By Albert Nolan
Nature always amazes me with its ability to adapt to the constantly changing world of our city, streets and buildings. Despite our best efforts, wildflowers grow in our gardens, parks and along nooks and crannies on quiet lanes and abandoned houses. Birds nest in our homes and city trees and early morning foxes forage for the remains of last night’s take away. Insects too can thrive, from butterflies on buddleia bushes to bumblebees on wildflowers growing on derelict ground. All of these creatures are very adaptable, but others need our help. On a recent walk through Limerick I discovered how different areas are being managed for nature and how we interact with them, as well as a very creative project funded through the Limerick City of Culture that is helping raise awareness around the importance of nature and different steps we can take to help out.
I started my walk today at Creative Nature Urban Biodiversity Project. It is situated at the junction of Thomas Street and Anne’s street. A piece of derelict ground has been transformed and has become a beacon for people and wildlife. I meet Diarmuid who developed the garden and he told me all about the Creative Nature Urban Biodiversity Project. It is funded under the Limerick city of culture and it is fabulous to see nature been acknowledged as a vital part of our wonderful heritage.
The main focus is on bees and there are 101 species in Ireland. Many of us would be familiar with the honey bee and the bumblebees (20 species) that visit our gardens during the growing year. The rest are solitary bees and are just as important for pollination of our crops and flowers. Many species of bees have declined due to habitat loss and the overuse of chemicals in our gardens, parks and agricultural land.
Education and awareness are a key part of the work but it is also envisaged that this space will be used for picnics, community workshops, yoga or just a place to sit and relax. Over 100 native trees and 35 species of wildflowers have been sown. A path has been left through the wildflowers and this allows you to explore the meadow.
As I walk along the path I see several wildflowers that I recognise. Poppies, Corn Marigold, Cosmos and Sun flowers. Two species of bumblebee are busily feeding, Bombus lapardarious and Bombus pascurum. Some of the trees are planted in recycled oil barrels. Oak, Mountain ash with berries and sally are all thriving and providing an important habitat for insects and birds.
Insects also need places to build their nests and bug hotels have been placed along the path and the bordering walls. The stumps of an old tree have been left by the edge of the meadow and when these are drilled the small holes will be hopefully used by solitary bees.
A steady stream of visitors are coming in to have a look about. I hear several foreign accents showing that biodiversity has international appeal. As I watch some kids head off and their excited calls reach the ears of their resting mother who is taking a welcome rest on bench. The kids stop to get their photo taken and are delighted when they discover a bumblebee.
There is also practical steps and information around helping bees. Bees need a succession of wildflowers from early spring for the Queens through to autumn for the workers and larva. You can also leave a section of your lawn or community green space uncut and when the wildflowers grow they will provide food for bees. Many green spaces in our community need regular cutting but a far more attractive approach is to sow a wildflower meadow. When it matures it will only need to be cut once a year, will look very attractive and support a range of insects and birds.
Diarmuid also runs workshops on site on how to save your own seed and this is a very practical skill that saves you money and ensures you have a good supply of wildflowers for next year. He also hopes that other neglected spaces in Limerick could be converted into areas for wildlife and this would form a biodiversity trail.
This is one of the most interesting and creative projects for biodiversity I have come across and I hope that more locations in Limerick city will follow its example.
If you are interested in finding out more please contact [email protected] or call 083 3021452. Or visit their website creative-nature-urban-biodiversity-garden and give your support to this project.
For more information on how to help bees please log onto www.limericksbuzzing.ie
I reluctantly leave and head towards my next stop the People’s Park. The sun is shining and I find a speckled wood butterfly resting on the wall of a building around 50 meters from the park. Beautiful flower towers have been placed by the entrance and while these consist of commercial flowers they are still attractive for nature. Two species of Hoverfly ae feeding and also Bombus lapardarious.
Across the road on the roof of a tall building a Herring gull is calling. These birds have adapted very well to our city and now nest on the roofs of houses. I head into the welcome shade of the park and hear a Wren and Robin singing. The park is full of families as parents and kid enjoy the last gasp of freedom and summer. The leaves of the Beech and Lime trees are gathering on the edges of the paths showing that the seasons are advancing.
The plants in the flower beds are starting to fade and I find the signs of one of our most unpopular garden visitors. Shiny slime trails cross the path showing that slugs and snails have been busy munching their way through tender annuals.
A black cat crosses the path in front of me and this is considered a sign of good luck. The buddleia growing on the wall has faded and its seeds come away very easy if you gently pull with your hand. The vetches have also gone to seed and these are one of the best flowers for bees. Apartments overlook the park and an assortment of colourful clothes are drying in the wind.
There are lots of daisies growing in the grass and this flower is an important source of early nectar for bees and butterflies. Swallows are feeding down low and I see six rooks flying. Conkers are nearly ripe on the horse chestnut tree and are waiting for the first kid sticks to be thrown in anger. Growing on the wall I find wytch elm. This tree was dominated the skyline in the landscape but was felled by a tiny beetle and the fungus it carried.
Many of the beds here are very formal but are also very beautiful. Roses have been planted and these look very pretty when mass planted. A few wildflowers have managed to sneak in and I find bindweed and selfheal. A common wasp is searching for nectar but I am not sure how much he will get from the roses. He is joined by a shiny green bottle fly that is to alert for me to get close to.
