25 Feb 2017
What has happened to it all?
Crazy some are saying,
Where is the life that I recognise?
Gone Away. (Ordinary World Duran Duran 1993)
A couple of years ago I heard a fisherman describe his experience of the decline of fish stocks in Irish waters. He regretted the dropping catches and commented on how much higher the fish numbers were earlier in his career. He then followed with a telling point. He said that older fishermen told him that what he saw as high fish numbers early in his career were, to them, a huge collapse from the numbers they met with earlier in their lives as fishermen. What had been ‘normal’ for his younger self were abnormal to the older fishermen.
Normality is relative to one’s time and experience. What we see as normal therefore depends on the whole breadth of our experience. Those who follow us may find it impossible to believe that ever a time existed when Garden Tiger moths were everywhere in July, or that House Sparrows in city parks perched by the half dozen on benevolent bird lover’s hands to take proffered grain, or that Swifts dashed along city streets at human eye level plucking insect prey from our midst. It was normal on summer mornings to regret leaving the window ajar and indoor light on during muggy nights for the multitude of nocturnal insects speckling the walls. Vehicle windscreens were greasy with insects arising from day or night journeys. None of these sights are familiar to today’s observer.
Those who knew of a previous, biodiverse world miss this normality. We miss the eager shriek of cavorting Swifts, the chirping House Sparrows, a familiar soundtrack to our daily routine and the chocolate dappled forewings and blue-spotted terracotta hindwings of Garden Tigers, a welcome reminder of mid-summer. We may not miss cleaning the grimy windscreen but a countryside empty of bees, hoverflies, butterflies, moths, birds foreshadows a darker future for everyone.
If you want to get used to this ordinary world, do nothing.
But if you want a world where life is valued, change.
Do not use chemicals in the garden, or on your driveway. You do not need to kill the insects on your plants; the insects belong there, your chemicals don’t.
If you farm, farm without fertilizers. Grass, the country’s most abundant crop, will grow anyway. But wild flowers will not; fertilizer destroys native flowers.
Send slurry to a sewage plant; do not dump it on wild flower meadows; it destroys them.
Plant native Irish trees and native Irish shrubs. These are great for our wildlife which relies on native plants for survival. Leylandii, Laurel, Grizalinia, Common Beech and other non-native hedging are very poor for biodiversity. A native hedge consisting of Common Holly, Common Hawthorn, Common Hazel, Alder Buckthorn (bee magnet) Guelder Rose (a show-stopper in flower and during autumn for its berries (a Bullfinch favourite) and outstanding leaf colour) will bring back colour and life to your landscape. A native mini-wood planted along the fringe of your garden (several small native trees are suitable) or a corner of your field (where you’ve got space, native oak, Common Hazel, Common Ash, Downy/Silver Birch, Irish Whitebeam, etc) will restore life and character to your surroundings.
Create a pond/wetland in your farm or garden. Frogs, newts, dragonflies rely on fresh water habitats for survival. A wildlife area without a pond is a theatre without a stage. As I write, the frogs are croaking in my pond while the male newts frolic frenetically around apparently indifferent females as the dance of life kicks off in spring.
Grow genuine, native flowers from a native seed source (why not collect and sow your own?) in your flower bed, rockery, lawn, pond etc. Steer clear of feeble garden varieties lacking nectar, pollen and gilded with vulgarly over-sized blooms that boast absurdly unnatural colours; I saw a purple (!) primrose in a garden centre today; needless to say, no bee went near it.
What is happening to tropical rainforests is horrifying. But our record here is just as bad. Our forests were wiped out long ago. But the few steps outlined here, small as they are, are a start. Let’s create a new, fuller normality, an extraordinary world.
For details on these steps, see the advice on this website http://www.butterflyconservation.ie/wordpress/?page_id=33. See also http://www.wildflowers.ie/