General nature

General nature

Coastline of County Mayo

The Spectacular Coastline of County Mayo

From the Killary fjord in the south to the estuary of the River Moy in the north, the coastline of County Mayo is a magnificent mix of awesome cliffs, dry-stone walled fields, blanket bog, mid-sized mountains and stupendous sandy beaches.

Rising to 814m, Mweelrea is Connacht’s highest mountain and stands guard over the southwest of the county. The wonderful views from atop this sandstone and conglomerate mountain include beautiful sandy beaches to its west and the fjord, forming part of the Mayo Galway border, to its south.

Mostly comprised of gorgeous beaches, the low-lying coastline below continues all the way north and around Clew Bay to the Corraun peninsula and Achill Island beyond. This stretch boasts two of the prettiest towns in the county, in bustling Westport and cute little Mulranny with its lovely beaches.

Along the way, catch a ferry at Roonagh (west of Louisburgh) to either Clare Island or Inisturk.

From the top of Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holy mountain, enjoy views of the nearly 100 islands in the bay below. Clew Bay is among Ireland’s most impressive post-glacial landscapes. Along with countless other drumlins on land, the islands here, often referred to as ‘drowned eggs’, were formed as the dying glaciers entered the open ocean to the west. These glaciers came across Scotland, then Ulster and Connacht, heading in a southwest direction until meeting the Atlantic.

Achill, Ireland’s largest island, is a wonderful walking destination, with Slievemore (671m) and Croaghaun (688m), both schist, the highlights. The latter has lost its western half, long since collapsed into the North Atlantic below, resulting in Ireland’s highest cliffs. If you fancy a hike, go visit Lough Annagh, Ireland’s lowest lake, perched just metres above the sea level on Achill’s unroaded north coast.

North of Achill and Corraun, we enter the little visited but beautiful barony of Erris. Take some time at Ballycroy National Park visitor centre and discover the flora and fauna of our Atlantic blanket bog landscapes.

The finest beaches in the county are waiting to be discovered along The Mullet peninsula, beyond Béal an Mhuirthead (Belmullet) in the far northwest of Mayo. Walking on sand from Cross beach to Eachléam, look out to St. Brendan’s Inishglora, where the Children of Lir lie, and the twin islands of Iniskea to its south.

coastlinbe of county mayo iniskea north

Iniskea North Island, with thanks to Damian McDonagh, a guest on one of my guided trips

From Belmullet, head yet further north, to find the finest sustained sea cliff scenery in Ireland. Placenames like An Ceathrú Thaidhg, Porturlin, Portacloy, Belderg and Céide call you to this extraordinary landscape of blanket bog that runs right to the cliff tops, before falling vertiginously to the foam below. At Benwee Head (sandstone), the cliffs are 255m high and offer wonderful views over the ocean to the remote Stags of Broadhaven (schist) beyond.

Straight across the road from the Céide Fields, the oldest field system in the world, a nice viewing platform gives great views of the stratified rock in the vertical cliff faces. These layers of sandstones, limestones and shale are also wonderfully evident at nearby Dún Briste.

coastline of county mayo downpatrick head

Dún Briste sea stack at Downpatrick Head

Further eastwards, the cliffs give way to beaches and fertile fields, where the ruined Moyne and Rosserk Abbeys may be visited. Beyond lies the lovely town of Ballina, built on the famous salmon fishery that is the River Moy. With its pleasant Belleek Forest on the bank of the estuary, this fine town brings to an end our quickfire tour of the beautiful coastline of our County Mayo.

Coastline of County Mayo – Highlights

Ireland’s third largest county, Mayo boasts the longest coastline of any in the country. There are endless things to see and visit, but here are some I’ve picked out for you.

1 National Park : Ballycroy

2 Mountains : Mweelrea and Croaghaun

2 Woodlands : Old Head, Belleek Forest

2 Castles : Those of Gráinne Uí Mháille at Carrickahowley and Kildavnet

3 Towns : Westport, Belmullet and Ballina

3 Islands : Inisturk, Iniskea North, Inishglora

3 Pubs : Matt Molloy’s (Westport), McDonnell’s (Belmullet), Úna’s (Blacksod)

5 Beaches : Mulranny, Keel, Keem, Cross, Lacken

coastline of county mayo benwee head

Benwee Head, with the Stags of Broadhaven in the background

5 Cliffs, accessible without a long hike : Far side of Inisturk, above Keem Bay, Benwee Head, Céide, Downpatrick Head

5 Abbeys : Murrisk, Burrishoole, Rathfran, Moyne, Rosserk

Get in your car or, even better, on your bike and enjoy this wonderful coastline of County Mayo at your leisure.

