Well, we have arrived at the 31st and last day of the Wild Ireland Tour, only requiring a tour of Co. Wexford before finishing where we began at the National Biodiversity Data Centre in Waterford. I headed off from Garrettstown to the Raven Nature Reserve to meet with Christopher Wilson, for it would be impossible to pass this way without saying hello. I really only became interested in bird conservation in Ireland in the mid 1980s, by which time Chris was one of the stalwarts of Irish ornithology. I didn’t know it back then, but ornithology was only a relatively new departure for Chris at that stage, as his early career was as a police officer in London. Chris always had a passing interest in bird watching, but it was only with a bit of good fortune that he was asked to take up the mantle of Irish organiser for the final year of the Atlas of Wintering Birds of Britain and Ireland. And he must have taken to the task like the proverbial duck to water, for his contribution to nature conservation ever since has been enormous. His early interest was in birds, but this quickly expanded to include, butterflies, dragonflies, plants; in fact, almost all aspects of wildlife. Today he showed us his butterfly transect at the Raven that he surveys each year as part of the Irish Butterfly Monitoring Scheme.
He is a powerful communicator, being able to instil his love of wildlife in a wide audience, to which he did to good effect when hosting a wildlife slot on local radio. He also worked closely with artist Don Conroy to produce many wildlife educational books. And as I saw how Bella was captivated by Chris telling her stories about the Raven Nature Reserve, about its special wildlife like the Red Squirrels, Natterjack Toads and Adder’s Tongue Fern, and personal stories about his late father, I realised there and then, just how good a communicator he is.
And Chris has always been interested in imparting his knowledge of wildlife to others. It was this drive to share his knowledge that led him, together with colleagues Lorcan Scott and Jason Monaghan to set up the Wexford Naturalists’ Field Club, 10 years ago this autumn. The Wexford Naturalists’ Field Club has gone from strength to strength over the 10 years, and now boasts 150 or so members. It runs a range of activities throughout the year, based around a monthly evening talk and weekend field excursion for members to come and learn about Wexford’s wildlife. But it is also actively recording and documenting the wildlife of the county and has already published a guide to the Lepidoptera of County Wexford and is planning on a similar publication on the county’s Dragonflies. The Club is one of the more active Field Clubs in Ireland, and there is a strong collaboration between it and the National Biodiversity Data Centre, and colleagues of mine are regulars on its programme of events. The Club uses the Pump House at the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve for most of its evening talks and some of its workshops, so it was only appropriate that it was there that I met with some of the members to say hello. It was really nice to spend some time with the Club members and to hear about the work the Club is doing. Thanks to its work, there is a far greater awareness and appreciation of Wexford’s wildlife now, than there was 10 years ago.
After lunch we met up with Zoe and Pete Devlin. Zoe is well known for the huge contribution she has made in recent years to raising the profile of plant recording in Ireland. Her website, Wildflowers of Ireland, brings brightness and a splash of colour to the subject of plant recording, and provides a rich resource for anyone interested in identifying and recording plants. Her two books, Wildflowers of Ireland – A Personal Record and Wildflowers of Ireland – a field guide are of a similar vein, effortlessly releasing some of the mystique surrounding Irish botany. Ever since she was introduced to the beauties of a wild orchid when she was eight, Zoe has been fascinated by wildflowers. She has photographed wildflowers for decades, and has amassed a very large collection over the years. It was on the prompting of her daughter that she set about using these photographs and creating a wonderful website around this resource. And her creations are a wonderful tribute to the many long hours that she has spent on pulling the information together, and to her desire to share her interest and knowledge with others. Of course, Zoe was ably assisted in this by her husband Pete who claims he had little or no role in this, but I suspect played a far greater role than he lets on.
And it was Pete who cycled with me for a good part of the journey through the Wexford countryside, and who regaled me with stories not about wildflowers, but about cycling. A man after my own heart, for I think I have had sufficient talk of wildlife for a while.
I realise that people with an appreciation and knowledge of wildlife are privileged, for they can see the subtle characteristics of different types of woodlands or grassland, or can detect minute features that separate one species from another; a level of awareness and observation that others don’t possess. This interest in wildlife that people have is usually attributed to some inspiring individual or mentor who opened up the wonderful world of wildlife for them. It is the likes of Chris and Zoe or the many, many other naturalists who want to share their knowledge and fascination of the natural world with others that need to be lauded. And groups like the Wexford Naturalists’ Field Club who provide many opportunities at the local level for people to become involved and enjoy the learning experience. In a world where everyday life is becoming increasingly detached from the natural world, the work of these wildlife champions is of vital important to help build a support base for nature conservation.
And so I headed for the car ferry at Ballyhack, and from Passage East back to Waterford. Arrived back to the National Biodiversity Data Centre, from where I had left one month earlier to complete my cycle around Ireland. I was delighted to get back home to a very warm welcome, and to pop open a bottle of champagne for Bella and I to celebrate a job well done. Prost!!