation / Information event for their proposed Biodiversity Action Plan for the town, as funded by the Community Foundation of Ireland.

Due to the corona virus situation this cannot be done in the traditional face to face manner and will take the form of a Zoom meeting instead.  The meeting is scheduled for 8pm, Weds 13th Jan.  Meeting invitation and log-in details can be found on our Eventbrite page.

We want, and need, the help and support of the whole town on this so we will be delighted if you can make it.

Those not yet familiar with the plan might also like to read these posts on the site prior to the meeting:

This will greatly facilitate your understanding of what we propose and improve both your questions and input on the night, all of which are welcome.

There will be plenty of opportunity for the audience to be actively engaged. The more, the better! Let’s put our heads together and see what we can do.

Hope to see you there!

Stop press: We are delighted that Dr Una FitzPatrick of Biodiversity Ireland has agreed to zoom in and talk to us about biodiversity and pollinators! Don’t forget to sign up and zoom in on Wed 13 Jan 2021, from 8 p.m. – the Zoom link will be mailed out on the day to all who have signed up by the day before.

Charlie Heasman; 6th Jan 2021

I was somewhat taken aback to be asked this question by a colleague recently. We all know that globally we are seeing species extinction at an alarming and accelerating rate and that it really might be a good idea to do something about it. We have driven this change; now we must save what we can.

But if this person could ask that question there are probably others who might ask the same. Thus this post.

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Regular visitors to this site will know that Sustainable Skerries are involved in formulating a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) for the town. They will also know that the primary focus of the Plan is the conservation and protection of pollinators, in line with the National Pollinator Plan run by the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

The poster child of the National Pollinator Plan is a bumblebee. This leads many people to suppose that it is all about bees. It is not, any more than the iconic panda symbol means that the WWF is concerned with saving the panda and nothing else.

Bumblebees are hugely important wild pollinators, but in this case they are more than that. They are also a very useful indicator species. Because they are large and distinctive they are (relatively!) easy to see and count. By recording them over time we can get an idea of which way their numbers are heading, up or down. It can be assumed that other much smaller and harder to see insects will probably also be going in the same direction. And they are all important with their own roles to play.

So let’s look at the Skerries bumblebees for a moment.

Ireland has 21 species; we have seven. That’s actually pretty good going; in many places you’d be hard pressed to find three or four. Of those species all but one belong to the so-called “Big Six”, the six most common species found here. The same applies across the water in the UK, ( although they now often talk about their “Big Seven” because the European Tree Bee has now firmly established itself there – in Ireland we have so far had only a few early and tentative sightings).

The Big Six, and let’s ditch the Latin names for the moment, are:

Buff tailed bumblebee

Early bumblebee

Red tailed bumblebee

White tailed bumblebee

Garden bumblebee

Common carder bee

The seventh is known as the Large (or Moss) carder bee and is in strong decline across all of its range of Northern Europe, the UK and Ireland. Here in Skerries we have a significant residual population; walk past Loughshinny in one direction, Balbriggan in the other, or even out towards Lusk and you won’t find them. This is the bee I would like to see us save.

Bumblebees, like everything else, can be divided up all sorts of ways. In the case of the bees it can be done by tongue length. The first four of the Big Six listed above can be classified as short tongued, the other two plus the Moss carder are long tongued.

So why’s this important?

Because a long tongued bee feeds on different flowers to short tongued bees.

Moss Carder bee putting its long tongue to good use

The Buff tailed bee at the top of the list above is probably our most successful. It is a large bee with a short tongue. This means it can feed on a wide range of open faced flowers. And it does. This no doubt goes a long way to explaining its success; it’s robust, it’s not fussy, and takes every opportunity that comes its way. It’s also the horticulturalist’s bee of choice when it comes to importing artificial nests into glasshouses to pollinate tomatoes and strawberries, which it does far better than any other can, honeybees included. But when it comes to beans it is worse than useless; its tongue is not long enough to reach down into the flower. In fact when hard pressed a Buff tail will bite through the neck of the flower to get at the nectar, thus bypassing the pollination process and ensuring that the flower does not produce a bean.

That’s just one example of why we need species diversity. There are a myriad others but let’s talk about plants for a moment.

