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A hive of activity


SHOVEL READY Parents, teachers and pupils of St Joseph’s NS, Brackloon, Westport, busy planting 350 native trees around the school, with young worker Hazel McLoughlin in the foreground.

St Joseph’s NS in Brackloon helps create a buzz for wildlife

Susan Callaghan

The dark clouds lifted and the wintry showers ventured east as the summit of the Reek sparkled with promise that it would be a good day. On Saturday, January 28, children, parents and teachers of St Joseph’s NS in Brackloon, near Westport, pulled on their wellies and rummaged in the shed for their shovels as they embarked on a day of tree planting.
With a trailer full of manure, 350 native trees, shovels, gloves and an endless supply of soup and sandwiches they got them all planted. All the trees were native (oak, birch, mountain ash, hawthorn and wild rose) and kindly donated by Coillte and Homeland.
The trees were planted to create wildlife corridors and small wooded areas around the school and at Little Acorns Playschool. The idea is to create a school environment that is an interesting and exciting space that ignites curiosity, allowing the children, staff and parents to explore the wonders of the natural world and ultimately to help protect it.
With the help of Local Agenda 21 fund (an environmental fund administered by Mayo County Council) the school also hopes to develop an organic vegetable, fruit and herb garden and encourage wildflower areas that will become an outdoor classroom, a space to learn about the intrinsic link that we have with nature, a link that should be nurtured.
Last summer, the school started managing two areas for wildflowers in order to encourage insects that are important pollinators. Many of our insect species are declining through the loss of habitats and overuse of chemicals. The parents, teachers and pupils want to find ways of managing the school garden without chemical herbicides, and create a buzz in Brackloon!
The school’s efforts chime with the Junior Pollinator Plan, a young-people’s version of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020, designed to protect our pollinators – including bees and hoverflies – without which many types of crops and wild plants cannot grow. With one third of our 98 native bees facing extinction, the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan is designed to encourage farmers, councils, schools and gardeners to create havens and pit-stops for the island’s species.
The pupils of St Joseph’s NS have also collected acorns and hazelnuts from nearby Brackloon Woods and are hoping to start a tree nursery, ensuring that the native tree stock in this important woodland is protected. Brackloon Wood is a semi-natural remnant of Ireland’s once substantial mixed Atlantic oak woodlands. Today it contains oak, ash, willow, hazel, birch, holly and more.
All of these wonderful projects underway at St Joseph’s offer the children not only new ways to learn about and appreciate the science of nature, but also endless opportunities to create a wild but peaceful space in which they – and the world that surrounds them – can safely grow. A win-win, for everyone.

Susan Callaghan is a member of St Joseph’s NS Garden Committee.

Bee positive
The Junior Pollinator Plan contains a wealth of child-friendly information on bees and other pollinators; pollination and its important role in Ireland; and what children can do to help to make their school and garden a safe place for bees to live.

What can schools do?
1. Plant lots of different flowers in pots or flowerbeds around your school.
2. Plant a shrub that flowers in early spring – this provides very hungry queen bumblebees with lots to eat.
3. Grow some fruits and vegetables like strawberries, raspberries, peas, courgettes or apples. Their flowers will provide food for bees in spring and early summer.
4. Let it grow! Bees love weeds like dandelions, so keep patches or strips where they can grow instead of cutting them.
5. Provide some safe places for bumblebees or solitary bees to make their nests, like hedgerows and south-facing bare banks of soil.

Source: The Junior Pollinator Plan, the children’s version of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020. Both are available as downloadable PDFs from