Diary – Day 2

Completed day 2 of Wild Ireland Tour – taking me from Whitegate to Courtmacsherry. Began the day at Roches Point where we met Paul Whelen of Lichen.ie and Biology.ie fame. Paul introduced us to some of the characteristic lichens of the area including Ramalina cuspidata, Caloplaca marina and Lichina pygmaea – all a mystery to me, I have to admit.

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Paul Whelan showing us lichens at Roches Point

But Paul has managed to tackle this difficult group and has completed the first systematic survey of lichens of rocky shores. We also talked about biological recording and what spurred him on to develop the Biology.ie recording facility. Having an early background in education highlighted for him the need to have IT supports like Biology.ie and Lichen.ie.
Next we called to the Coastal & Marine Research Centre in Haulbowline to meet Damien Haberlin and hear about the fascinating world of jellyfish. He tells us there is still a great deal to learn about the ecology and behaviour of jellyfish. And the aquaculture industry is interested in this, because jellyfish can destroy millions of euro of farmed salmon, something which has happened sporadically over the years. Interesting to hear they were geared up to tag some jelly fish this year in Cork Harbour but the usual swarms didn’t occur this year, so they are looking to carry out the research elsewhere. Absolutely stunning setting for a marine research centre – there were a dozen or so Common Seals hauled out on the slipway just beside the bridge as we passed. 

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Damien Haberlin on the mysterious world of jellyfish

It was off then along the Cork coast taking me past some small, beautifully lush coves and bays, many with tiny settlements looking out onto the beautiful blue Atlantic – idyllic setting on a sunny day like today.

They say that cycling is the best way to experience the unfolding landscape; certainly is as you see it with your eyes and feel it in your legs. Headed into a stiff north-westerly all afternoon so was glad to arrive to Courtmacsherry and to the wonderful hospitality of Peter and Fran Wolstenholme.

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Peter Wolstenholme in the gallery at Courtmacsherry

Ended the night by hearing about some of the wonderful wildlife of west Cork and having a tour of Peter’s stunning paintings, influenced by his love of the landscape and knowledge of wildlife. 


Diary – Day 1

Today’s cycle took me from Carriganore, Waterford to Whitegate in Co. Cork, a distance of approximately 140 km. It is approximate, for the fact that the battery on my Garmin gave up the ghost before I did today.

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It was really great having everyone’s support
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Fenor Bog: a great example of conservation in action

Arrived at the Data Centre to a nice surprise of all my colleagues with their bikes and dressed in special Wild Ireland Tour t-shirts to accompany me on the first leg of the tour to Fenor Bog. Mind you, one quipped that it was extraordinary the lengths that they would go to, to get out of the office for a few hours! So off we went to Fenor Bog to meet with Stan Flynn and Des Cowman to tell me about the tremendous community-led project at Fenor where they bought and manage Fenor Bog, a valuable alkaline fen nestled in behind the church. It was fitting that this was the first stop as it is an excellent example of how you would like to see nature conservation happen, embedded in the local community with advice from a scientific NGO, the Irish Peatland Conservation Council.

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Tomas Murray explaining all about social insects

The first part of the cycle proper route took me along the rolling roads of the Copper Coast, to Ardmore Head. The terrain was tough, tougher than I expected; a succession of short but steep climbs out of the many coves scattered along the coast here, some of these inclines up to 12%. Not ideal terrain for trying to make up time as I felt I was running behind schedule. I certainly agree that cycling is a wonderful way to experience the unfolding landscape; you see it with your eyes and feel it in your legs.  Was glad to stop at Ardmore to take a break, and to meet with Tomás Murray at this very rich heathland. The heath, heather and gorse covered headland is amazingly rich site for insects, as the dry crumbly soil provides nesting habitats and the abundance of flowers rich feeding. He told us all about the mysterious world of our social insects, and Bella was even overheard saying that she found them fascinating. (She also said that Tomás should work as a teacher as he was so good at explaining things – but I won’t tell him that, as we don’t want to lose him form the Data Centre!).  Tomás needs to check identification, but he might have made an exciting discovery! The second half of the journey was far easier as the roads were better, and less undulating. Picked up the pace quite a bit, and cycled through nice quiet countryside on my route to Whitegate. This is rich farming land with little semi-natural habitat. But the rich banks and hedgerow make up for it at this time of year, a riot of diversity and colour.

