Donal Hickey: Wonder all around to see

Donal Hickey: Wonder all around to see

People often say the wonders are all around us. If we only opened our eyes. And what better time than the May public holiday. Stroll at your ease along a country road, or even suburbia, and you’ll see nature blooming; birds, bees and butterflies all busy.

Hedgerows are alive and people have more time to notice in the current emergency. They’re out walking and, if they observe the restrictions, they’ve more reason to focus on what’s near home.

Every day, I’m surprised by people who are normally too busy to take in the natural world but now eagerly tell us all about it. Some are asking about the dawn chorus and commenting on the songs of different birds. Others report the water in rivers has got much cleaner since humans were forced to slow down.

This level of observation is something we haven’t previously seen. But, years ago, a man named Stuart Dunlop proved, very simply, that nature is just outside the door or a few paces down the road.

During daily walks with his dog, in 2003, on a 1.5km stretch of road outside Raphoe, Co Donegal, he had those revelatory moments and has been compiling a diary entitled, ‘A Donegal Hedgerow’, ever since.

In that short distance, he found and photographed 50 to 60 species of wildflowers and ferns. As well as the usual orchids and foxglove, he has recorded other beautiful flowers, animals and insects on hedges and ditches. “I discovered I had a rich local environment, but also that I had much to learn,” says Stuart, a naturalist and wildlife blogger.

This man has really got it and, to be sure, many of us could have the same experience by being curious and looking. Things you hadn’t noticed but see once you begin to look. The words of the rural poet, Patrick Kavanagh, come to mind: “Ordinary things wear lovely wings.”

He is worried about the lack of knowledge and expertise in such matters at official level in Ireland, saying it’s absolutely frightening that some of the top-level expertise is held by “absolute amateurs” like himself. There’s a lack of investment by governments in professionals to hold positions where this expertise would naturally reside. D

ecisions on the building of houses and businesses on a range of sites, including some of scientific interest, are being based on incomplete information, says Stuart.

“We don’t know enough about our wildlife and we are certainly not competent enough to know that we are making the correct decisions. Pressure from industry, agriculture, building development, and lack of understanding (or even basic interest) by politicians is putting us in a place that fills me with dread,” he writes in ‘A Donegal Hedgerow’.

Thoughts worth heeding.

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