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Biodiversity Week and coastal clean-ups help us do our bit

Living

Ciara Moynihan

National Biodiversity Week began last Saturday, and it runs until next Monday, May 26. The week comes at a time when our biodiversity is crisis, as was confirmed by the recent UN-backed report which showed that 1 million plant and animal species are now on the brink of extinction.
In the wake of the report, the Dáil unanimously voted to make Ireland the second country in the world to declare a climate change and biodiversity emergency. Given our country’s dismal environmental record, one can only hope it proves to be more than a hollow PR gesture on the Government’s behalf.
Meanwhile, most of the rest of us do what we can to appreciate and protect the natural world around us – and National Biodiversity Week is part of that. Organised by the Irish Environmental Network, over 50 free events will take place across the country over the course of nine days. From planting trees and learning how to grow your own food to bats walks and nature hikes, the week will be packed with events to entertain the whole family.
This year, the week will focus on nature as the foundation for our food and health, and what can be done to protect the ecosystems on which we depend for nutritious food, fresh water and the air we breathe.
Access to natural environments not only encourages physical activity, improving our physical health, it also improves our mental health. Studies have shown that being in nature can benefit people with from depression. This is an important finding in the Irish context, as a recent Eurostat study found that Ireland has the highest rate of chronic depression among its citizens, at 12 percent.
Trees promote a general sense of mental health and wellbeing, with various studies outlining the benefits of exposure to parks, trees and wildlife in general. In Ireland, for example, the Woodlands for Health initiative provide a series of forest-based walks and talks for mental-health patients, monitoring their progress over set periods. An evaluation of the project by the HSE and University College Dublin found that the mood of participants improved by 75 percent and suicidal thoughts declined by 82 percent. Pretty impressive stats.
Here in Mayo, the National Biodiversity Week began early, with an event in GMIT Castlebar entitled ‘Food for Thought/Lón Intinne’ last Friday. It focused on the importance of food sovereignty and the ways in which communities can work towards securing the local food supply in this time of ecological peril.
On Sunday, Enniscoe House hosted an early-morning birdwatching event on Lough Conn and Castle Island with Birdwatch Mayo. Yesterday, a bat talk and walk with the Mayo Bat Group took place in Belcarra, and another is taking place today in Foxford, in collaboration with Foxford Foróige. This Saturday, May 25, will see a Tidy Towns Biodiversity Training Workshop in Castlebar, hosted by Leave No Trace Ireland. On Sunday, May 26, Westport Tidy Towns Biodiversity Officer Pat Fahy will host a biodiversity-focused walk through the ancient oak woodlands in the Erriff Valley, to which all are welcome. All those interested are asked to meet Pat at The Clock, Westport, at 2pm (car sharing).
To find out more about what’s on near you, visit biodiversityweek.ie or head to the National Biodiversity Week 2019 page on Facebook.

Clean Coasts Week
Hot on the heels of National Biodiversity Week comes Clean Coasts Week 2019, which runs from June 1 to June 9 and encourages us all to take action to clean up, protect and enjoy our exquisite coastline.
Last year, 18 groups of volunteers in Sligo and Mayo registered, with beach clean-ups taking place in different locations across the region. A full 16 tonnes of marine litter were collected nationwide. A Foraging and Exploring Seaweed workshop was also held at Old Head Beach, Louisburgh, and a Fishing Net Weaving Workshop day was held at Broadhaven Bay. 
Registrations for this year’s Clean Coasts Week are now open, and groups are encouraged to register now at www.cleancoasts.org. Registered groups will receive a free clean-up kit and other resources to organise clean-ups in their local areas.
A quick scan of the website shows that around 30 groups have already registered in Mayo – a big bualadh bos to them! Why not get in touch with one of these groups to see if you can join in, or form a new one of your own? There’s certainly enough Mayo coastline to accommodate many more clean-ups and, unfortunately, enough rubbish to ensure everyone will be kept busy.