Steps to help our ecosystems


GO NATIVE When planting a garden, choose as native species like foxglove whenever possible.

Green Living
McKinley Neal

Long before even contemplating living in Ireland, I went on a summer university trip to Mexico on a language exchange programme, which led on to further study and work in the country for several years.
One of my most memorable experiences from my time there was traveling to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in the state of Michoacán, which has been designated a Unesco World Heritage site since 2008. Every winter the spectacular monarch butterflies migrate from the northern US to breed and hibernate in Mexico – a journey of roughly 4,000 kilometres.
Walking along forest paths with a local guide, I saw large brown masses weighing down the branches of the native fir trees, where the butterflies gather in large bunches for warmth and rest. As the sun rose and warmed the forest, vibrant orange wings opened and a stream of butterflies flew out to open fields, where they covered the ground and landed on people who come to admire them.
I read last week with great sadness that the monarch butterfly has been added to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered. It is now one of 147,517 species threatened with extinction by climate change, loss of biodiversity and destruction of ecosystems. In particular, it is noted that logging and deforestation and wildfires have destroyed significant portions of the habitat in Mexico and the US, and pesticides and herbicides used widely in conventional agriculture have killed both butterflies and the milkweed plant species the larvae feed on.
Last week marked World Nature Conservation Day, which highlights the threats to ecosystems globally. There are efforts we can make to preserve our own native species here, which feed different insects that are crucial to pollination of our diverse flora.
The first step is to stop using pesticides and herbicides, which have adverse effects on all plants and insects they come into contact with, and affect the long-term health of the soil and contribute to ground water contamination. Alternatives include making a solution of plain vinegar, salt and washing up liquid to apply to weeds in particular area; hand weeding or strimming; and leaving verges and sections of the garden wild for native species to grow.
When planting, choose as many native species as possible, as these grow well in our particular climate and nourish pollinators and host other birds, mammals and fungi species. The great thing about native species is that they tend to be plentiful, so often friends and neighbours will have tree saplings or plant cuttings to share.
Then, our own food choices matter for the preservation of key habitats worldwide. Palm oil is used in a number of processed foods, but extensive production has led to the decline of habitats for orangutans and other animals, so avoiding it is best. Large tracts of the Amazon rainforest have been cleared for beef farming and for growing soybeans for feeding animals for food worldwide, so choosing to reduce consumption and buy Irish grass-fed meat will help.

McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic toods, reusable goods, household products, eco-trendly personal care Items and gifts.