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What’s on our Nature table? A lesson in integrating biodiversity


Integrating biodiversity into every landscape type is important for many reasons; creating & protecting habitats, supporting pollinator efforts, capturing carbon, and so on. Frances McHugh, Forestry Adviser, reminisces about the primary school ‘Nature Table’ & discusses improving local biodiversity.

Reminiscing about the ‘Nature Table’

Reminiscing on the primary school class rooms from years ago; they often featured the ‘Nature Table’. Depending on the season, the table was typically laden down with a great variety of wild flowers in jam jars, random twigs, leaves of different shapes and colour and various fruit, nuts and cones. There too maybe a birds nest or a few unfortunate insects who were ‘alive when they left home’ but were strangely not moving by the time they reached pride of place on the said table!

Inevitably each spring a basin with frogspawn appeared. Children got an appreciation of the wonder of nature as the frogspawn developed into tadpoles, excitement building as back legs appeared, then front legs and then overnight the entire basin complete with ‘froglets’ disappeared without explanation! Children never really got to observe the ‘release back to the wild’! (And so, for good reason frogspawn no longer should be collected).

But children never had to make a specific trip to collect this material for the nature table. There was no need to travel to a forest park, a ‘designated wild area’, or a specific ‘type’ of farm. They brought it from their gardens, from a local hedgerow, from nearby trees, a local stream or from one of their fields if they did live on a farm. ‘Nature’ was all around, an integral part farms and community.

These ‘biodiverse’ nature tables can act as a quick measure today. If we set a challenge to a child; ‘ten minutes before school’ to collect material for a nature table - what might they find? Would they find a variety of wild flowers, shrubs and tree species or would they find evidence insect life, animals, birds or even some frogspawn?

Improving local biodiversity

Integrating biodiversity into every landscape type is important for many reasons; creating and protecting habitats for a wide range of species, supporting pollinator efforts, capturing carbon, improving water quality, soil stability and providing a safe environment for endangered species.

Creating an integrated landscape that will achieve all these goals is ambitious. Some specific endangered species will need targeted management. However a lot can be achieved by working at a localised scale to improve biodiversity. In terms of encouraging wildflower species, care needs to be taken with seed source, where simply allowing local native species to thrive naturally is sometimes a better and easier choice. Similarly when planting trees, planting species that will successfully thrive in an area and in turn support many other species will reap the highest benefits for biodiversity. Trees can be planted at any scale from the individual tree, groups in field corners to larger forests. In each case biodiversity can be optimised through good planning and the linking of habitats from the trees to the surrounding landuses. It is important to point out that the forestry programme provides funding for new forests from a small (0.1ha) area to larger scale. Details of grant funding can be found on www.teagasc.ie/forestry

Small woodlands on dairy and drystock farms

A survey has been set up by Rachel Irwin as part of a M.Sc. research project with Teagasc and University College Dublin (UCD) to analyse farmers' perceptions of, attitudes towards, and willingness to plant, trees on farms. The results of this survey will be used to aid policy and help create guidelines for policy makers.

We would like to invite dairy and drystock farmers to anonymously participate in this survey by scanning the QR code with their smart-phone or by going to https://tinyurl.com/fkj3n85z

You can read more about this survey in this article: Small woodlands on dairy and drystock farms: Have your say on trees

The Teagasc Forestry Department issues an article on a Forestry topic every Friday here on Teagasc Daily. Subscribe to: Forestry e-News. Keep up-to-date with the Teagasc Forestry Department here or follow them on Social Media here.