Training details

I spent the last 7 months preparing for this tour, getting the base miles done so that I am fit enough to cover the distance, but equally importantly, so that I can enjoy the trip. The structure of the training was fairly straightforward based around three elements, namely; getting out consistently, increasing the mileage gradually, and getting some long spins completed as regularly as possible. Continue reading Training details

People and Places along the route

Much of the planning for the Wild Ireland Tour is complete. The intention is to cycle around the coast of Ireland, stopping off at some of Ireland’s most special wildlife sites and meeting up with people who have a story to tell about different aspects of wildlife.  The trip is structured around profiling two, or sometimes three places or people each day. The choice of sites to visit and people to meet is a personal one, reflecting my knowledge of the countryside, and my friends and colleagues. But I have not had the opportunity to meet many of these people in the field, in their own habitat, so this will be very much a journey of exploration for me too. I already know that there are many other people that I will meet as I travel around the country, so expect the odd surprise guest appearance. The journey should weave a rich tapestry of places, personalities and issues, to create a different perspective on Ireland’s priceless natural heritage. Continue reading People and Places along the route

Planning the route

The Wild Ireland Tour will take Bella and I through some of the most special landscapes and wildlife sites in north-western Europe, and all of them on the island of Ireland. Planning the route for the tour was the easy part as I decided early on to keep to the most coastal route. However, trying to decide on which sites to visit and who to meet along the way proved more difficult.

When looking at where the route takes us I realise that it presented an embarrassment of riches. There is a fabulous diversity of wildlife sites right around the coast, each with its unique features. And many excellent conservationists, scientists and local communities who are doing tremendous work to help protect wildlife. So even early on in the planning for the tour, it was an encouraging realisation to make that there is a lot happening out there. Continue reading Planning the route

The cycling challenge

It was in the depths of winter when I reflected on what I wanted to achieve with my cycling in 2014. 2012 and 2013 were both fairly aimless years for me; cycling 4 or 5 days per week with a long club spin or sportive on the weekend, and a winter  interrupted by surgery. Plenty of cycling but nothing really structured and no overall goals. So 2014 was going to be different. I was going to set myself a challenge to work towards.

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W’hen finished, if I don’t look like Sagan, then I’ll give up. (Ok, I give up!)

Why I decided on the challenge to cycle around the entire island of Ireland, I’m not quite sure. Probably because it is  just about do-able provided I got the training in. And rather than going off to cycle in exotic places, I felt there was plenty to explore around the coast of Ireland. Continue reading The cycling challenge

Conserve the Conservationists!

I’m a conservationists. Being a conservationist is not the easiest job in the world. Not because the weight of the world is on my shoulders, angst ridden over how I and the rest of humanity is destroying the planet. No, but because conservation is rarely understood and conservationists are all pigeonholed as a stereotype. Even my daughter prepared conversation topics about her ‘Engineer’ father for her Leaving Certificate oral exams, as trying to explain what a conservationists does in Irish and French (or in English for that matter) was too tall an order.

Continue reading Conserve the Conservationists!

The Wild Ireland Tour

A trip around Ireland to celebrate Ireland’s wildlife

Ireland’s wildlife gets bad press. Almost always, conservation is presented negatively; controversies about developments that damage wildlife, gloomy reports of species under threat of extinction, compensation for managing land for conservation, and so forth. It is a personal frustration of mine that rarely is Ireland’s special wildlife presented in a positive manner, or all that is good about wildlife celebrated. We have a unique and special natural heritage – this tour presents a personalised perspective on some of what is special about Ireland’s wildlife and an attempt to share this experience with a wider audience. Continue reading The Wild Ireland Tour