This job is rarely the same every week, or everyday for that matter! One day I might be telling a community group that people used to reccomend chewing bramble leaves as a cure for tooth ache (don’t try that) and the next I’ll be using a reverse leave blower/super vacuum to hoover up as much yellow rattle seed as I possibly can. By the way did you know how expensive yellow rattle seed is? I don’t know if it’s the same across the water but over here it’d be cheaper buying a bag of diamonds! Anyway what I’m saying is that variety is the spice of life and this jobs got plenty of it! Over the last month or so I’ve found myself supporting the National Trust, Ulster Wildlife, TCVNI and Butterfly Conservation. I’ve started to feel like that guy that seems to show up everywhere, but in a good way. Taking up responsibility whenever its been lacking, being the middle man for the folks that can’t get through to each other and providing support whenever its needed. That’s effectively what I’ve been doing for all these organisations. Here’s a few examples:
The Magnificent Meadows project has taken up a large slice of my time since I began the traineeship but even more so in the past couple of months. Events, surveys and seed gathering have all been on the agenda. Over the past 2 months we have been surveying road verges along the rather high speed Derrygonnelly road out of Enniskillen. You wouldn’t believe the biodiversity on this road. The road verges in fact hold the title of one of the best areas for Dingy Skipper butterfly in NI, some of them hold up to 4 species of orchid including Bee orchids and Fragrant orchids, and on top of that they hold vast amounts of Devils Bit Scabious, the vital food plant of the Marsh Fritillary! In my mind this road is worthy of being a national nature reserve and if you merged all of the verges into one super meadow it would be one of the most species rich in the country! The surveys have been a great chance for me to gain a bit more experience in identifying my flora but the real treat has been passing on the knowledge I already have to the other volunteers. I also got the chance to represent the project at the Fermanagh show last Tuesday and got talking to so many local people about the incredible meadows we still have in Fermanagh and lucky we are. Everyone always reminisces about the Cuckoos, the wildflowers and most of all the Corncrake! A bird which was widespread in Fermanagh until the last 40 odd years. Its these conversations that make you and those people you talk to simultaneously realise what is going on, how far we have come and what danger we are in. It is a double edged sword to hear these stories of Corncrakes so numerous and noisy that a sleepless night was a forgone conclusion. On one hand you revel in the happiness in their faces when they unload these memories but on the other you wonder if those sensations will ever be experienced again.
A bit of seed collecting has been going on too and not the kind were you thoughtlessly meander through the meadow with a careful hand and soft pillow case. This is seed collection 21st century style with what is effectively a giant dust buster! We’ve been using this to collect the ever precious yellow rattle (or hay rattle as it’s know here) which is the corner stone of any species rich grassland. The seed we collect will then be dried and stored to be sowed on future meadows. The yellow rattles parasitic nature which undercuts the often dominant grasses means that the beautiful wildflowers that we love to see get a chance to grow. True to Fermanagh form however we had nowhere to store the seed while the project officer was on holiday which left my room as the only option. A room full of seeds and a car full of moths adequately sums up my year so far I would say.
I ran a great event at my favourite spot in Lisnaskea during July to celebrate summer wildlife and get everyone involved in the Big Butterfly Count. Unfortunately the weather thought it was November and it rained for good portion of the day. So as you can imagine there wasn’t that many butterflies about. However the event was believe it or not a success! I had brought along a few moth traps that I had set at NT Crom estate down the road the night before and they were full to the brim with exciting things. I had also gone pond dipping that morning and laid out a few trays full of freshwater beasties for people to feast their eyes on. My heart was lifted when at 11:05am with the rain coming down a number of cars pulled into the car park and I was graced with a few families and local people. One of the children had even brought me a jar full of cinnabar moth caterpillars to show me :). I had never heard “Wow” and “Oh my God” uttered so much as that day. We had 6 Poplar Hawkmoths and 3 Elephant Hawkmoths which was enough to send the adults into sensory overload let alone the kids. When we went to the ponds there was the ferocious great diving beetle larvae waiting for them (who had tried with great vigor to tear a tadpole apart until I separated him into his own tray!). Pond skaters, dragonfly nymphs, water boatmen and more tadpoles than you could ever want was enough to send the kids into apoplexy. We rounded the day off with a walk round the meadow chatting about the wildflowers and the folklore behind them. Believe it or not we did see one Meadow Brown butterfly who had braved the rain for a split second!
It was of course the Big Butterfly count over the last few weeks and I tried my best to organise events around it or involving it. Unfortunately I was rained on all 3 occasions. One of these was an event that Butterfly Conservation Northern Ireland themselves had organised at Forthill park in Ennsikillen. I thought this would be a great chance to partner, support with the event and promote the campaign. I also thought it would be a great chance to join up the Magnificent meadows project and Butterfly Conservation NI. After chatting with Catherine Bertrand from BCNI we had decided it would be a good idea to put out some moth traps on some of the Mag Meadows sites. One of these was an incredible wet grassland at Trory that belongs to a local man. I had chatted to him and he was incredibly interested to see what was there so I met up with him, showed him the trap which we had to surround with a ring feeder so the cattle wouldn’t get to curious, and told him to head to the event tomorrow so he could see some of the amazing creatures we would catch. Sure enough we had some amazing things to show folks even though the rain was falling and there wasn’t a butterfly in sight summer schemes and families were in awe of Garden Tigers and Buff Tips and the Farmer from Trory came along to see what his grassland had produced. He was so inspired that he’s going to get a moth trap of his own.
I’ve also started a new placement at the National Trusts Crom Estate which is one of the best conservation sites in the UK and probably Northern Irelands largest expanse of native oak woodland. I’ve been helping them to try and show visitor and the local community how incredibly diverse the place is. I’ve created new interpretation boards for the visitor centre which can be changed with the seasons as different wildlife emerges and fades. I’ve created an events plan of guided walks and species events for visitors and local people to come along and learn more about the woodlands incredible inhabitants. The first of which didn’t get off to a great start as it was another butterfly walk and just so happened to be on the same day that Fermanagh got a months rainfall within 24 hours! Needless to say nobody came to the butterfly walk and with good reason but hopefully the next event will be sightly drier. I’ll leave you with an image of one of Croms most spectacular inhabitants, the Silver Washed Fritillary, Irelands largest butterfly!