Plants have evolved to have flowers for one purpose and one purpose only; and it’s not to make the countryside look pretty. It is to attract pollinators which will facilitate the transfer of pollen from one flower to another, thus fertilising it.

So the more pollinators a flower can attract the better, right? Actually, no.

It is totally useless for, say, clover to be visited by a bee that has been busy all day on apple blossom. The two types of pollen are simply not compatible. It can be in the plant’s best interests to keep certain pollinators out and only let certain species in, the chances of a good pollen match are thus improved. Clover has managed to achieve this by having deep tubed flowers which the Buff tail can’t reach, thus saving its pollen and nectar for a specialist long tongued bee which is more likely to be carrying clover pollen.

Newly hatched Burnet Moth, Ballast Pit

Some plants choose to be serviced not by bees but by moths. A white summer flower will likely be one such example. Moths tend to fly at night, so a burst of perfume to guide them in and a luminescent bloom to zero in on does the trick.

There are examples beyond number of these partnerships in nature and we are only beginning to understand a few of them. We simply cannot afford to be blasĂ© and say “oh, that one doesn’t matter, there’s another that looks like it, it can do the same job”. One wouldn’t look at a construction site and remark that an electrician looks a lot like a plumber: “oh, we can afford to lose the electricians, the plumbers can do their job instead”. Construction sites don’t work that way and neither does nature.

I’ll leave this amidst anguished howls from readers by asking, why bother to save the Panda? After all there are plenty of other bear sized bears we can look at. The answer is that the Panda is cute and cuddly and we all love it; me too, don’t worry. But the fact is that if the Panda was to disappear tomorrow the ecological impact would be next to nothing.

Pollinators are another matter; if they go we go.

Finally – a recycling possibility for crisp packets!

Many of us have a packet of crisps every now and then. Sadly, those packets are unrecyclable in our current green bin service, adding to our waste load. Aside from minimizing plastic in our shopping and making sustainable choices when possible, there’s one more thing we could do now to contribute to minimizing waste in Skerries.

Thumbnail for The Crisp Packet Recycling Scheme

Sustainable Skerries have set up a TerraCycle account, which we hope will help our town be a bit more sustainable by collecting and recycling those crisp packets..

TerraCycle’s stated mission is Eliminating the Idea of Waste® by recycling the “non-recyclable.” Whether it’s coffee capsules from your home, pens from a school, or plastic gloves from a manufacturing facility, TerraCycle can collect and recycle almost any form of waste. With the help of the public, they are able to divert millions of pounds of waste from landfills and incinerators each month.

And Sustainable Skerries are getting involved now, too. We have decided to start with the TerraCycle Crisp Packet Recycling Scheme, which we are setting up with the very welcome support of Moriarty’s SuperValu Skerries. We hopefully will be adding more drop off points in the new year.

The Terracycle box will be set up at the back of the tills in SuperValu. Accepted items are all sizes of crisp, tortilla chips, quinoa/hummus/lentil crisps and individual snack packets of any brand. Not accepted items are popcorn bags, snack bars, biscuit wrappers or any other non crisp packet like item. Items should be completely emptied before placing in the TerraCycle box.

If all goes well, we hope to add more available recycling programs in the future. Another big benefit for our community is that, with every drop off into our Terracycle box, our account will earn points, which then in turn we will transfer to our local chosen charity, which in this case is St Michael’s Special School.

We hope this is another step in helping the community manage their waste in a more sustainable manner and also help charities in need. Each of your drop offs will be greatly appreciated

Celebrating all that is good food in Skerries.
Seasonal. Local. Organic. Waste-Minimising.
Let’s see how much of that is available locally!
Our food. Our environment. Our health.
Our first Sustainable Skerries Food Festival!
Online and all around Skerries Mills…
(safely distanced of course)
Provisional date: Sat 24 and Sun 25 April 2021.
And remember – you heard it here first!

Charlie Heasman; 5/12/20

Ballast Pit orchids plus photobombing butterfly

So what does the Ballast Pit mean to you? What does it mean to the people of Skerries generally?

Ask the question and be prepared for the usual barrage of negative keywords:

Wasteground; Untidy; Antisocial behaviour; Litter; Cans; Something should be done about it, etc, etc.

