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Boost your biodiversity skills

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Councils give away free biodiversity-gardening books, while Teagasc and Big Brother Big Sister promote pollinator awareness

Ciara Moynihan

These days, many are finding a new appreciation for their outdoor patch, if they are lucky enough to have one. In our outdoor oases we can find quiet respite from the panic and pandemonium of pandemic, and comfort in the reassuringly reliable rhythms of nature.
Our gardens allow us absorb ourselves in the simple acts of digging, planting and growing  – or just leaving be and watching. We delight when our gardens grow and thrive, and wild creatures reward us by visiting more often or setting up home.
If you would like to encourage more life into your garden, help is at hand. A new 40-page book designed to help everyone to help wildlife in their gardens, no matter how big or small, has been launched, and is available free from the Heritage Office of Mayo County Council.
Called ‘Gardening for Biodiversity’, it looks at a wide range of doable projects designed to help all kinds of wildlife, with tasks suitable for everyone from the complete beginner to the more-ambitious DIY and gardening enthusiast.
Written by author, zoologist and documentary producer Juanita Browne, the book was produced by Local Authority Heritage Officers across Ireland, with help from the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Heritage Council. With instructions and step-by-step drawings by illustrator Barry Reynolds, it offers the gardener guidance on lots of ways to help our biodiversity.
The book starts by explaining the difference between ‘wildlife’ and ‘biodiversity’. “When we think of the word ‘wildlife’ we tend to think of wild mammals, such as squirrels, or perhaps birds,” it says. “Biodiversity is a better word to describe all the different types of organisms on earth, including plants, fungi, insects, spiders, amphibians and so on, as well as the diversity of ecosystems in which they are found, and the genetic diversity within each species.”
An accessible, nicely illustrated introduction to biodiversity explains that the four key keys to garden biodiversity are food, shelter, water and biodiversity-friendly management. It also shares some fascinating insights on the important role of beetles and ladybirds, the significance of soil biodiversity and the five gold-star plants for biodiversity – dandelion, willow, bramble, clover and ivy.
The treasure trove of guides that follows covers a range of topics, including how to encourage all sorts of birdlife, from bullfinches to swifts; how to create a wildlife lawn or a wildflower patch or meadow; how to plant for pollinators by creating things like butterfly borders and nesting sites for bees; the importance of leaving an ‘untidy’ corner of the garden; how to make a log pile for ‘mini-beasts’ and how to encourage life into a dry-stone wall; how to choose which native trees to plant in your garden; how to plant a native hedgerow; the importance of leaving road verges unsprayed and uncultivated.
There are also sections on how to garden in a way that encourages moths, as well as bats and other mammals like hedgehogs, wood mice, pygmy shrews (our smallest mammal) and more; and how to create a garden pond, or a ‘bog garden’ with wetland plants, or a rain garden using using rain from downpipes.
You’ll also find a whole host of biodiversity friendly management tips on things like making your own compost, conserving water and making leaf-mould, as well as information on how to record your backyard biodiversity.
‘Gardening for Biodiversity’ is available to download as a pdf from www.mayo.ie, or hard copies may be ordered free of charge by contacting Heritage Officer Deirdre Cunningham at heritage@mayococo.ie or 094 9064092.

Other buzzing projects
Last Wednesday, May 20, was World Bee Day, and to mark the occasion, Foróige’s Big Brother Big Sister youth-mentoring programme in Mayo launched its Bee-BBS Initiative to encourage young people to spend time outdoors and enjoy the wonderful insects and wildlife on their doorstep.
They sent packets of seeds to every participating young person and volunteer mentor, to help then add pollinator-friendly colour and vibrancy to their own gardens.   
While they cannot met face to face at the moment, volunteers and young people continue to keep in touch through video calls and technology, and share in the joy of comparing their seedlings’ progress.
Mayo Foróige project officer Peter Duffy explains that ‘through the pursuit of gardening, volunteer mentors are helping young people to develop a new interest that will lead to the promotion of positive mental health’. “It is the perfect time to slow down and reflect on the wonderful natural world that surrounds us,” he said.
Teagasc also took the opportunity on World Bee Day to remind farmers of the importance of allowing space for wildflowers grow and flower on farms.
Citing recent research that showed that most farmers were positive towards biodiversity, Teagasc released a video on the simple steps that farmers can take to help protect bees and biodiversity in their farmyards and farmlands. The video, Protecting bees on Irish farms, is available to view on teagasc.ie.