In my last blog, I wrote about Tim and my recent visit to the wilds of coastal Connemara and our discovery of an incomparable campsite that is part of a small organic farm, Acton's Beachside Caravan and Camping Eco-park. Tim and I spent a happy two weeks there kayaking, walking, beachcombing, eating local produce and simply watching the changing weather, water and landscape. This week I want to share with you the staggering biodiversity of the place.
I will start with seabirds. I know terns are common but have you ever watched them fish? We fell in love with their graceful aerodynamics and the way they would find their food on still evenings, diving swiftly for small fry in the estuary. Herons too, like mini pterodactyls, would lurk in a sinister way by rock pools and by water's edge at low tide and take their fill with lethal darting stabs. Black cormorants dive more deeply, betraying the presence of pollack and mackerel. Another pleasure in our own visual feast.
One still evening a grey seal appeared in the estuary in the water below our tent, diving and re-appearing. It was fairly small, a young one. Two years ago bottlenose dolphins had appeared at the mouth of the estuary to the great excitement of campers and early one morning this year, before the rest of the site was awake a family of sea otters was spotted near the beach. I wish I had been the early riser!
But for us, what was incomparable were the wildflowers - the likes of which we had never seen before. We constantly discovered more and more species and finer and finer examples casually growing everywhere on site and we had to take care to dodge them. It felt like a sacrilege to walk on them or empty our minimal washing up water over them, but they were so abundant this was hard and took a delightfully conscious effort. In one area very near our tent we counted over 30 pyramidal orchids in one square meter - and nearly as many common spotteds. Amazing!
Tim decided to catalogue them as best he could. Next time we return we will take our identification books and a good magnifying glass. Over to him:
There may be one or two flowers where I have given a general species where a more specific subsidiary species may be more correct. In the main though I believe this list to be a reasonable account of the wildflowers found in abundance on the site in early July 2011, even though I did not have a reference book to hand. There were still a few more flowers present, however, that I couldn't identify even in retrospect. I am also aware of a number of plants whose foliage was noted but that were not in flower at the time; I have not catalogued these. There were also a number of grasses noted (especially Marram Grass, a key feature near the shore line) and a few ferns, but due to little knowledge in these areas I have not noted these either ...
An Incomplete List by an Amateur
Common Spotted Orchid
Hawkbit, Hawkweed and/or Hawksbeard
Common Milkwort (blue flowers)
Having planted and managed a new wildflower meadow as part of our permaculture garden on the South Downs of England for the last 20 years, we made start to listing the floral biodiversity of this site. But we are just enthusiasts and this place really deserves a visit by a trained botanist. To live with this biodiversity for two weeks was for us such an intense pleasure. It reflects the way the farm has been run and the pastures managed with a real sensitivity to its rich environmental resources.
My mother tells me that when my grandfather walked the South Downs at the beginning of the 20th century, almost every pasture was carpeted in wildflowers, having been unploughed and unsprayed for hundreds of years. Research indicates that our native flowers dramatically increases insect populations (we saw so many foraging solitary bees on the site, even on the wind-blown cliffs). This in turn feeds fish and birds and creatures further up the food chain. Not only that, they have been proven to be a herbal tonic and increase cattle health.
A UK Government conservation agency report published in 1984, Nature Conservation in Britain, details loss and damage to wildlife over the past 50 years. A staggering 95% of wildflower meadows have been destroyed due to intensive agriculture. So my gentle holiday destination on a coastal Irish organic farm is a rare gem, a remnant of another age, a genetic repository. It is also a link with my own past – a place my grandfather would have loved.
Acton's Beachside Caravan and Camping Eco-park, Claddaghduff Road, Clifden, Connemara, Co. Galway, Ireland
Tel: 00353 (0)95 44036 (9:30am-9pm)
Mobile: 00353 (0)87 1267687
Next time: Maddy and Tim test useful tools and gear for rough camping. Click here to read Cool Camping Gear for the Wild