Posted in General nature | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

What Now for the Wild Nephin Farce?

Coillte has exited, so what now for the ‘Wild Nephin’ farce?

Farce (n); a broadly humorous play based on … improbable situations; a ludicrous situation or action. [Collins]

And so, just 8 years on, Coillte has exited stage left.

Back in December 2009, Coillte’s internal Project Scope Document noted that Wild Nephin would provide “a real opportunity for Coillte to lead the way in a landscape scale transformation (and management) of lands”. The document further enthused that, thanks to its “considerable competencies in habitat restoration [and] its major land ownership in suitable areas”, Coillte had the potential to contribute to a response to the European Parliament’s call on member states to “look at setting aside lands as wilderness or ‘restoring’ lands to primitive qualities”. Indeed, one of the project goals was to “enhance Coillte’s environmental and social credentials”.

While it departs without having achieved anything of the sort, unfortunately the state-owned forestry company would appear to have managed to leave one tentacle inserted, apparently simply leasing the land to the NPWS, rather than selling it lock, stock and barrel.

Perhaps this might have something to do with the approximately 260,000 non-native conifers it has planted on the site over the last 3 or 4 years. One day, they might just want to harvest those trees. Heck, if they once more conveniently forget to seek a derogation from the Forest Service, sure they could re-plant conifers again thereafter. {1}

So, what now for the Wild Nephin farce? Here’s what I believe will happen over the coming years. Naturally, it’s only my opinion …

First, nothing will be done about invasive rhododendron, because the NPWS presumably doesn’t have the manpower, cash or equipment to do anything about it. Unless, that is, my suggestion below is taken up. Coillte would have had the resources, but never the interest. {2}

Second, having re-planted all the non-natives, the forestry company will indeed come knocking on the door in the future to harvest them. They will, presumably, be accommodated.

If you try to mix a timber harvesting, land owning monolith like Coillte with conservation, then sincerity and commitment are unlikely to be among the ingredients.

Here’s an excerpt from last month’s article in the Irish Environmental Network’s GreenNews.ie magazine (Dec 2017) :

In a statement, Coillte said that the removal of forestry has focused on “opening vistas onto the mountainous terrain and lakes” as well as improving boundaries between forests and adjacent open land and preparing areas for bog and riparian zone restoration.
“Forest regeneration, supported by tree planting, also aimed to encourage natural regeneration and harvesting activities which took place fitted within the overall objectives of improving landscape and habitat quality,” the statement continues.

Pure unadulterated rubbish.

Read the full article here.

In an article in the Irish Times earlier this month (Jan 2018), Michael Viney wrote that “some forest roads have been narrowed into backpacker trails”. I’m not aware of any that have. He notes, in what I would consider quite the understatement, that the “10- to 15-year conversion planned for Coillte’s forestry has been slow to get under way”.

Read this article here.

Not wanting to bore the reader by once again going over the details, suffice it to say that this area is now less wild than it was prior to this ‘project’. You can find such details in this previous post from 2015.

Ultimately, what we have here is institutional spin, Irish style. This spin emanates from the same gene pool that spawned Bord na Móna’s laughably cynical “Naturally Driven” advertising campaigns and Bord Bia’s “Origin Green” programme, recently described as a sham by the Irish Wildlife Trust.

We have a deep-rooted problem in Ireland with spin regarding the environment. I’m not sure what the reasons are. Does it have something to do with the almost total ignoring of the natural world in our primary and secondary school curriculums? Is it a legacy from the imperial days, manifested in an attitude of “now that we have possession of the land, we can abuse nature as we wish”? Is it the traditional man-is-superior-to-beast doctrine of the organised religions? Is it because of our inclement weather that people don’t interact with the outdoors much and are, therefore, oblivious to it?

So, what should happen now, if anything is to come of this joke?

Here are some suggestions :

Allow all local landowners and those with commonage and turbary rights within the area bounded by the bothy at Letterkeen – Keenagh crossroads – Bellacorick – Bangor Erris and down the spine of the Nephin Begs to harvest non-native trees for their own consumption only over the next, say, 100 years. With the sole exception of the nice Monterey Pines just beyond the bothy. But with two conditions. First, that all turf cutting within the same boundaries be 100% abandoned forever. Second, that the method and precise location of extraction be dictated to them by NPWS, e.g. using what I call the ‘waterdrop’ method to create open spaces within the plantation to allow in light and break up the stands. See image below. {3}

Remove immediately the 260,000 newly planted conifers, or let the ruminants in at them. Failing that, certainly don’t allow Coillte or any of its harvesting contractors back on site ever.

