Wednesday, 27 January 2016

January 23rd - Trip to National Botanic Gardens

On Saturday January 23rd the Dublin Branch took a trip to the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin. Our guide Niamh was a mine of information about the many interesting things to be seen in the gardens, even in January. For example, there was already a beautiful display of snowdrops, rises and other bulbs, and Niamh showed us the shrub wintersweet, which flowers in January with a delicious, delicate fragrance. Mistletoe could also be seen growing on some of the trees, one of the few places in Ireland it can be seen. Niamh informed us however, that it is a bit of a pest and needs to be cut back regularly to avoid damaging its host tree. A tree looking beautiful at this time of year was the myrtle with its striking cinnamon coloured bark, looking a bit like a eucalyptus.

Mistletoe growing on a poplar tree

Myrtle tree

After a while Niamh took us into the warmth of the glasshouses, which was very welcome on a cold January day. There we learnt that all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. According to Niamh, cacti are only seen in the Americas, which means you will never see them appearing in a spaghetti western! We also learnt many other interesting facts, such as teabags are made out banana leaves, and that vanilla comes from the seedpod of an orchid. Even in winter there were many orchids in flower in the orchid house, giving a gorgeous display. Finally Niamh showed us the carnivorous plants, like the pitcher plant, and our own native butterwort, which trap insects with their sticky juices, and slowly digest them. Alas there were no venus flytraps on display, as apparently people can't resist poking them to make them snap shut, and the plants become exhausted and die. Overall, the group were very happy at all that they saw, and agreed that a trip to the Botanic Gardens is highly recommended!

Learning about exotic plants in the warmth of the greenhouse

Learning about orchids

Some of the many ferns to be seen in the glasshouse

Green Drinks 5th January - 'Our Grass has always been this Green'

This month Dublin's Green Drinks heard IWT's Padraic Fogarty talking about how agriculture has shaped our landscape for centuries, but in its modern form just how environmentally friendly is it? Despite the official image of Ireland promoted by the government in its Origin Green labelling programme, with its slogan that 'our grass has always been this green', a lot of modern agriculture is having a destructive impact on our environment. Farmland biodiversity has been declining for the last three decades, which makes a mockery of the idea that Irish food is sustainably produced.

While Origin Green does monitor carbon emissions, it does nothing to stop the pollution of our watercourses from farm run-off, the decline in farmland birds, the needless culling of badgers, or the degradation of our uplands. For example, pollution of our rivers from silage and slurry run-off threatens the survival of species, such as the rare fresh water mussel, and the continuing destruction of our hedgerows is depriving many wildlife species of desperately needed habitat.

Pádraic also talked about what's in store for nature as government plans for ever-increasing production are rolled out, and about the ways we can accommodate the needs of farming and nature conservation. However, it is obvious that at the moment, environmental concerns are not given anything like the weight they should by politicians and civil servants, and conservation agencies remain badly underfunded. Unless things change we are facing a serious biodiversity crisis on this island.