On a beautiful evening in McGlincheys, Richard Nairn delivered an engaging talk on Sheskinmore in the 1980’s, quoting from a book that was donated to McGlincheys by Malcolm McClure ‘Nature in Ireland‘(1997) ‘Natural history is unavoidably a history of culture and society, involving the exploitation of nature as well as its study’. That relationship certainly describes the nature of land management at Sheskinmore from the 1600’s to the present day.
Richard’s talk focused on what Sheskinmore was like in the 1980’s and it was clear from his images that there have been some changes since that time. The reedbed at Sheskinmore lough was much smaller than at present and the water levels seemed to be higher in winter and lower in summer. This benefited the geese during the winter and the breeding waders, especially Dunlin, in the summer. Changes to the lough were created by drainage attempts in the 1980’s. The intervention of the Irish Wildbird Conservancy to rectify the drainage by constructing a sluice, buying land around the lough and setting up agreements with local landowners, paved the way for the State’s Wildlife Service to acquire land around Sheskinmore and manage it for conservation.
The drainage of the stream on Tramore Strand in the early 2000’s caused sand to blow into the caravan park, this was counteracted by placing bales in front of the caravan park to trap sand and new fore dunes and a freshwater marsh then formed.
On a glorious Saturday morning, while Irish history was unfolding, we learned from John Carey about who really runs the world . Edward O. Wilson was referring to all invertebrates when he wrote his paper on ‘The little things that run the world’. There are 20,000 invertebrate species in Ireland and 3,400 of those are fly species. The adults and larvae need different niches and even the males and females can as well.
John studied marsh flies (60 marsh species Ireland) and explained why marsh flies are good indicators of biodiversity. Most grassland in the west of Ireland is wet grassland and this habitat, often the bane of small farmers and excluded from protected habitat lists, contain unique wetland insects worthy of protection. This habitat is of high nature value in its own right and for the services it provides. Insect’s lives consist of eating, moving things and being eaten and in that process they decompose and recycle dead material, releasing nutrients, pollinate plants and control pest species ( and bite us a lot of course). Invertebrates are the base of the terrestrial food chain on which vertebrates rely.
The afternoon was warm, bright and breezy and we headed across the wet grassland, yellow with marsh marigold, meadow buttercup, flag iris and daisies, then along the stream where the drainage occurred in the 1980’s. The dunes were also dressed in yellow with birds foot trefoil, kidney vetch and mouse-ear hawkweed. The machair and dune buttercups are bulbous buttercup, easy to identify with their reflexed sepals. There were clumps of wild pansies, the subspecies Viola tricolor curtisii only found on dry grassland and dunes.
The interesting insects I saw with John were the tiny hoverfly ( I would have mistaken for an ‘ordinary’ fly), the snipe fly, very distinctive looking and near where its namesake is found. The busy and plentiful rove beetles ( Beetles the most diverse species on earth) and the much rarer beetle, Carbus clatratus which on a national scale is very local and probably in decline.
There were orchids on our walk too and Helene Burningham was able to take us to where she’d found Dense-flowered orchid Neotinea maculata. This orchid was first identified by Ralph and Liz Sheppard at this its only Donegal station in 1985. It is a small orchid with a dense spike of cream coloured flowers, which appear for only a few weeks from mid-May. The Mediterranean is the centre of its distribution and it does not occur anywhere in Britain. What a delight to see it in Sheskinmore, only my second time.
The other orchids are a delight as well. There were patches of Early Purple and sprinkles of Early Marsh as well as the beginnings of Common Twayblade.
There were about thiry visitors at the two talks and walk. Some old friends and regulars and some new. Everyone is always welcome to come and enjoy what nature (with a little human intervention) has provided us with.