Biodiversity benefits from the Covid-19 crisis

As we seek to build back better from the crisis, we must work together to preserve biodiversity so we can achieve our sustainable development goals, writes Ray Ryan.
Biodiversity benefits from the Covid-19 crisis

After an eight week lockdown, Trinity College this week resumed its biodiversity survey of the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin. Dr Stephanie Maher and Dr Simon Hodge are pictured setting pan traps to sample invertebrates. Picture: Maxwells
After an eight week lockdown, Trinity College this week resumed its biodiversity survey of the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin. Dr Stephanie Maher and Dr Simon Hodge are pictured setting pan traps to sample invertebrates. Picture: Maxwells

As we seek to build back better from the crisis, we must work together to preserve biodiversity so we can achieve our sustainable development goals, writes Ray Ryan.

Birds, bees, and back garden biodiversity have all come to the fore as the Covid-19 restrictions reconnect people with nature.

The pandemic has slowed down a gadding world and forced many citizens in Ireland and elsewhere to a greater appreciation of nature’s beauty and the importance of preserving it.

Motorists who have been travelling longer distances in the past week as the country began a slow return to what is being described as a new normal saw some of the changes that have occurred.

Dandelions and cow slips which grew wildly on roadside ditches and on motorway verges during the restrictions have provided carpets of yellow that are bringing joy to the human eye and to hungry pollinator species.

Green spaces in some residential areas are blossoming with red clover and cuckooflower while furze bushes are decorating the landscape with necklaces of flowering colour.

A community in Portlaoise has even reported seeing a rare green-winged Orchid flowering in a local housing estate, nearly 120 years after it was previously found in the area by the naturalist Robert Lloyd Praeger.

People sitting in their back gardens have also observed how birds are setting a good example for humans in these strange times which features an increased focus on hand washing and staying apart.

Birds, as they have always done, regularly flap their wings in water and keep their distance from any risks posed by prowling cats and circulating hawks.

Teagasc also highlighted the importance of bees in a statement ahead of the United Nations designated World Bee Day last Wednesday.

Urging farmers to allow space for common wildflowers to grow and blossom, Teagasc said they get pollen and nectar from willow, hazel and primrose early in the year.

Now, whitethorn, bluebells and dandelions are important, while later on blackberry, woodbine and heather will feed the bees. Ivy is the last source of food at the end of the year.

A diversity of common flowering plants is also needed in hedgerows, field margins, field corners, along farm roadways and around farmyards.

Teagasc says the quest for neatness should not override ecological considerations. Plants should be allowed to flower before cutting. A current cultural challenge is to get recognition that common ‘weeds’ are wildflowers which may (or may not) be growing in the wrong place.

The only plants which are universally undesirable, it says, are Invasive alien species, such as Japanese knotweed.

Noxious weeds (ragwort, thistle, docks, male wild hop, common barberry and wild oats) must be controlled under the Noxious Weeds Act.

In terms of species, there are twenty bumble bees, 77 solitary bees and one honey bee in Ireland. Unfortunately, one-third of our bees are in danger of extinction.

Bees pollinate food crops (oilseed rape, peas, beans, apples and soft fruit) as well as wildflowers and trees. Some produce honey.

They are also indicators of general biodiversity, which is in decline. Ireland, however, has become only the second country in the world to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency to meet the challenges ahead.

One million animal and plant species are now deemed to be threatened with extinction globally While biodiversity has always evolved, changes in the past 50 years have been more rapid than at any time in human history.

Recent research by Catherine Keena, Teagasc Countryside Management Specialist, found that farmers were positive towards biodiversity, but understanding of it was relatively poor.

Pointing out that biodiversity is one of the principal public goods to which agriculture can contribute, Teagasc says it supports the All Ireland Pollinator Plan.

The plan is bringing farmers, local authorities, schools, gardeners together to try and create an Ireland where bees can survive and thrive.

While many scheduled events during the recent National Biodiversity Week were postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions, awareness of nature conservation continued to be raised.

This was done through digital resources and content, such as a #LoveNature campaign launched by Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht Minister Josepha Madigan.

She said nature is thriving now and can be enjoyed by many within the current 5K exercise limit. Physical events, regrettably, could not take place during Biodiversity Week this year.

“But families across the country are re-discovering nature throughout these difficult times, and I would like them to think about playing their part for nature in a fun but safe way.

“Small steps at home can create a place for nature. Practical advice, from helping pollinating bees to understanding the wealth of wildlife in Ireland, can focus our minds on why biodiversity is so crucial,” she said.

Ireland’s Citizen Science Portal, managed by the National Biodiversity Data Centre, based in Waterford, provides a facility for everyone to submit and store sightings of nature online.

Most sighting submitted by some 1,270 recorders since the beginning of 2020 were from counties Dublin, Cork and Galway.

The April to September survey merely requires participants to watch a small patch of flowers for 10 minutes, which could be in a garden, farm or local park, and record how many insects visit.

As the global community marked last week’s International Day for Biological Diversity, the United Nations Secretary General António Gutterres had a simple message for all: “Our solutions are in nature.”

He said preserving and sustainably managing biodiversity is necessary for mitigating climate disruption, guaranteeing water and food security and even preventing pandemics.

“Covid-19 — which emanated from the wild — has shown how human health is connected with our relationship to the natural world.

“As we encroach on nature and deplete vital habitats, increasing numbers of species are at risk. That includes humanity and the future we want.

“As we seek to build back better from the current crisis, let us work together to preserve biodiversity so we can achieve our sustainable development goals. That is how we will protect health and well-being for generations to come,” he said.

biodiversityireland.ie

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