Minding our wildflowers

That estimable survivor of the showband era, Big Tom McBride from Co Monaghan, once had a hit about an old-fashioned Irish mother “in the fields where the wildflowers grow’’.

Minding our wildflowers

That was about 40 years ago and, just like the gentle mother in that maudlin song, some of the wildflowers have also gone.

But many still remain. Soon, bluebells, early and welcome harbingers of summer will be shooting up from the woodland floor. By May, many people’s favourite month, they will be seen in profusion bending before the warm breezes that month usually brings. Bluebells and buttercups were among the flowers we picked in the fields for the May altars of long ago.

Coming into the season of flowers, the arrival in the post of a most informative book was timely, for it’s all about more than 500 of our native species that adorn the landscape. Some of our wildflowers have succumbed to intensive farming and the switch from hay to silage.

Ironically, gardeners have also contributed to their demise as they have become obsessed with tidiness. Most people nowadays like to grow cultivated flowers around their houses and lawns and leave no space on the margins for what they might regard as weeds that can, in fact, be wildflowers.

The loss of wildflowers is also a factor in the decline of the honeybee, according to the National Biodiversity Data Centre, which urges that more could be done to plant such flowers on road edges, open spaces and the corners of gardens.

Zoe Devlin is one of the country’s most accomplished experts on the subject and her book, The Wildflowers of Ireland (The Collins Press) contains detailed information about 530 wildflowers, with over 1,200 of the author’s own photographs.

She says Ireland has about 800 wildflowers, joined by many introduced species which have established themselves here. Travelling around the country in pursuit of her passion, she has compiled a comprehensive pocket guide which, she hopes, will encourage people, especially the young, to look around them more carefully and cherish what they see.

Her work was not without some funny incidents. One day in Co Wicklow, she was lying on a forestry path trying to get a good, close-up shot of a flower when she heard a scream coming from up the path. Raising her head, she saw two “totally distraught’’ walkers who thought they had come across a dead body.

Such are the daily challenges that face nature photographers.

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