Remove all fencing, other than that which surrounds the pathetically small native tree stands and increase the number and variety of such stands.

Stop the building or installation of any further huts, shelters or other structures and let the ones in place rot over time (my personal preference would be to remove them immediately).

Ban the reinforcement of any existing tracks and the creation of any new ones.

Block all vehicular access, other than to locals only for the removal of felled timber under the conditions outlined above.

Restore the natural levels and behaviour of water on the site, by blocking artificial channels dug over the decades.

Allow volunteers in to remove the rhododendron, using uniquely environmentally sound means, i.e. no chemicals whatsoever, managed by experienced and competent people and insured by NPWS, Mayo County Council or other public body. Groundwork, perhaps?

Research the viability of introducing red squirrel and/or any other native species that can be shown through proper ecological research to be capable of establishing viable, sustainable populations.

Plant loads of native trees from local seed sources.

Otherwise, leave it alone.

Over to you, NPWS,

Notes

{1}

Coillte hid behind the Forest Service requirement to re-plant conifers where conifers have been felled and used this as its excuse for having re-planted conifers well after “Wild Nephin” was announced to the public back in 2013. This is bogus, because with both the People’s Millennium Forests of almost 20 years ago and the EU-Life Restoring Priority Woodland Habitats project of almost 10 years ago, they did not re-plant conifers where they had been felled. In other words, where there was a will, there was a way…
http://www.millenniumforests.com/about_intro.html
http://www.woodlandrestoration.ie/demonstration-sites-clonbur.php

{2}

Regarding Tourmakeady, one of the People’s Millennium Forests, Coillte stated that “rhododendron and laurel will be eradicated as they are invasive non-native plants.” This never happened.
http://www.millenniumforests.com/locationsite_tourmakeady.html

Gerard Murphy, MD at Coillte Forest, comically tweeted in 2017 that there’s a “significant invasive threat of rhododendron” at so-called Wild Nephin.

what now for the wild nephin farce - tweet
{3}

What I call the ‘waterdrop’ method involves removing some trees alongside tracks in a roughly semi-oval fashion to break up the wall of trees that is so typical of conifer plantations, then enough to create a ‘corridor’ a few metres wide into the deeper forest, then felling in a waterdrop shape within. Apart from allowing in light and breaking up the stands, this could also contribute to increased windfall of trees.

what now for the wild nephin farce

Posted in General nature | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Spring Wildflowers of Mayo

Perhaps the most lovely thing about getting out for a walk at this particular time of year is the renewed colour all around as the spring wildflowers of Mayo come out and begin to dominate our forests, hedges and fields. But nor do you have to go far – simply enjoy those in your uncut garden or hedge.

The white of Wild Garlic carpets the forest floor, which it shares with the beautiful drooping Bluebell. Get down on your hands and knees and breathe in the powerful aroma of the Wild Garlic – one of the great experiences of Ireland’s springtime.

The bright cream Primrose is visible in tight bunches along the hedgerow, while the especially excellent Marsh Marigold stands bright yellow along the damp water’s edge, often with its feet wet.

The small white flowers of Wild Strawberry is a hedge neighbour for the discreet blue-purple Dog-Violet. We hope we’ll see the fruit of the Wild Strawberry later in the summer, while the Violet will soon fade away.

Some green is supplied by the carpet-forming Opposite-Leaved Golden Saxifrage on stream banks, along with Lords and Ladies in the hedges and the fabulous tall and erect shoots of Yellow Iris on damp ground, although neither of these is yet in bloom.

In the unmowed garden, Daisies, Dandelions and Cuckooflower already dominate the grass. Herb Robert trails along the borders, while if you go exploring a little, you might find glorious Early Purple Orchids in nearby fields.

So get out and enjoy the outdoors, ever more interesting with the arrival of spring wildflowers. For all you need to know about Ireland’s wildflowers, visit Zoe Devlin’s superb website, at http://www.wildflowersofireland.net/ and don’t leave home without the Collins “Complete Irish Wildlife” book, with its introduction by Derek Mooney. The latter also contains Ireland’s mammals, trees, birds, insects, etc.

