Cold Days + Hard Work = Hot Toddies

Date: 30 January 2019 | Weather: Partly Sunny, 4°C

In between several chilly and stormy days, we found a sunny break and got right back to work on the island road. The objective of the day was to clear brambles by hand.

Here are the “before and after” photos of one section of the road. What a difference, don’t you think? Brambles were cut back and their roots were dug up wherever possible. This is a continuous process; every so often we will have to have a go at those briars. (Briars, of course, do provide vital shelter for wildlife but there are plenty on the other side of the walls and ditches; we are just stopping their encroachment over what we hope to be verges full of wild grasses and flowers.) As we worked, we spotted our first early dog violet of the year! Lucky we weren’t using the mower or the finger-bar!

Friends who were visiting for the day stopped by for a chat on their way to the beach. They were curious about what we were doing and we explained how indiscriminate mowing and strimming that happen too late in spring or early in autumn prevent wild flowers from blooming or setting seed, leading to their disappearance. The best practice as recommended by authorities on habitat and wildflower preservation is to cut the verges back only once or perhaps twice a year in midwinter and possibly early spring.

This idea is not new. The document Irish Hedgerows: Networks for Nature is a fantastic source to start with as it is full of informative facts and suggestions about nature preservation in the Irish landscape. Plantlife, a British conservation charity working nationally and internationally to save threatened wild flowers, plants and fungi, also provides invaluable insights. Their Good Verge Guide provides a different, pro-nature, perspective to the maintenance of road verges, which are constantly under pressure due to people’s interests in road safety and access.

Ireland’s hedgerows cover about 450,000 hectares (1.1 million acres) or 6.4% of the country. Although there are many areas like ditches and banks and walls in Ireland that do not conform to the true definition of hedgerows, they nevertheless do a similar or the same job that true hedgerows do. With the cultivation of land for farming and grazing, nowadays many wildflowers can only grow in places like hedgerows and ditches and road verges.

Hedgerows give the Irish landscape its distinctive character and field pattern and provide an important wildlife habitat especially for woodland flora and fauna…An appropriate conservation and maintenance programme promotes vigour, flowering, fruiting, and wildlife potential of hedgerows.

A variety is best. The quest for neatness should not take precedence over ecological and landscape considerations

Irish Hedgerows: Networks for Nature. Edited and compiled by David Hickie.

After two hours of work, we treated ourselves to a (well-deserved) final hot toddy. Until our next post, cheers!

Happy 2019

Date: 5 January 2019 | Weather: Partly Sunny, 8°C

After a busy December during which we hosted a Christmas wreath making workshop on the island amongst all the holiday festivities, in the first weekend of January we did more work on the road which we are looking after in an attempt to help nature create a flower and wildlife haven.

The weather has been mild for two weeks now. Butterflies like the Painted Lady are spotted on the island and the honeysuckle is beginning to sprout. This time, with a mower we cut down the grass verges, which are free of flowers at this time of the year. The grass clippings are piled in a nearby field for mulch in the summer. By hand we cut back more briars from the walls and ditches. So good to be involved in a creative and positive process at the beginning of the year.

*Mowing should be done only once or twice a year, in late winter and possibly early spring.

One Week Later

Date: 9 November 2018 | Weather: Broken Clouds, 11°C

With secateurs, a few of us continued working along the road that we are clearing of invading plants, brambles and gorse, taking care around areas where the honeysuckle grow. Beautiful, old island walls that have been covered for years can be seen and admired again.

One advantage of not using strimmers (never really necessary along roadsides anyway) is that we can talk as we work and even chat to a passerby (a rare species in November).

Graham has the enviable job of inspecting life rings on the Cork Islands, and yesterday was his day on Heir Island. Along with his supplies he carried a bag filled with litter that had been deposited in the little shelters intended just to house the rings. He told us about an interesting group called Clean Coasts. Be sure to check them out.

The Beginning

Date: 3 November 2018 | Weather: Partly Sunny, 13°C

A group of us on the island have decided to take on the care of an island road. We have begun by using hand tools to cut back invading brambles, a good provider of food for us, of course, as well as for insects and birds, and abundant on the island and in no danger of extinction. We are just going to prevent it taking over the verges and crowding out more delicate species.

We will cut back other invaders, such as blackthorn that is beginning to hide parts of beautiful old walls, and also gorse and bracken. Then in December when all the flowers have died, we will mow the verges to help prevent the grass from taking over. Another mowing will probably be done in late winter/early spring for the same reason. The grass will be removed so as not to improve the fertility of the verges, and will be piled in a nearby field to supply mulch next summer (some of us on the island are growing our potatoes under mulch in the no dig method), and emergency seed and insect feeding stations in case of another harsh winter. We are shaking out dried seed heads as we work slowly, observing, learning and recording as we go.

Most visitors to the island never stray off the roads so don’t see the wild and beautiful places we islanders know, though of course some of those places, unlike the road verges, will be affected by grazing animals and possibly fertilizers and worse.

By contrast we hope ‘our’ road will be a wild flower and grass strewn delight, inhabited by pollinating insects, butterflies and bees and foraging birds, as all the island roads could be.