Life is changing with the seasons and like everyone I am still trying my best to adapt to the uncertainty that has become a daily part of my life. School visits are temporarily on hold and online technology is providing new ways and opportunities to reach out and engage with the school community.
My kids have helped me to understand and move online and this is something they have been doing for many years. I find it takes a different energy and commitment and is challenging outside the familiar situation of a classroom. It is always good to be outside your comfort zone and this can offer new insights into how you work as a community educator.
Tipperary tidy towns had received funding from Tipperary CC through the festival grant to celebrate wildlife in the hills. This live event had to be adapted to online due to Covid.
The hills are a unique habitat and I think it would be hard to find a more diverse town park anywhere else in Ireland. The different habitats connect together to support birds, bees and butterflies.
Open greens and fairways might be well manicured, but blackbirds and rooks find plenty of worms and grubs to eat. In the more natural grasslands butterflies, bees and moths thrive and these are food for bats. There are also scattered trees and these are used by nesting birds, while nature thrives in the woodland in the adjacent quarry.
A native hedgerow borders the hills and this supports wrens, dunnocks and robins with places to nest and lots of berries, seeds and insects to eat. New areas for wildfire have been created by the hard work of the friends of Tipperary hills and the Tidy towns.
The hills have also been a haven during lockdown with loads of space for walking, fresh air, social distanced chats and encounters with wildlife. Recently the winter feeders have been put up for birds and these prove a big hit, as you can sit on the nearby bench and enjoy stunning birds like Goldfinches close up.
Each of the schools involved was introduced to the wildlife found in the hills. We started off with the common birds. Robins are found around the trees foraging in the leaf litter for food and they also nest along the hedgerow. Pied wagtails or Willy wagtails are familiar in school playing yards and feed on summer seeds and insects during the winter. Summer time also sees migrants like swallows and sand martins who come to feed on the abundant insects.
Some animals like foxes have become very urbanized within a generation. Many of the students and teachers have foxes coming into their gardens for daily feeds. One teacher whose fox disappeared is sorely missed, as the rabbits are now eating all of her garden flowers. Foxes are highly intelligent creatures and this has allowed them to adapt from a changing world in the countryside, to a life close to humans.
Badgers are occasional visitors and their sets are located along the hedgerows in the surrounding countryside and in deep woodland in the old quarry. They use their powerful claws to dig up earthworms and grubs and are also partial to an underground bee hive. The thick coarse fur protects them from the worst of the stings, but their delicate noses are often the target of the defenders' attacks.
I was delighted to see a lot of raised hands when I asked who had seen a live Hedgehogs since the summer. These animals had gone very scarce but perhaps since the lockdown people are out and about more and are starting to notice nature again.
Insects are the base of most food chains and all of the trees and flowers support a multitude of species. Butterflies are the most visible and often have the most striking colours.
Several species are common in the hills. The common blue is found in flower rich meadows and its caterpillars feed on vetches. Ringlet and meadow brown lay their eggs on short aerial flights among the tall native grasses. Small tortoiseshell and peacock grace the flowers in high summer and their caterpillars feed on nettles.
If you look closely you might find a ladybird and these are the gardener’s friend as the adults and their larvae feed on greenfly. Moths like the six spotted burnet, the migrant silver Y and shaded broad bar can be seen flying on warm summer days.
Other important insects are the bumblebees. These are nature’s pollinators and without them our gardens and the hills would be devoid of most of their colour. They also do the same function for our fruit and the hills is a sanctuary in any otherwise barren landscape.
The last creature we discussed were bats. These have gone into hibernation by November but during the summer they emerge at dusk. In the hills they find plenty of insects to feast on and a single bat can eat up to 2500 insects throughout the course of the night.
It was great to be back in the classroom even virtually and I look forward to doing more zoom workshops in the coming months.
Tipperary Tidy Towns gratefully acknowledges funding for this project from Tipperary County Council under the festival scheme.