Spring Wildflowers of Mayo – what to see

Posted in General nature | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Importance of Connecting with Nature

Are we and our kids spending too much time indoors? I think the answer is clear.

While today’s electronic devices bring many great advantages of connectivity and learning, they are contributing to a serious diminishing of our connection with the outdoors. There can be little doubt about the importance of connecting with nature, yet, as a society, we seem to be turning our backs. Taking a regular walk in nature is good for the heart, body and soul and it is vital that we pass this message on to the next generation.

As somebody who goes hiking often, I know there’s something powerful and uplifting in getting my hands dirty in the bogs, wet in the cold rivers, or simply feeling the roughness of mountain rocks on my palms. Watching a kestrel hover, as I did just yesterday, enjoying frolicking foxes playing through the fields, or listening to the roar of the red deer during the rut are important life experiences to my mind.

Then there’s the extra special treat of strolling among trees. More than simply walking, being within a forest brings great joy, peace and perspective. It brings disconnection from the humdrum of the daily chore and replaces it with the importance of connecting with nature. There’s something wondrous about being a little short-lived human among giant trees, much bigger and older than you will ever achieve. It’s in some way liberating.

Importance of Connecting with Nature

Do you know the difference between Whitethorn and Blackthorn?

Get down to the sea on a windy winter’s day and feel the power of nature blow the cobwebs off your face, to the soundtrack of crashing waves. Visit a tranquil lake on a balmy summer’s afternoon and absorb the cacophony of bird and insect life, all under the whiff of blossoming wildflowers.

Ultimately, our disconnection with nature doesn’t just mean we’ve lost touch with the outdoors and our fellow inhabitants of Planet Earth. It also leads to ignorance and disinterest. Why should we care about habitat loss and species extinction if we no longer have a connection?

Importance of Connecting with Nature – Two Pieces of Research

Study 1

A few years ago, Travelodge, the well known British budget hotel chain, carried out some research into British people’s attitude towards and knowledge of their countryside. Its results included :

* 53% of respondents thought there was nothing to do or see in the countryside
* 10% could not identify a sheep
* 83% could not identify a bluebell
* 32% could not identify a pheasant.

Study 2

The University of Michigan carried out interesting research into the cognitive benefits of interacting with nature a few years ago.

In it, the authors state that “Nature, which is filled with intriguing stimuli, modestly grabs attention in a bottom-up fashion”. I couldn’t agree more.

The authors carried out two experiments with students, which “show that walking in nature or viewing pictures of nature can improve [certain] attention abilities.”

Interacting with environments rich with inherently fascinating stimuli (they give the example of sunsets), allows some attention mechanisms to replenish. After such an interaction with nature, one is able to perform better on tasks that depend on so-called directed-attention abilities.

Directed attention can be described as the “ability to concentrate in the face of distractions”.

In the first experiment, participants had their mood assessed. They were then randomly assigned to take a walk, either in a nearby arboretum or downtown area. The former was tree lined and secluded from traffic and people. The latter was on a traffic heavy street, lined with buildings.

Performance in the test was much improved among those who walked in nature, but not with those who walked in the urban area.The season in which students were tested had no impact – researchers found that mood improved after walking in nature, compared to urban.

The second experiment showed pictures to students of nature and of urbania. Participants rated viewing those of nature as significantly more refreshing.

The researchers, in concluding, stated that “these experiments demonstrate the restorative value of nature as a vehicle to improve cognitive functioning.” Indeed, they add that “To consider the availability of nature as merely an amenity fails to recognise the vital importance of nature in effective cognitive functioning.”

Therein lies both the problem and the challenge.

Recognising the importance of connecting with nature brings joy and loads of energy. Seeing how ‘nature’ and ‘us’ are so deeply interconnected can lead to only one conclusion. We are nature. There is no ‘them’ and ‘us’. There is no separation. We must understand that we humans are part of life on this planet, just like the beetles, bats and birds.

Here in Ireland, we’re particularly disconnected from nature. I’m not sure why, since we’re still very much a rural population. We could blame 800 years of oppression, the loss of ownership of the land and its eventual recovery. When we regained ownership of our land, did we then see it purely as a means of economic gain, where its other facets, such as biodiversity, were to be ignored or destroyed? Why don’t we teach nature in our schools? Why don’t Irish people know anything about wild berries, tree species, mushrooms and foraging? Why don’t we protect our fellow creatures, like birds of prey, badgers and freshwater pearls? Why don’t we destroy non-native invasives, like rhododendron, gunnera and japanese knotweed?