Some would disagree of course, notably dog walkers, who at least have one last refuge in which they can let their pooches off the lead for exercise and a jolly good sniff around without anyone complaining. For at least a short while once a day in their lives the dogs are untethered and free to follow the innermost exhortations of their souls.

I like dogs; always have, and have owned a good few in my time. But don’t anymore; it’s not worth the hassle.

Once upon a time owning a dog was straightforward: you acquired a mutt of something like the right breed and size, looked after it and threw sticks, thereby enjoying loyal, unconditional affection. Now it’s all microchips, licences, astronomical vet’s bills which you wouldn’t spend on your granny, grooming; nail clipping and expensive dental work which the old girl’s never going to get and, heaven forbid, black plastic poo bags which you subsequently hang on the hedge. Granny would be mortified!

These days I’m quite content to pet other people’s dogs (with their permission of course; you can’t be too careful in this day and age) and smile inwardly when I see someone walking their dog in the Ballast Pit.

So that’s dog walking covered; what about the rest?

Peacock butterfly, Ballast Pit

Let’s deal with drinking.

It used to be colloquially known as k*****r drinking, which we’re not allowed to say in print anymore though most of you still do in private. Let’s call it “the illicit consumption of alcohol in an outdoor urban setting by underage youths”, which has the twin disadvantages of not rolling off the tongue at all well and failing to address the fact that youthesses(?) might also be involved.

It happens. In the Ballast Pit. So what?

Does the Ballast Pit actually cause this? If it were not there would the ‘problem’ go away? I think not.

I’m going to have to be careful here not to be seen as condoning underage drinking. I am not. What I am saying is that it exists, always has done and in all probability always will. There will be very few reading this who can hold their hands up and claim in all honesty that they never did it themselves. I know I can’t.

Where I was fortunate was that I never had to indulge in the standing-around-shivering-in-the-long-grass business. During my teenage years I lived in rural Mid-Wales. If my 17 year old self fancied a pint on a Friday night he could leave the farm and walk up and cross the open hill, dropping down into the village of nearby Aberedw and the Seven Stars pub. There he would sup on a bottle or two of Mann’s Brown in the company of the old boys who seemed to have lived in the place forever and were both intrigued by, and were possibly pleased with, his unexpected company.

If he took one too many the journey home might take a little longer.

One such night provided an unexpected surprise.

This was exactly 50 years ago but I remember it as clearly as if it was yesterday. The night was quite light with a fullish moon obscured by cloud, but certainly enough to steer by. Having crested the hill and now dropping down into terrain that I knew well I came across a rock in the bracken that I knew had no business being there. So I stopped. The rock moved and raised a black and white striped head which revealed it to be a large boar badger. The two of us stood there not three feet apart regarding each other for ages before he finally got bored and shuffled off. I went home to bed and got up for work the next morning; presumably the badger did something similar.

Moving ahead some 25 years, and now in Skerries, my own son was of underage drinking age and he and his mates were the sort that the Gardai would harry out of the Ballast Pit and off the beaches. The lads meant no harm and as far as I know there was never any real trouble; certainly no arrests.

These days they all have families and respectable jobs; one’s an in-house accountant, another a schoolteacher, and my lad’s now a house-owner with a good job as an engineer, in Sustainables I’m pleased to say.

So where am I going with all this? My point is that things are not always as bad as people often make out. My son came to no harm in his time and I got to meet a badger in mine; I hope others can do similar in one of our few remaining wild places before it is gone.

Probably the best cans in the Ballast Pit; or not?

Just because drink is sometimes taken in the Ballast Pit this does not make it a bad place. In fact let’s turn this around and look at things from a different perspective. Some might say that if the Ballast Pit was not there it would be one less drinking venue and the problem would be lessened. And they’d be wrong, totally wrong. Natural surroundings do not cause anti-social behaviour. The good people around Beau Piers and the Community Centre have long been plagued by anti-social behaviour (please don’t contradict – it’s true) where there is not a bramble or gorse bush in sight. So should we demolish this obnoxious area of brick, concrete and tarmac and start again? Of course not.

