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.
I have identified over 60 places to highlight, and more than 30 people to meet. I will hear about many varied aspects of Ireland’s wildlife, and hopefully, get a glimpse of some of Ireland’s rarer species. Species like the Great Yellow Bumblebee and Twite which are on the verge of extinction in Ireland, and the extremely rare Dorset Heath of which only a handful of plants grow wild in Ireland. The marsh fritillary, Kerry lily, natterjack toad, chough and the Kerry slug, all afforded strict protection in Ireland, will be searched for, as will basking shark, whales and dolphins off our coast.
I will meet scientists who are doing very important work in increasing our understanding of Ireland’s biodiversity; a national resource that is of inordinate importance to Irish society yet one about which there is still much to learn. I will learn about seaweed, jellyfish and basking sharks, topics I know little about, and hear about the hugely important role that bees and other social wasps play in ecosystems services. These are services that nature provides to us for free, yet are the bedrock upon which sectors like agriculture, forestry and marine are built.
Nature conservation is epitomised by altruistic behaviour, and I will highlight wonderful examples of this. From local communities who nurture their local wildlife areas, volunteers and enthusiasts who give of their time and expertise freely to better understand the wildlife interests of their locality, and ecologists who tread the narrow line between vocation and profession in spending hours in the field documenting what they see. A small sample of projects delivered by the conservation NGOs will be highlighted, to recognise the invaluable contribution this sector makes to conservation in Ireland.
I will meet some of the extremely dedicates public sector employees who work tirelessly, often under difficult conditions, to improve the lot of nature conservation in Ireland. I will be dipping in and out of policy issues and hearing about different public sector measures which are intended to protect Ireland’s special wildlife and its habitats.
People I have spoken to about this initiative have been hugely supportive, and for this support I am genuinely appreciative as it makes me believe that this trip may not be such a daft idea as I initially thought. Thanks also to everyone who has offered hospitality and to those who will be cycling with me for some legs of the journey. The nicest of all, was the blessing of an old neighbour: ‘Go n-éirí an bóther leat’.