At Wildacres there are a variety of habitats to suit many different plants and animals. Some were already in existence when we bought this beautiful land on the Redcross River in late 2017, but these were seriously degraded. We have worked hard on improving them and have created many new habitats with the ultimate goal of maximising the biological diversity across these 17.5 acres.
It is fascinating to see, with the both the existing and newly created habitats, how quickly they have recovered and developed over such a short period of time and how they are attracting such an array of fascinating flora and fauna.
Following are the various habitats on Wildacres.
When we took over the management of these four fields there was only one existing pond – a seasonal or ephemeral pond – one which holds water in the wetter periods but dries up soon after.
Because this type of pond dries up each year, fish and other voracious predators such as dragonfly and damselfly larvae, can never establish in it thus allowing other aquatic life to thrive. This allows for a more diverse wetland habitat.
We have left this pond untouched and year after year we discover new fascinating biodiversity to marvel at. One of the discoveries this year was a stunning rare fungus tentatively identified as Hydnellum peckerii. Only one such fungus has ever been recorded in Ireland until now proving just how important such rare habitats are.
There were no permanent ponds on the lands when we took charge back in 2017, but over the last number of years we have created nine of these varying in size from that of a small plot to ¾ of an acre!
Ponds are an incredibly important resource for our native wildlife, and it is wonderful to see, sometimes literally within hours of completion, wildlife arriving and taking up residence. For that reason, we would recommend to anyone with a suitable outdoor space to create a pond of any size to suit your area (child safe). Even a pond the size of a sink is worth having for the sake of wildlife.
Our 9 permanent ponds have created a fantastic wetland habitat. What were heavily grazed monoculture rye-grass fields are now wild areas brimming with life. The ponds are alive with frogs, dragonflies, damselflies, diving beetles, small fish and much more. This life in turn attracts in the larger predators such as Kingfishers, Herons, Little Egrets, Pine Martens and again much more.
Our largest pond was created in November 2020. We are fortunate as this land is suited to creating ponds because the subsoil in parts is a heavy marl which acts as a natural pond liner. The pond count currently stands at nine and there might just be a few more on the cards!
What a fantastic habitat native hedgerow is. With our low level of native forestry at only 2% coverage, hedgerows are now even more vitally important as a refuge for our threatened wildlife. They provide food, shelter, nesting and hibernation sites and wildlife corridors, allowing animals to safely move from area to area under cover.
Hedgerows were planted extensively as field boundaries during the 1700s and 1800s and in many cases still survive today. There are over 100 plant species associated with our native hedgerows. They are a precious resource that need to be managed to retain their structure. The issue with much of Irish hedgerow is that it is severely cut back each year causing significant damage. Most of the woody species flower only on second year growth therefore cutting them annually severely limits the ability of the hedgerow to flower and fruit thus leading to a lack of nectar, pollen, berries and nuts, all vital food sources for our wildlife. Annual severe cutting also damages the structure of the hedge as a potential nesting and hibernation site and reduces the shelter it can provide for wildlife and livestock.
We can all do our bit where possible by planting native hedgerow instead of non-native species which support very little wildlife.
Let’s not miss an opportunity to help our wildlife when planting new hedgerows by avoiding non-native species such as Bay Laurel, Grisselinnia or Beech. Instead, we can focus on planting stunning flowering native plants such as Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Spindle, Holly, Hazel, Crab Apple, Dog Rose, Yew, Bramble, Honeysuckle and Guelder Rose. Some of these native plants flower with a dazzling colourful display in spring and summer and are resplendent with berries and nuts in the autumn – vital food sources for birds and mammals. There is the added attraction of fiery autumnal foliage so much more interesting, visually attractive and wildlife friendly than a monoculture of non-native plants.
Over the past few years, we have planted over 2km of native hedgerow on Wildacres and are thrilled to see if flourishing. We hope you can come visit to see it and learn more about planting this valuable native habitat.
Ireland has a very low level of forestry cover at 11% in total of which 9% is non-native plantations of mainly coniferous trees such as Sitka Spruce and Lodgepole Pine, and the balancing 2% is native. At one time our Island was covered 80% with native woodlands rich in biodiversity.
Mono-culture commercial forests are mostly sterile environments and extremely poor in Biodiversity compared to a native woodland with broadleaf tree species such as Ash, Oak, Alder, Hazel and many more.
Native trees have evolved over millennia to support a vast array of native wildlife species to form symbiotic relationships, relying on each other for food, shelter, seed dispersal and much more.
We haven’t fully discovered the extent of some of these fascinating interactions. It is so important for us to cherish and protect the small tracts of native woodland we have left. In order to save our endangered wildlife, we need urgently to plant much more of this wonderful habitat which also helps combat climate change.
We have planted over 10,000 native trees on Wildacres, 7000 of these under the Native Woodland Scheme, thanks to the Forestry Service Division of the Department Agriculture Food and the Marine, and another 3,000 have been planted by us. We manage these new woodlands closely so that we can maximise their growth potential for the benefit of biodiversity and the environment.
Native Wildflower Meadows
Native Wildflower meadows support a vast array of wildlife. Species such as ground nesting birds, butterflies, bees, moths, ants, spiders, shrews, mice, birds of prey and so much more. With agricultural intensification there are very few tracts of diverse wildflower meadows left in Ireland.
Whilst here in Ireland we have no official statistics to say how much wildflower meadow we have remaining; in the UK they have lost over 97% of this habitat since the industrialisation of agriculture from the mid-1940s. We are in no better a situation here and maybe worse.
Traditionally meadows were cut at the end of summer for hay for winter feed. This allowed a vast array of wildflowers to grow, which in turn provided habitat and food for all manner of insects, vital prey for larger creatures. With agricultural intensification we have lost that diversity, fields are now either heavily grazed preventing wildflowers from growing, or grass is grown as a monoculture for silage. Perennial rye-grass has been commercially bred for vigour of growth, planted as a single species with rapid growth rate enabled by the liberal application of artificial fertilisers. Hence it easily outcompetes more delicate wildflower species.
These fields of artificially fertilised vigorous grass are then cut up to three times during the spring and summer, again not giving wildflowers or other wildlife such as ground nesting birds, a chance to survive. We need to recreate this rich and diverse ecosystem where possible, not just in our fields but there is a massive opportunity also in Ireland’s 2 million gardens. You can join the growing numbers of people who ‘Pledge Your Garden’ as part of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan.
Here at Wildacres our top field is now a stunning 4-acre Wildflower Meadow with a meandering pathway dotted with a variety of informative native wildflower and meadow grasses info-signs.
We are so lucky to have the beautiful meandering Redcross river bordering Wildacres. It is hugely important for wildlife such as Brown Trout, Sea Trout, Brook Lamprey, Kingfisher, Heron, Beautiful Demoiselle damselfly, Pond Skaters, Caddisfly and much more.
The land was previously heavily grazed and therefore devoid of vegetation including right up to the border of the river bank – known as the Riparian zone. This area is a vital wildlife habitat and we set about restoring it in 2018.
Riparian zones need vegetation in the form of trees and shrubs, such as moisture loving Alder, Willow and Ash trees and smaller trees such as Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Elder and Holly among others. These provide many ecosystem services including a corridor for wildlife to travel between habitats, flood mitigation, river bank support to prevent erosion, shading for water temperature regulation, shelter and food source for wildlife.