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Budding naturalists’ records really count

Outdoor Living

SPOT THE DIFFERENCE Painted Lady, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies, plus a honey bee, on a Buddleia flower – just a few of the small winged species you could spot on a walk.

Nature and rewilding
Pat Fahy

Every young person is a born naturalist the saying goes, in which case I suppose it’s safe to say that I have always been a naturalist. There’s lots of interest in nature in these Covid times; it’s as if our planet’s got time to breathe and finally a chance to shine a light on what has always been there. At present nature is the best medicine, soothing us when our routines that normally used to fill up our day have gone a bit topsy-turvy.
Although I say I’ve always been a naturalist, maybe I didn’t always really know it. The Actions for Pollinators workshops that were rolled out through the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan (2015-2020) and Mayo County Council’s initiative to provide Biodiversity Plans to many towns have been so instructive.
Before these, my knowledge of various species was limited to whatever was featured on terrestrial TV, missing out on the specifics of our own ‘Natural Heritage’.  As a result, I knew more about meerkats in South Africa and the wildlife of far away lands than I did about the wildlife on my own doorstep.
The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan (AIPP) changed the paradigm for many of our amateur naturalists. It gave them a new mission, opening up all sorts of resources to help totemic species like the bumblebee, butterfly and others, through Actions for Pollinators.
Central to implementing the AIPP is the National Biodiversity Data Centre. This institution is doing Trojan work to engage the public, despite being short staffed, underfunded and even – paradoxically – under threat of extinction themselves (and this is so in spite of the Dáil’s declaration of a biodiversity crisis and a climate crisis).
Bumblebee and butterfly monitoring is important to the NBDC’s work, giving them a better picture of what’s happening in the countryside in general. Hundreds of concerned citizens are giving back to nature by strolling down the road and counting the different types – something I constantly look forward to doing. Sometimes I spot something different on my route. There are many websites specialising in helping people to decipher different species’ identity, as well as pages on Facebook, including our own Facebook group, ‘Westport Wildlife and Tidy Towns’.
The NBDC hold millions of records of Ireland’s species, anything from algae to eagles –4,365,655 records to date, 16,306 species. The response by the public to each of their initiatives has been amazing, reflecting the sense of community that we all share. Maybe make it your mission today to record a butterfly on the NBDC’s website or via the Biodiversity Data Capture app.
Butterfly recording is a good way to start for the budding naturalist, and a pocket guide to the butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland might make a nice present for someone with a budding interest in nature. Butterflies are very easy to identify and very useful for giving scientists the information they need to indicate the quality of the countryside for all our wildlife. You only need to know a few species to add layers of interest to your amble down the road, and even though it’s a small action it helps to build a much bigger vision.

Pat Fahy is Biodiversity Officer with Westport Tidy Towns.