I leave the people’s park and head towards Arthur’s Quay Park. This is a very formal space with nest lawns, exotic trees and a large area of paving. In spite of this nature has found a way in. Broad leaved plantain is growing in the cracks of the pavement and yellow lichens carpet the trunks of the trees. Early in the year rooks built their nests in the trees but thenthe nests were abandoned. This is probably due to much disturbance and with the trees being small the nests were very vulnerable. Rooks still feed in the park and I see nine birds, adults with young. Feral pigeon is also feeding on the remains of lunch and they are very common in cities and towns.
The park is also full of people from young couples starting out in life to others whose days are dwindling fast like the days of summer. I watch three generations sitting on the benches. One elderly man is reading his newspaper, a middle aged woman is on her reading pad and a teenager is listening to music on her phone.
I head over to the railings and admire the broad sweep of the Shannon. A Mute swan is swimming by with this year’s cygnet in tow. It will lose its greyish feathers over the winter and emerge snow white come the spring. Herring gulls are resting on the jetty of the boat club.
A small area of grass has been left between the road and the canal. Earlier in the year sand martins had built their nests in the holes in the canal walls. These were located with the precision of an engineering mind. They had to be the right height to avoid the daily raising of the tide. The birds had been very busy gathering nesting material. One bird dropped a soft feather for his nest on the way in. It was so light it was suspended in mid-air. The space is very tight between the walls so he flew up, gave a sharp turn and caught his nesting material. Rooks and gulls also use the canal as a flight path between feeding and roosting areas. Strangely the sand martins only mobbed the crows and not the gulls. Overhead swallows were busily catching insects.
The grass area is quite diverse and I find groundsel, harts tongue fern, ox eyed daises, red clover, dandelion, meadow buttercup, Common dock, hawks beard, welted thistle, narrow and broad leaved plantain, shepherds purse and daisy. All these flowers are very beneficial for insects. I find one last surprise. The tiny caterpillars of the cinnabar moth are feeding on Ragworth. The adult is red and can fly during the day as red is a sign of danger in the natural world as well. The caterpillars are black and amber and birds also avoid these are these taste bad.
On my way up from town I find more interesting habitats for wildlife. A buddleia bush is growing in a disused alley way and some of its flowers are peaking out through the gate. These are a magnet for butterflies and I find a Small tortoiseshell feeding on the flowers. This is one of our most common species and spends the winter as an adult in our homes and garden sheds.
Across the road there is an old building but it still retains its beautiful cut stones. The window sills have been colonised by Red valerian. This is an attractive plant with red or white flowers. The roots are used to make a tea that has mild sedative properties.
Next door there is an abandoned car park. When I was younger we would park in there before heading off for family trips to town. Buddleia, Ragworth and Thistle are in flower and a swallow is flying overhead. Nature has exploited a temporary pause in the ongoing development of the city and at any time these places could be returned to the pounding of busy feet.
I slip onto Music Street for a few minutes. This street was created a few years ago by the removal of some buildings. Thankfully a mature Horse chestnut tree was retained and it now dominates the landscape. Ivy has started to climb up the tree and this flowers in early autumn proving a flush of nectar for late flying bees, butterflies and moths. Around the tree there is a neat lawn. It has very few wildflowers and only a few creeping buttercups are growing here. A metal fence has been erected behind the tree and this has created an unused space that has been colonised by nature.
Narrow leaved willow herb, Nettle, Bindweed, Herb Robert, winter heliotrope, Ox eyed daisy, Brambles, Common dock and Dandelion create a colourful and important habitat for insects. All the flowers produce nectar and pollen that are eaten by insects. A rook is feeding on the lawn and probing for soil grubs.
I complete my journey at Rossa Avenue. Many of the householders put out bread for the birds and they have become very tame and approachable. This need to keep in touch with nature is still very strong despite families being several generations removed from the countryside. I hear a lone rook calling and this is unusual as they are very social birds and travel in pairs or large groups.
The walls bordering the avenue are old and were made using lime mortar. This decays over time forming natural cavities and holes. This allows plants like Ivy leaved toadflax to get a grip. It trails over the wall and has purple flowers that are excellent for bumblebees. This plant is also known as mother of thousands because it produces so many offspring. When the plants have created a big enough space birds like the blue tits will often move in and build their nests. Walls are ideal as they are dry and very hard for predators to climb. Also they absorb heat during the day and slowly release it at night-time.
Another part of the wall is covered in ivy. This is an excellent wildlife plant as it flowers in early autumn. This provides flying insects like butterflies and bumblebees with an important source of nectar. It is very green and birds build their nests in it and many mini beasts hide in its tangled braches. Ivies berries are produced in spring just as the birds are getting ready for the breeding season. This helps them to get into shape after the lean times of winter. Over 70 species of moth have been found on ivy.
Just like people nature has had to be very creative when it comes to surviving in the modern urban jungle. We can all help by creating a little space for nature in our gardens, parks and green spaces.
For other Albert Nolan stories on nature go HERE.
Comments/questions to [email protected].