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Albert Nolan: Exploring the Urban Landscape

Albert Nolan: Exploring the Urban Landscape

Urban environments can be full of fully as I recently discovered on a walk along the main Limerick road in Tipperary town.
I quietly slipped out of the car and into a beautiful day.

The sun was shining and there was the slightest of breezes. Autumn is advancing across the town and birds and plants are changing as the season progresses.

Around the car there is a good selection of wildlife friendly species. Scots pine is one of our native conifers and as the tree matures its bark becomes rougher. This creates a habitat for insects and birds like tree creepers will search the trunk and peck them out.

Plants have made their homes even among the hard materials of concrete and tarmac. Dandelion leaves are poking out through the gaps and white lichens adorn the concrete. The access road for deliveries has a tall dogwood hedge. The leaves of this species are very good for the caterpillars of moths.

On top of the wall there are cushions of moss. These are the early colonisers and their dome shapped structures are very similar to Martian colonies in Sci-Fi books. A pied wagtail flew overhead and I often spot them foraging for insects and seeds in the towns car park.

Two oak tree are slowly maturing and I find a few oak apple galls. These are hard marble shapped structure and inside there is a tiny wasp larva. When the adult is fully mature they drill a small hole and emerge to start a new generation. This small and complex life is sheltered by the oak tree and located beside the busy main road. I also disturbed a woodpigeon who quickly flew off towards the shelter of the railway line.

Next door there is an old farm building and yard. The spread of the town has caught up this building and where one there was farmland there is now shops. It has beautiful metal vents and large metal brackets that help hold the building together.

Every man made object is used by nature. An electricity pole has ivy growing up along it. Ivy is just flowering providing nectar and pollen for the last of the insects.

Around the base I found nipplewort, groundsel and sow thistle yellow flowers. All have yellow flowers and a milkly sap when the stems are broken.

I carefully crossed the road and started to explore the hedgerow. This is a really old and has a stone wall along the front. This is a really interesting habitat but it hardly gets a second glance. A man walks by and asks if there is anything valuable there. I responded that nature is valuable and he walks away smiling.

The cows in the adjacent field help increase biodiversity. They poke their heads out through the old barbed wire and eat the rank grasses. This give wildflowers the opportunity to flourish. Ladies bedstraw, narrow leaved plantain, dandelion, broad leaved dock, catsear, a bonsai ragwort, common hogweed, mouse eared hawkweed, meadow vetchling and buttercup all support bees, butterflies and bugs.

This rich diversity is at odds with the new lawn that has been sown in front of the hedge. This will need a lot of precious resources to keep it looking well and contributes nothing to promoting wildlife. Although in fairness mountain ash trees have been sown and these provide berries of birds.

Above my head around a hundred starlings are singing and feeding. Every so often they descended in small groups onto the hedge where they feasted on blackberries and the berries of the hawthorn. A wren is the only bird singing and I also hear the cawing of a rook. Verbascum yellow flowers have almost faded and I gathered up a few of the seeds.

The red flowers of valerian are still out and both species like the dry habitat provided by the base of the hedgerow. Four beautiful cut stone gate pillars are hidden in the hedge.

One still has a large metal gate and these are far from your average field entrance. They were built with great skill and cost and I found a few wall rue plants growing between the stones. Inside the gate a lush field hedgerow leads to an old house. I would love to find out the history of these features and there is always stories to be rediscovered.

The next part of the walk is manicured but every landscape needs it balance. A cold metal fence replaces the native hedgerow and inside I see a few broad leaved plantain and purple loosestrife plants. In front of Supermacs there is a bed of flowering snapdragons. I saw one poor lad earlier on his hands and knees patiently weeding between the flowers.

Leading up to the railway bridge a narrow strip of wildflowers have been sown. During the summer they created a beautiful display for any passing motorist to enjoy. I can still identify many of the species from wild carrot, poppies, knapweed that is still flowering and common hogweed. I gathered a few seeds to sow in my own garden.

With the wildlife stone is a common feature of the day. An old concrete fence protects walkers from the steep drop to the tracks.

Its harsh features have been softened over the years by the weather and colourful lichens.

Comments/ questions to or 089 4230502. Albert is also available to give walks/talks to schools, tidy towns, youth and community groups.

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