GIFT TO NATURE Our meadows were once full of wildflowers and humming with vital life.
Nature and rewilding
Alluding to all that is inherited from the past, maintained in the present and bestowed to the future, ‘Our natural heritage’ has to be one of my absolute favourite expressions. It encapsulates so succinctly the truth that, like our built heritage (stately homes, castles and tower houses) we should also appreciate our unique mixture of plants and animals that need to be preserved, enhanced and celebrated for future generations.
Wildflower meadows are truly beautiful. They were part of our landscape, but we have lost so many. A full 95 percent of our old wildflower meadows have disappeared with the onset of modern farming methods. At the same time, whenever I hear these somber statistics, I think back to a better time for our wildlife, and my granny’s meadow under Croagh Patrick and the short time I spent there in 1979 during the summer holidays.
It was the last and only time I saw tree sparrows, for instance. Still to be found on Belmullet Peninsula in small numbers, and much rarer than their house sparrow cousins, they rely heavily on the seeds from our native wildflower meadows and insects for their young. These food sources are now sadly depleted.
Insects are down 50 percent by weight since records began, and you don’t need to be a scientist to know there’s something wrong in the countryside. That which is so fundamental to nature has disappeared before our very eyes, with habitat loss and pesticide use being the main root cause of this modern day malady.
But back to Granny’s meadow. Having been warned off trampling through the precious grass, I couldn’t miss the chance to get a proper look when Granny was checking it out to make sure it was ready for saving on the type of warm sunny day that lives long in the memory. She was silent and still, scanning the meadow in unbroken concentration, the judgement and experience of generations in her gaze. Me, for my part, welded to the spot with the spectacle of colour, movement and life.
Every part of the meadow seemed to be moving. It was the wildflowers that first caught my attention – knapweed, ox-eye daisy, clover, yarrow, wild carrot, meadow buttercup, bird-foot trefoil, meadow vetchling, yellow rattle, self-heal… they were all there. Soldier beetles, Bumblebees, hoverflies and butterflies as far as the mountain stream in the distance. I was mesmerised.
The meadow was a gift to nature, but understandably Gran didn’t see it like that. High-nature-value farming it would be called now, with payments linked to the quality of the environment and biodiversity produced on the farm. Keeping body and soul together was all in a day’s work for Gran.
Forgetting our mission, I absentmindedly said to Gran, “These flowers, they’re really beautiful.” “Yes... they are,” she replied. I can see her now, noticing the flowers, as if for the first time, totally breaking her concentration. “The flowers are lovely, but it’s the grass that we need.” Gransplaining to the young townie about that which was most important. There was no arguing with that.
So much wildlife back then that a corncrake calling outside my granny Ellen’s front door wasn’t unusual – but it’s something that would create quite a stir today. ‘What would Ellen make of all this?’ you might ask. She’d think we’re all cracked.
Totally crackers about preserving our natural heritage, I’ll take that any day of the week. To do nothing at all, now that really would be really crazy, on an even greater level. That I can’t even imagine for one moment longer.
Our wildlife is being depleted on every level, and to quote Seamus Heaney, “The voice of sanity is getting very hoarse.”
Pat Fahy is Biodiversity Officer with Westport Tidy Towns.