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Perennially priceless

Outdoor Living

GOING WILD A section of the wildflowers at Fr Angelus Park, with cornflowers, poppies and snapdragons – and a few surprises.

Westport’s meadows – the whys and the wherefores

Nature and rewilding
Pat Fahy

I have been Biodiversity Officer with Westport Tidy Towns for some years, and the phenomenal interest in nature  in recent times never ceases to amaze me. People know in their hearts that our wildlife is in trouble and that something needs to be done to restore the balance for future generations.
Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder brought home this stark reality in 2006, when it seemed that the honeybee might go extinct. This would be disastrous, as 70 percent of the food we eat is dependent on our pollinators.
In actuality, our wild pollinators do most of the work. The bumblebee, far from the headlines, was experiencing its own deadly crisis and inching towards extinction in many cases due to the intensification of agriculture and the loss of native wildflowers, among other reasons. With this in mind, Mayo County Council created the Westport Biodiversity Management Plan in 2018, leaving 15 out of Westport’s 45 acres to meadow.
Initial misgivings gave way to wonderment at the sheer volume and variety of flowers in some areas. Dandelions, cuckoo-flower, ox-eye daisy, meadow sweet, clovers, self-heal, knapweed, woundwort, birds’ foot trefoil and too many more to mention all taking their chance to shine back at the sun.
It rapidly became unthinkable for the strimmers to cut down areas rich in the wildflowers on which our pollinators depend. These flower-rich habitats are now ‘Managed for Wildlife’,  with appropriate signage.
The area on Kings Hill looked most impressive last year, with all manner of native wildflowers and four types of orchid, the botanists’ delight.
This year, though, the Knockranny slip road area wasn’t to be outdone. Small to medium patches from last year met each other to create a profusion of colours, with yellows, orange, red, pink, purple and blues in abundance to rival any ‘Wildflower Mix’ – perennially priceless to man and pollinator in equal measure.
Thankfully, the native flowers still exist in most of the council meadows. The practice of removing all top soil when building housing estates is a modern one it seems. Everywhere, that is, with the exception of Fr Angelus Park – and for that I blame my dad’s uncle, Bill Gavin (RIP), a man who knew lots of wildflower cures for horses; very important, considering they only had one horse power back then.
Bill’s main interest, though, was growing the biggest and best potatoes and vegetables on the estate for local markets around the town. I don’t know what you did Bill, but you didn’t leave many wildflowers for me, and that’s for sure. This drove me to create a ‘Cornfield Annual’ area there along the Castlebar Road, to make biodiversity more palatable to public perception. But what do I see among the beautiful cornflowers, Californian poppies and Antirrhinum? Only two cabbage plants. Amazingly, the seeds hadn’t seen the light of day in at least 35 years.
Bill I know you’re trying to tell me something; maybe it’s that bumblebees like the cabbage flowers also. Thanking you Bill, all information gratefully accepted!

Pat Fahy is Biodiversity Officer with Westport Tidy Towns.