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Posts Tagged ‘biodiversity’

Watering the polytunnel one evening I was taken aback to spot a large insect flexing his feelers on a courgette plant. His slender body spanned almost two inches with long gangly antennae that comically kinked out suddenly. I’d never seen a creature like him before and decided to keep my distance. After gingerly taking a picture on my phone I darted indoors to see if Google could enlighten me. I found no images to match my bug so I sent off an email to the Viney household hoping for some insight. Ethna Viney, writer and wife to Irish Times nature columnist Michael, very kindly advised me to contact the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

Parasitic_Wasp_Ireland

Funded by the Heritage Council and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the National Biodiversity Data Centre is based in Waterford. They collect data from civilian naturalists from all around the country. That information is then managed and analysed to inform us of any changes to our natural surroundings. It means that the state of Ireland’s wildlife is documented for future reference and monitored so that any potential threats or challenges can be detected and dealt with. As the natural environment directly impacts our daily lives, it is a valuable and worthy activity.

The public are encouraged to visit the website, log in and record their sighting- whether it be insect, wild animal, bird or plant. There are even useful step-by-step instructions to help you through the process. When I opened the website I read that earlier in the day a Pine Marten had been spotted in Sligo, someone had spied a Green Shield bug in Kerry while the day before in Dublin a Rock Pigeon was recorded and Sea Aster was found growing in Waterford. Just a few of the many, many recorded sightings that are logged each day. It doesn’t seem to matter if the particular species is unusual or considered rare, even encounters with common flora and fauna are welcome.

But how could I record my exotic visitor without first identifying him? With that in mind I sent my photo in an email to the experts at the National Biodiversity Data Centre asking for assistance. A speedy response confirmed that my insect wasn’t terribly exotic but, in fact, a parasitic wasp. Dr Tomás Murray assured me that the wasp was harmless, unless you happen to be a caterpillar. The unfortunate caterpillar is host to the wasp larvae. I was a little disappointed not to have discovered a rarity or even a brand new species but at least he will help deter ravenous caterpillars from chomping through my leafy greens.

Elephant_hawkmoth_caterpillar_sm

A week later while walking in the locality I spotted another gargantuan insect on my path. A fat, brown caterpillar with eye-like markings lolloped over the gravel. Aha, I thought, another specimen to record. Google was able to help me out on this one which turned out to be an Elephant Hawk Moth grub. So I dutifully logged on to the National Biodiversity Data Centre website and recorded each insect individually, citing exact location, date and habitat I found them in. Lots of prompts and drop-down menus make the process as easy as possible.

Next time you are outdoors take a closer look at that grass verge, the hedge nearby, the stone wall, the flower bed.  It’s amazing what you see when you really look. Get spotting and recording. You’ll develop a more intimate relationship with your surroundings, you’ll be doing your bit for the preservation of our biodiversity and, last but not least, it’s fun for all the family!

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The Irish Seed Savers Association was founded in 1991 by Anita Hayes to preserve the seeds of rare heritage agricultural plants. More than two decades later their funding has been cut leaving their vital work, and potentially our future, now under threat.

In Wildermess is the preservation of our world

There was a time, not so long ago, when farmers and gardeners only grew fruit, vegetables and grains from seeds that they saved from a previous crop. These particular seed varieties, referred to as open-pollinated varieties, self-pollinate to produce plants that are true-to-type; as in exhibiting the same characteristics as the parent. Some plants species are also open to cross-pollination with similar varieties which means care must be taken to isolate them from their first cousins in order to obtain genetically pure seed.

Up to 50 years ago in communities throughout Ireland seeds were selected from the hardiest and most vigorous plants, swapped with neighbors and, in some cases, creatively cross-pollinated to produce a diverse selection of localized plant varieties. This is no longer how most of us operate. We now trundle down to our nearest garden centre to buy a packet of F1 hybrid vegetable seeds or choose a fruit tree from the limited selection of varieties. F1 hybrid seeds are the result of genetically different parents and are either sterile or produce unstable offspring. This means we all, gardeners and commercial growers alike, unhinkingly buy our hybrid seeds annually. And so, largely down to profit before sustainability, public demand for uniformity and our detachment from the land, over the course of the last century more than 70 percent of our native fruit and vegetable varieties have disappeared. Forever.

The global control exerted by a certain multinational on our food supply through the patenting of “hybrid vigor”, disease-resistant seedstock is shocking enough but loss of agricultural diversity is further cause for concern. We need to have a wide variety of plants at our disposal to ensure genetic diversity. This means we are better equipped to respond to any environmental challenges that may come our way. We as a country should have independent resources to adapt and evolve our food supply to suit the changing weather conditions.

This is where The Irish Seed Savers Association comes in. While we were fondling seed packets down the garden centre Irish Seedsavers were tirelessly gathering and preserving for our future and now they need our help. The Department of Agriculture has drastically reduced their funding. Pobal payments have been pared back and there is a fall in numbers attending on-site courses. As a result the association’s annual budget is down by €250,000. If they fail to raise this amount they will struggle to survive. We do need them to survive, so please go to here to support their crowd-funding campaign. It is a very real and sound investment for our childrens’ futures. On February 1 people are encouraged to host a fundraising coffee morning for the association. The first day of spring – I can think of a no better omen.

More info: Great article here by Sylvia Thompson

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