Protect natural habitats

A WALK on a country road these days will show that we don’t have to look too far to see nature showing its face again, writes Donal Hickey.

Greening of ditches and hedgerows has begun, while campaigns have got under way in Ireland and the UK to create more awareness of these wonders of nature. The idea is to ensure that wild plants and animals in the world all around us thrive, in spite of all the forces that are massed against them.

The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) has launched a new project titled, Networks for Nature, which aims to educate and empower local communities and tidy towns groups to manage and cherish roadside verges which, it emphasises, are important refuges for many forms of life and wild flowers.

Road building, urban expansion and the construction of a large number of houses in rural areas have done a lot of damage and our planning laws could do with some tightening up when it comes to protecting the natural environment. For instance, why should old stone ditches be summarily obliterated, only to be replaced by urban-style walls around rural houses?

But we still have a huge network of roads in rural districts which are still very much as they have always been. IWT conservation officer Sean Meehan says our 96,000km of road and adjacent verges offer a significant area of potential habitat on a national scale for our flora and fauna.

As a result of ever increasing pressures on habitats in the Irish countryside, roadside hedges and verges offer a sanctuary for a vast array of our wildlife and are recognised as important connections linking different habitats that have been split by roads, intensive farming and urban sprawl.

The decline of bees, globally, has been well documented and, by allowing roadside verges to grow wild, this could help to halt the decline of bees and other important pollinator species.

Hedgerows are also vital for nature and landowners are asked to leave a margin for plants to grow and various animals, some almost invisible, to survive. Dense growth at the bottom of hedgerows provides cover for birds such as wren and dunnock, as well as the hedgehog and pygmy shrew, and barn owls can sometimes be seen hunting prey where margins offer plenty of cover and food.

Experts tell us that a hedge which is wide at the base and fairly tall, with a wide margin and a drain, is ideal for wildlife. The more it becomes like a strip of woodland, the better.

In the UK, a National Plant Monitoring Scheme will for the first time enable scientists to take an annual stock-take of the UK’s wild plants and their habitats. Over there, volunteers are being sought to carry out surveys of wildflowers and their habitats.


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