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03/08/2021

Walking into a painting at Cabragh Wetlands

Walking into a painting at Cabragh Wetlands

Walking into a painting at Cabragh Wetlands

I have often wished to walk through a multi-coloured Monet impressionist painting but in these few short weeks ahead, Cabragh affords that opportunity.

For many years, this time of year in Cabragh echoed to the laughter and shrieks of children as it hosted many school visits and the annual summer camp for primary school pupils.


Unfortunately, this year and last it has not been possible to offer this most enjoyable of activities in the sixteen habitats that comprise Cabragh Wetlands.


Of course, on an individual or family basis, everyone is still very welcome although the building remains closed. With the cool and wet month of May, it is only now that the stunning flower display that shows Cabragh Wetlands at its brilliant best is about to begin. Already, the purple marsh orchids of the wet meadow, seven years in the making, are showing in the patch of meadow in front of the building.


There, too, yellow rattle, which enjoys a special relationship with root systems of other plants, is about to burst into flower. On the pond edges, what will become a veritable sea of pink, the rosebay willowherb, is climbing by the day along with that other tint of pink, the valerian. Everyone’s favourite, the meadowsweet, is belatedly about to flower.


I have often wished to walk through a multi-coloured Monet impressionist painting but in these few short weeks ahead, Cabragh affords that opportunity. You can do so with the peppermint aroma of wild mint beneath your feet, the aroma of meadowsweet assailing your nostrils and the evening full of the balm of lonicera or woodbine.


For music, blackbirds and thrushes abound in the hedgerow and even the cacophony of wrens, stonechats, sedge warblers and reed buntings seems melodious. This is certainly Cabragh Wetlands dressed in its Sunday best awaiting the visitor to its parlour and now with the paths dry and groomed by our excellent Fás team, it is a virtual heaven.


Not to be outdone by the surrounding land the ponds too are hosting a vast array of amazing forms of life. From beneath the water of the ponds, the stunningly beautiful damselflies have emerged and these darting and hovering “cipins” of blue flit between the lush growth hunting their prey.


A few years ago, Cabragh Wetlands scaled the scientific heights when two very rare caddisflies were discovered there. One was long thought to be extinct for hundreds of years while the other’s nearest home was Turkey. It was another illustration of the depths of natural richness of this ancient place.


There are many species of caddis fly and they are thought to be related to butterflies and moths. The word “caddis” may stem from “cadace”, a term once used to describe travelling salesmen who displayed their wares pinned to their jackets in a manner reminiscent of the way some caddis larvae build decorative cases.


Most caddis flies are rather secretive in the daytime and only take wing after dark. They undergo a complete metamorphosis from the egg via the larval and pupal stages to adult. Some species take a year or two to complete their development while others may have two generations in a single year.


Most of the caddisfly’s life is spent underwater as a larva. Some are vegetarian, others scavenge morsels of organic debris while some are fiercely predatory. Some caseless species spin silken webs to catch drifting organic matter as food while others use their silk to weave together a complex case made of sand, sticks or fragments of plant material.


To human eyes, some caddis fly larva cases are miracles of miniature construction. We can only wonder at the effort involved in selecting tiny grains of sand of uniform size or cutting leaf fragments to exact shapes, binding them together with silk. The larva pokes its head tentatively out of its case and hauls itself across the pond in search of food.

Depending on its surroundings, the cases are made of particles of crushed gravel, spirally arranged fragments of plant material or even shells of pond snails. Even when they are no longer needed, they take many months to break down.They probably feel as heavy to the caddis fly as a suit of armour on a medieval knight.


Eventually, when they hatch, rivers and ponds buzz with their activity. Adults generally do not live very long simply serving to reproduce and then die.


Feel welcome to visit Cabragh Wetlands at any time. We do ask that dogs be kept on leads as many nesting birds produce multiple broods.


Hopefully before long we will be able again to provide the full range of facilities to all visitors to this natural heaven.
Stay safe, hold firm, we are almost there!


Slán go fóill.

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