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Celebrating the biodiversity of our coast

July 12th, 2016 7:15 AM

By Southern Star Team

Wildflowers growing on top of Cloughland Martello Tower. One of the events at the Bere Island Wildlife Festival was a nature walk to the tower.

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Between June 4th and 10th last, Bere Islanders were learning about birds, bees and butterflies through a series of nature walks and talks held during the island’s first Wildlife Festival, culminating in a Bio Blitz with four other Irish islands – namely Cape Clear, Inis Mór, Clare Island and Tory Island – to see who could record the most species over a 24-hour period.  When the final result was announced, Bere Island was declared overall winner with a record 1,178 different species recorded on the island.

The Wildlife Festival and Bio Blitz were initiated by the National Biodiversity Data Centre, with local input from Bere Island Projects Group (BIPG).  John Walsh, Co-coordinator of BIPG said, ‘it was a great week on Bere Island, we’ve seen an increase in the number of visitors to the island, and there was a great buzz about the place with the Bio Blitz, and we were delighted to be announced
overall winners.’

Bere Island Projects Group actively works to protect and promote the island’s unique natural environment. In 2003, the group, in partnership with the Heritage Council and Cork County Council launched the Bere Island Conservation Plan as a way to sustain the island’s population; its way of life and to preserve its unique heritage and environment.  Since then, a number of initiatives have been carried out under the Conservation Plan, including implementing a programme of to eradicate invasive species of Japanese Knotweed and Gunnerra, and encouraging sustainable farming practices.   The fact that the island has won the Tidy Island award for nine consecutive years is testament to the islanders’  commitment to protecting their environment.

Many of the events held during the Wildlife Festival were led by islanders themselves.  Barry Hanley, one of a growing number of beekeepers on Bere gave a talk on beekeeping, islanders Daniel Moriarty and Chris Sullivan led visitors and islanders on guided nature and historical walks.  Wildlife specialists also led events during the week, including a nature walk to Cloughland Martello Tower with Clare Heardman, a wildlife ranger with Glengarriff Nature Reserve; butterfly expert Damaris Lysaght led a butterfly walk, where despite the overcast weather ten different varieties were spotted.  Medicinal Herbalist Rosari Kingston gave a talk on herbs and local plants, and their health benefits, Niall Tierney from Birdwatch Ireland led walks to hear both the dawn and dusk chorus and biodiversity expert Geoff Hunt led a nature walk and pond dipping session.  Steve Collins, a Kealkil farmer of Dexter cattle was also on hand gave a talk about this unique breed of cow and their suitability for islands.  

Although recordings of the island’s species were being taken during the course of the week, the main Bio Blitz took place over a 24-hour period from noon on Saturday, June 11th to noon on Sunday 12th – co-ordinated by Dr Tomás Murray of the Biodiversity Data Centre.  The Bere Island Heritage Centre became base camp for the event with regular updates on the tally being made available, in what was becoming a race against time amongst the five participating islands with friendly rivalry to see who would win both the overall count for most species recorded on an island and separate categories for species richness, the most productive team, the most marine species and the conservation species award for the most threatened and protected species recorded. 

 The Bio Blitz concept was first introduced to Ireland in 2010 by the National Biodiversity Data Centre to celebrate the International Year of Biodiversity. A Bio Blitz held exclusively on islands, has never been tried before, and with the numbers involved on each island, including volunteers and expert surveyors made it the largest voluntary wildlife event in Ireland.  The Biodiversity Data centre billed it as a celebration of wildlife and to encourage more people to learn about the wildlife on their doorstep.

Following the Bio Blitz a complete species list for each island will be finalised, and the records will be mapped on Biodiversity Maps, the National Biodiversity Data Centre’s mapping system. 

A copy of this final validated species list will be available for each of the islands for their own use.  The Biodiversity Data Centre, outlined that the ecosystem goods and services provided by biological diversity contributes at least €2.6 billion to the Irish economy each year.

Bere Island Projects Group organise a number of festivals and events on the island throughout the year with particular emphasis on promoting the island’s natural environment. For further information you can view www.bereisland.net

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