28 May 2022

Albert Nolan: Learn to appreciate the great outdoors

Albert Nolan: Learn to appreciate the great outdoors

Wood Sorrel grows on the floor of conifer plantations

The sun was shining in through the kitchen window and I was sitting in my chair and glued to my laptop.

Normally I would be outside enjoying the beautiful weather by exploring nature or gardening but I was too engrossed in an excellent online workshop on “learn how to spot spring flowers and become a citizen science“. The presentation was given by Oisin Duffy who is the surveys and record office for the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

The event was part of a weeklong celebration of biodiversity organised by Europe Direct Waterford. Europe Direct Waterford is run from Central Library in Waterford City and is one of a network of local contact points that serve as a direct link between citizens and the EU Institutions. Europe Direct Waterford aims to show people and organisations how the EU is relevant in their lives, offer information and to facilitate connections”.

The spring flowers project is a joint pilot initiative between the Botanical Society of the British Isle and the National Biodiversity Data Centre in Waterford. The project kicked off in 2017, and comprises an agreement between both parties to target 20 easily identifiable spring flowers for recording, along with the provision of a special on-line recording form specifically for the project.

The information gathered through the Spring Flowering Plants Project is important as it allows for update distribution maps for these species as well as other features such as flowering times. It is an ideal project for all recorders and easily accessible for beginners.

The 20 species chosen for the project are easy to identify and are generally in flower before many other plants. Identification guides, species profiles and regular posts on their Social Media can help recorders with species identification. Keep a watch out for these spring candidates and you would be very unlucky not to find a few out in your local patch.

Bluebell, Common Dog-violet, Cowslip. Early Dog-violet, Early-purple Orchid, Lady’s smock (Cuckooflower), Lesser Celandine, Lords-and Ladies, Primrose, Toothwort, Wild Garlic, Winter Heliotrope, Wood Anemone, Wood Sorrel, Coltsfoot, Three-cornered Garlic, Spring Gentian, Opposite-Leave Golden-Saxifrage, Common Whitlowgrass, Alexanders.

I also love the way the Irish names are included on the site as they often hint at the herbal and healing traditions of the flowers. Many of the 20 selected flowers are common while others have restricted ranges. Trying to find them is a great way to add a new and interesting dimension to our 5km walks.

The list of flowers covers a range of habitats from hedgerows, gardens, parks, schools and wetlands. It’s easy to submit your records through Ireland’s Citizen Portal. I have been showing my son how to upload records and he has really got into the idea of recording. When we are out walking he is constantly reminding me to take notes of the birds, flowers and insects that we come across.

Back at home we log our records within the hour. I find that if I don’t do them in this time frame they get put on the very long finger. The great thing is that you can submit your records at any time even if they are from a few years ago.

We have been observing the spring flowers for the last few years and have got to know our local flora pretty well. Around my house the most common spring flower at the moment is the primrose. The buttery yellow flowers are appearing along ancient hedgerow banks.

Also sometimes along the edges of fields where no ploughing or artificial fertilizers had been added. Over the last 20 years I have noticed a slow decline and while it is still common the numbers of plants are well down. Another of my favourite spring flowers was the cowslip. There was a colony in a nearby field on a steep valley.

This unfortunately was taken over by a young and progressive farmer. The field was improved and the cowslips that were there for generations are lost forever.

While primroses prefer the drier habitats lesser celandine thrives in the damp and shade. It is not a common flower within 5km of my village as the hedgerows are too low and the right conditions are not present.

Another yellow flower is coltsfoot and this is growing in the gravel of the front yard. Its flowers come out before its leaves giving it the old country name of “sons before fathers”.

I have tried transferring some of the plants but they had never taken to their new home.

I had recently seen the arrow shaped leaves of lord and ladies but this was on a shopping trip and I had not found this species locally.

One flower we have plenty of is the dainty wood sorrel. In the dim shade of the conifer plantations it grows in profusion. It has no competition on the woodland floor and its pinky/ white flowers add a welcome splash of colour.

If you’re interested in getting involved in the spring flower project then please do check out the project's website, where you can find more information, including pictures, tips for species identification and statistics relating to the species.

If you are on social media you can follow progress of the spring flowers project using the hashtag #SpringFlowersProject.
2021 Project information:

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