A changed perspective on the Mall

Comment & Opinion

SUPPORT Local resident Dr Ollie Whyte wants the island in the middle of the Carrowbeg River to be retained on The Mall in Westport.

Dear Sir,
When I was a youth, many years ago, wildflowers were called weeds and wild animals were called vermin. They were the enemy and had to be got rid of. The nomenclature made it easier to do that.
The animals were shot, snared and poisoned. The abundant rabbits were almost exterminated by myxomatosis. Bounties were paid on production of fox tails or tongues. The Department of Agriculture had employees hunting and snaring badgers.
Insects were destroyed by widespread use of weedkillers and pesticides. No more are we obliged to wipe the splattered insects off the car windscreens as was necessary not many years ago. The insects are not there.
Birds and insects were destroyed by widespread loss of habitat. More than half of Ireland’s bee species have undergone substantial declines in their numbers since 1980. The distribution of 42 species has declined by more than 50 percent. The policies of the past have had unintended consequences.
31 percent of habitats are in decline at this time according to Ireland’s Biodiversity Sectoral Climate Change Adaptation Plan. Today this has increased to 46 percent of habitats now recorded to be in decline according to The Status of EU Protected Habitats and Species in Ireland 2019 report.
With a Climate and Biodiversity Emergency declared in the Dáil in 2019, we are losing global biodiversity at a rate unprecedented in human history. In Ireland, many of our protected habitats are in poor condition and 14 percent of assessed species are thought to be endangered.
More than half of Ireland’s bee species have undergone substantial declines in their numbers since 1980. The distribution of 42 species has declined by more than 50 percent. Red List is an internationally recognised method for assessing the conservation status of a species.  In 2006 an Irish Bee Red List was published. It tells us that 30 percent of the Irish species are threatened with extinction. Six species are critically endangered, 10 are endangered and 14 species are vulnerable. Two species have become extinct in Ireland within the last 80 years (Andrena rosae and Nomada sheppardana). One species thought to be extinct (Andrena fulva left) was rediscovered in 2012.
We in Westport are fortunate to have the beautiful Carrowbeg River flowing through the town. It is a focus for locals and tourists alike.
It has an amazing ecosystem including good water, about 60 trees, an array of water plants, flocks of birds, fish and insects.
The ‘Island’ has appeared over the past few years and has been a boon to the promotion of the ecosystem. I am lucky enough to live on the riverside and am able to observe it daily. There is a definite increase in ecological activity with the arrival of species not previously noted, especially butterflies, dragonflies swallows and bats. It is a resting place for many species of birds who also feed, preen and wash there.
The retention of the island could be described as Westport’s statement that we recognise the problem of biodiversity loss and are prepared to do our little bit to help it.
The island could be an educational centre for schoolchildren, adults and visitors. Information boards, similar to the one for the trees could be added. It could be added to Westport’s list of tourist attractions.
In the past few months, a river management course has been ran in various areas around Mayo, which I was lucky enough to attend in Westport. It was open to all. The course covered river water quality, riparian maintenance and flood control. All the tutors, without exception, agreed the island should stay. I have spoken to other ecologists who also said it should be left in situ. The island, just now, is producing a beautiful bloom of flowers. Some people say it looks scraggly at times. So does our gardens, we have to maintain them.
Ireland’s Tidy Towns encourages the development of biodiversity habitat and recommends the development of habitat mapping. Maybe we can pick up some points here.
All my life I have had an interest in gardening, having once won the Best Garden in Westport award which had carpet-like lawns, multiple invasive species and ‘benefitted’ from liberal use of weedkillers. I have been more or less converted and now have a wild garden with an amazing mass of wildflower colour with many busy bees. I cut the grass two or three times a year. The change, and it is a change, takes a bit of a paradigm shift, but for me it is worth it, especially when I think of the potential benefits of the change. I would be sad to see it dug out.

Sincerely,
Dr Oliver Whyte Snr,
South Mall,
Westport.