Perhaps the Ballast Pit is a good thing after all? At least it’s removing the noise and disturbance away from people’s front doors? The residents of Selskar and Skerries Rock can breathe a sigh of relief.

And here lads, you lager swilling louts, is where you don’t get let off the hook: by all means have a good time – although please bear in mind that we are in the middle of a pandemic – but if you can manage the strength and physical effort to carry full cans in, can’t you at least manage to carry the empties back out? It’s your environment, your future. Mine’s mostly over; yours is just beginning. There are people who have been cleaning up after you, the Ballast Pit has been near spotless all summer. Until Halloween, when it filled up with rubbish again overnight. Like this:

Nice one Lads!!

Now it’s clean again. Your Mammies and Daddies won’t always be here to wipe your arses, you might just have to learn to do it yourselves.

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So there’s the negatives; it would be nice to look at the positives.

Let’s talk about the Ballast Pit in terms of ‘waste ground’. What is it and what do we mean by the term?

Obviously we mean ground that is not being used; is going to waste. But why? Because we have not yet mown it down, sanitised it or built something on it?

Let’s just re-imagine that it could be a last refuge of what we have systematically set out to destroy, of nature that we have come to think we can dominate and suppress because we are so damned clever that we can. But we can’t.

There is a growing awareness that we are in fact part of nature and that we need it whether we care to admit it or not. And not just on the spiritual ‘lay down under a tree’ Hippie level; we literally need it for our very survival as a species. And for decades now we’ve been doing our level best to destroy it.

As towns have increased in population and size they have spread and engulfed more land, and we lament the loss of agricultural land. The Ballast Pit was never farmland and was therefore even more likely to be built on. So far it has had a couple of narrow escapes and we’re lucky it’s still there.

We may feel guilty about the continued sprawl and expansion of our urban areas and yet it would be fair to say that in many regards our towns and villages support far more wildlife per hectare than the farmland that surrounds them. They have in effect become miniature nature reserves in their own right.

Modern intensive agriculture is not conducive to biodiversity. Hedge removal for bigger, more efficient fields; mono-culture; herbicides and pesticides have all combined to drive nature out of the countryside. There is little or no room for it anymore. Take a drive round the fields of Fingal next summer and have a good look for yourself.

By contrast urban gardens are full of insect life, particularly the pollinators that we now know we so desperately need and cannot do without. Gardens that are managed, either wholly or in part, for pollinators are even better. Once you have the insects back, plus seeds left to ripen, you start getting the birds back. It’s begins to self-perpetuate.

Planted for polinators.

But I digress. As important as town gardens are, they are not the subject of this post: the Ballast Pit is.

The great thing about the Ballast Pit is that it does all this by itself.

You might think that it is just full of brambles and Ivy. Okay, but brambles produce flowers for pollinators in summer and berries for birds and everything else in autumn. Ivy flowers in autumn for late pollinators and produces berries for birds in winter. Both are excellent cover and nesting habitat.

Knapweed, an important pollinator plant

And then there are the parts that are neither bramble or ivy; quite a lot of them too.

This summer my wife and I armed ourselves with mobile phones and plant identification apps and found close on 200 plant species without trying too hard and certainly without the aid of a microscope. We were surprised to find flax (as in the stuff Irish linen was made from) and we photographed Pyramidial Orchids. Later we found out that the latter are only found on one other site in Fingal: Newbridge Park.

Apart from the rarities there are many other once common wildflowers that are now not so common. In summer the banks are ablaze. The place is also full of butterflies and bumblebees, on account of the rich flora. Chief amongst these is the Small Blue Butterfly, on the endangered list and now found in only a handful of other locations in Ireland. There is also the Large Carder Bee, it too endangered, a bumblebee which has disappeared from most of the country and whose numbers are declining year on year, and one that we are currently engaged in trying to save.

The Small Blue: it may be brown on top, but it’s blue underneath. Honest!

There’s lots more but that’s enough for now. It’s pretty miserable at this time of year but next spring and summer go take a look for yourself with freshly opened eyes. You will be surprised what you see.

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*It couldn’t be done this year because of covid, but next year I would hope to be able to organise small groups for biodiversity walking tours. Fingers crossed.