Biodiversity at the Áras

Last year, we started a biodiversity audit at Áras an Uachtaráin, the iconic home of Ireland’s President Michael D. Higgins. This was at the request of the President himself, commissioned by the Office of Public Works, who manage the site.

President Higgins was at the Rio Earth SummitRio Earth Summit in 1992, and has been an advocate for biodiversity protection for a long time. He gave an impassioned speech at the National Biodiversity Conference last year, highlighting that we face “profound challenges” and that we all need to be leaders within our own spheres of influence (see my previous blog post here for a summary of the conference).  

So, starting late summer 2019, we began a process of documenting the biodiversity of the 130 acre site in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. The first task was to appoint a project manager, and I was very lucky that Dr Aoibheann Gaughran was both available and interested in the position. The first task for Aoibheann was to create a GIS-based habitat map of the site, and identify all the different the habitats types present (grassland, woodland, parkland, wetland etc.).

The next step was to document all the different species. No-one is an expert in every taxonomic group, and one of the delights of this project has been bringing together a team of specialists to survey the plants, animals and fungi (see below).

the team_2

Our surveys were interrupted by the COVID 19 pandemic and closures, but we are now back at it and enjoying the privilege of working in the Áras grounds.

Naturally, there has been a lot of interest in the project, with the President’s team keeping an eye on us, as well as the media (see links from the President’s website: News release and pictures, RTE news, and the Irish Times.

The “Mooney Goes Wild” show on RTE radio has featured the project several times:

  • Introduction to the project: Margaret Gormley (broadcast 20 January)
  • Mushrooms: Prof. Paul Dowding (broadcast 27 January)
  • Bird life: Prof. Nicola Marple (broadcast 30 March)
  • Spiders and Badgers: Dr. Aoibheann Gaughran and Collie Ennis (broadcast 20 April)

 

The project is due to be completed in September 2020 – keep an eye out for our results!

 

About the author: Professor in Botany, Jane Stout leads the Plant-Animal Interactions research group at Trinity College Dublin and is co-founder of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan and Chair of the Board of Directors of the Irish Forum on Natural Capital.

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