Importance of Connecting with Nature – Resources

The most obvious and useful resources to reconnect with nature are your feet, public transport, bike or car. Just get out there, find a nice spot like a forest, bog, local park or beach and go walk. Even better, do dawdle. Just hang out and connect with what’s around you. Or discover one of our National Parks. Other than that, join some organised events run by organisations like Birdwatch Ireland and many others.

Recognise the importance of connecting with nature for you and your family, then get outdoors, dirty, wet and enjoy!

If you live anywhere near Castlebar, here are two accessible walking options, not requiring any special hiking equipment : Bellacorick Bog Loop Walk and Croaghmoyle Booster Station Walk.

Posted in Blog, General nature | Tagged , | Leave a comment

And so to Winter …

I must admit that I’ve no problem with winter. In fact, I’m a fan. I kind of think it suits a place like the West of Ireland.

Rather than grumble about the summer showers (of which, by the way, there were precious few during 2014), the rain of wintertime just feels right. It belongs. It fits.

The bogs gorge on water, so we can enjoy trudging through them during the colder months. Our medium-height mountains treat us to a few days snow cover now and then, through which we can crackle with the wide-eyed delight of a child. Down by the sea, the wind-blown waves of winter roll and jump and spray and crash, to remind us that we are not in control.

Winter hiking on Nephin

Nephin mountain in Winter

Winter walking means more layers and thicker socks, perhaps, but it also heralds that strange but pleasant sensation of cold lips, raw cheek bones and stinging ears. Trampling the crispy layer of icy frost on early morning grass is a special little thrill not to be missed. Don’t forget your gloves, now. Heck, I might even bring along a pole the odd time.

For me, winter already kicked off back in September, with the first Hen Harrier surveying of the season, Seal pups way out west and the long hike into Red Deer rut country. Just to listen, in awe. Later, I will go in search of spawning Salmon, then spawning Frogs. Before I know it, it will once again be springtime and time for the Snowdrops. Around and around she goes; where she stops, nobody knows…

Winter Weather

Do not go out hiking during wintertime if you are unprepared. West of Ireland weather can change rapidly, even during the height of summer. Much more so during winter. Read my hiking advice for the West of Ireland.

In winter, as at all times of the year, never plan to get home just before dark. That rarely works out. Give yourself plenty of leeway when heading out into the hills or even when rambling at low level. You will get delayed and walking in the dark is to be avoided. Check the weather forecast through, for example, these services :

Met Éireann for Connacht

YR (Norwegian service)

Accuweather

And know when sunrise and sunset times are.

Posted in Blog, General nature | Leave a comment

Often, It’s the Simple Pleasures…

While we all love to view the spectacular sights and experience the wonderful places, often it’s the simple pleasures that we enjoy the most.

Like sitting on a rock, in silence, and watching the seals go about their daily routines. Or sharing a forest track with a hare for a surprisingly long time. Or coming across a fox in the middle off the road after dark, sitting on his hind legs as a dog would. Indeed, when he eventually noticed my approach, that fox jumped up, left the road and took up the same sitting position on a narrow garden wall.

Simple pleasures - seal

Grey Seal, Mayo

The other day, just after sunset, I had the rare pleasure of observing a badger plodding along a small track for 20 metres in front of me, before skulking into the ditch.

Among the most memorable of simple pleasures are those afforded by peregrine falcons. I’ve had the good fortune to sit and watch these magnificent creatures zoom through the air, like fighter planes, in chase of tasty pigeons and seabirds. Fantastic.

One early morning, while walking the cliff-top trails of North Mayo, I came across the scene depicted in the picture below. I stood still, taking advantage of the fact that I was downwind of the fox. For several minutes I enjoyed the incongruity of the situation, before I was eventually noticed and the protagonists scattered. What a discovery!

Simple pleasures

Sheep and Fox, Mayo

Rediscover simple pleasures

Of course, the message here is clear : you need to get out and about and enjoy the countryside if you want to experience any of these simple pleasures. Go and sit or stroll by the seaside. Find yourself a nearby river or lake and wander along its banks. Discover your local forest and enjoy the birds. Tread slowly and quietly. You never know what you might bump into…

If you would like to receive newsletters, with upcoming events and other news, please “Join our mailing list” (above right).

Learn about Ireland’s birds at Birdwatch Ireland and about our biological diversity in general at Biodiversity Ireland.

Posted in Blog, General nature | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment