Small islands of hope and wonder

Outdoor Living

FULL OF LIFE The wildflowers on the Mall river’s gravel islands last week.  Pic: Ciara Moynihan

A look at the vegetation on the Mall river in Westport 

Pat Fahy

As sure as the Carrowbeg flows to the sea at Westport, since Mother Nature created a wildlife habitat anew in the Mall’s section of river I (and no doubt other Westport Tidy Towns volunteers) have been asked the predictable question: “When is Tidy Towns going to clear out the river?”
By which they mean, clear out that which is growing in the Mall river – and more specifically, they the mean the vegetation and wildflowers that have found their way onto the naturally occurring gravel beds.
To which I give the bona fide reply: It’s only ever been a task undertaken by Inland Fisheries or Westport Angling Club Volunteers, who have the experience to traverse very difficult parts of the river. Their goal is to restock the river so that young inexperienced anglers can have a good chance of a cast for their first fish whilst safely supervised by the more experienced on terra firma. Activities are important of course, and are surely the life blood of a town like Westport.
When in the vicinity of the Mall, I not only observe the wildlife the river attracts – I also like to observe how others interact with this wildlife corridor, like few others we have on our doorstep. I see many taking their coffee break at the bench, in full view of the wild flowers on the gravel bed. I always take that as a full vote of confidence. When asked why they chose that spot, they reply that they find it relaxing, or that they understand that those flowers are for the bumblebees.
Families are either feeding the ducks, which they enjoy (oatmeal not bread is always best), or pointing out the brown trout. It reminds me how every youngster is a born naturalist, and how the wildlife that they see is an absolute highlight of the day for inquisitive minds.
One of my favourites, the beautiful banded damselfly can be seen from Doris Bridge amongst the mace sedge, holding its spot. Watch the dippers dipping, the wagtails wagging. Sticklebacks in the blanket weed, large European eels and playful otters, all to be seen. Daubenton bats doing figures of 8 at dusk, dipping and rising as if for fun. This is a river full of life.
Standing on the South Mall across from the gravel bed, all I can see is things of interest and beauty. A gravel bed that, I must reiterate, is 100 percent natural: deposited by Storm Ophelia in 2017 where the Carrowbeg makes a turn onto the beautifully built heritage walls of the Mall, it’s full flow meeting the North Mall, where it could no longer carry its load.
This effortless work of nature has been developing ever since. I see now the sun shining on its creation, the magentas of the great willowherbs interspersed with deep-coloured spikes of purple loosestrife. Wild angelica, with their shades of wine, completing the palette of this symphony of colour. A young moorhen flitting about in the undergrowth for good measure.
An interest in wildlife and nature is becoming increasingly mainstream, but sometimes I get the impression through the grapevine from certain quarters that finding this interest in the Mall river should be discouraged. It must be said, it’s extra exciting for any naturalist to encounter urban wildlife, and we will always gladly embrace those moments wherever we find them. Of course debate is always healthy and to be encouraged. Already I believe we understand each other a little bit better.

Pat Fahy is Biodiversity Officer with Westport Tidy Towns.