South Kerry's response to disappearance of bird life

Kilgarvan Tidy Towns will lead a project aimed at protecting and improving biodiversity, as one member says he has seen birdlife on his farm dwindle in recent years.
South Kerry's response to disappearance of bird life

Tom FT Randles, Tom Twomey, Eamon and Liam Horgan, Dawn Shaw, and Mary Galvin, all members of Kilgarvan Tidy Towns committee, on the road into the village where they will be planting new hedgerows to encourage wildlife.  	Picture: Dan Linehan
Tom FT Randles, Tom Twomey, Eamon and Liam Horgan, Dawn Shaw, and Mary Galvin, all members of Kilgarvan Tidy Towns committee, on the road into the village where they will be planting new hedgerows to encourage wildlife. Picture: Dan Linehan

Kilgarvan Tidy Towns will lead a project aimed at protecting and improving biodiversity, as one member says he has seen birdlife on his farm dwindle in recent years.

South Kerry Development Partnership has come together with the Tidy Towns Association of Kilgarvan to create a Connecting Wildlife Corridors with Hedges project.

It aims to plant hedgerows which provide valuable shelter for birds, mammals, and insects as they travel along and under the protective vegetation provided.

Kerry County Council has awarded €3,254.25 to the project.

Environmental consultant Sharon Eastwood liaised with the Kilgarvan group, facilitating it with the concept, native hedgerows being “big for local wildlife”.

This is a LEADER-funded project for protection and improvement of local biodiversity.

The hedging plants are all native deciduous and bee-friendly, suitable for planting in a variety of soils. A range of species is important, providing wildlife with a food supply throughout the year. Planting is set to commence in early spring.

Tom JT Randles, a key Tidy Town member since its foundation, says it “started off in the 1980s as our village was gone dilapidated due to businesses closing down leaving empty unpainted houses”.

Once a village publican, Tom wears many hats, including that of antiquarian, historian, farmer, photographer, and author.

Above all, Tom is a passionate environmentalist.

“I have a farm, 50% of which is natural woodland which I don’t get a penny for; it’s there for wildlife habitats. I’ve noticed the robin has dwindled, the thrush gone scarce; the blackbird is getting wiped out — the only thing I have in abundance is the ordinary (song) thrush.

I love the birds on my farm; last June I only had one hen-pheasant with four chicks. All gone. It’s depressing for me.

The Tidy Town hedgerow concept has spun from local concern in the decline of birds. The corridor, which will run along the Killarney road east of the village, will provide native hedging such as the blackthorn bush not easily penetrated by large species.

Tom says that “the thorns protect the small birds’ nests from magpies and crows robbing them. If I see magpies outside I hunt them; they’re always trying to get into my bird boxes.”

Kilgarvan man Dan Lynch praised the Tidy Towns committee, telling the Irish Examiner that “the village wouldn’t look like it does now only for them”, referring to a 2012 project when Tidy Towns funded the painting of houses and walls around the area. They have run numerous projects to date, including the creation of a wild garden at Bantry Cross near the Healy-Raes’ Mace.

Kilgarvan Tidy Towns praised the support received. “South Kerry Partnership has been very good to us with funding and equipment; we have two Tús workers permanently now — a major boost. Together with volunteers, some who’ve been on board for years, they will start planting shortly.

“Once the hedges are up, going, and blossoming, it will take a few years for the corridor to develop; they’ll have to be kept down to a certain height because of the turn in the road, but this will be ideal for it to mature and thicken up, to become nice and thorny.”

There has been some controversy on the location of the hedging, at the edge of a busy road, but Tidy Towns has to work with the waste ground given and, wholly, it is seen as a positive step forward. According to Kieran Grace, Bird Watch Ireland, “any maintenance of old hedges or new ones planted is a great idea; keeping an eye on the impact of the hedge and its location is important for other people going forward and applying the lessons learned in any future planting.”

Tom hopes the project will send a wider message. “I hope to see the new hedge corridor encourage the farming community or anyone with a bit of a garden around their house to set something that produces berries for bees and birds to help maintain their population; we’ve seen the wasp and the bumblebee numbers dwindle; even the butterfly is disappearing.

How many people have seen the wren? I haven’t seen the wren in five years. If we don’t take steps now to do something about these things we’re going to be sorry in five or 10 years time; they’ll be all gone.

Tom feels we should take guidelines from our parents’ day by becoming more self-sufficient which would not only help ourselves but also wildlife; planting our own fruit trees like blackcurrants, gooseberries, raspberries, or strawberries “would be a start”.

He recalls apples being stored in hay to stop them rotting, preserving them for nearly six months.

“In France, I’ve seen first hand the harm done with farm development. They’ve taken out the hedgerows. The French did a lot of harm to their own country but they don’t admit it; the wildlife is gone; you can see that from helicopter views in the Tour de France — vast plains with no ditch or dyke; there are only certain groups of wood plantation, spruce and pine, and all that; you don’t see any natural woods there, and that’s where it all went wrong.

“Now they’re coming over here to shoot birds. I clear them; I told them if they come in my land again I’ll have to call the guards because they’re not going to shoot my birds; I’m protecting the birds that I have. I have ducks and, in the past, some very rare grey-backed partridge have appeared on my land. They were lovely to see.”

Ireland in the 1980s saw farming intensify. Permission was granted to take out the hedgerows in certain fields, making them bigger for machinery. Look at the harm done by the sheep to the mountains with overgrazing — farmers doubled the amount of sheep they had; they ate all the heathers off the mountains and we have to feed them inside now in sheds for most of the year.

“Politicians ‘pussyfoot’ around the environment and nature and when the election is over they won’t open their mouth. They have no passion for it and it really annoys me.”

Tom says he doesn’t have to watch the TV to be informed. “I see all these things on my own farm here — things are dwindling away on us.

“Politicians should stop running with the hare and hunting with the hound and get real about global warming.”

On the contrary to the perceived insignificance and demise of the rural village in our political landscape, Sharon Eastwood says programmes such as this not only “better the community” but are hugely important as “small changes at local level can make an impact nationally”.

Kilgarvan Tidy Towns’ rating climbs in points every year and it has acquired two Endeavour Awards to date.

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