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Upcoming and recent events
An update on our Sanctuary in Nature and Heritage project, kindly posted for us by Wicklow Co Council Library Service. Do get in touch and come to one of the meetings this week (on Tues 26 and/or Wed 27 Sept) if you can!
"Are you passionate about the great outdoors? Do you have a deep love for Wicklow's stunning landscapes and rich heritage? Would you like to extend a warm welcome to new communities in our county and join them on excursions from Direct Provision Centres? Wicklow Town Library is proud to announce an exciting initiative with Places of Sanctuary Ireland that aims to introduce new comers from all over the world to the natural beauty and heritage sites of Wicklow. This project, titled "Sanctuary in Nature & Heritage," invites individuals and groups who share a love for the outdoors and a profound affection for our county to get involved. Cathaoirleach of Wicklow County Council, Cllr Aoife Flynn-Kennedy enthusiastically endorsed this project, saying "Our county's natural beauty and rich heritage are not just treasures; they are bridges that connect us all. Sanctuary in Nature & Heritage reflects our commitment to welcoming and integrating new communities, ensuring that they too can find solace, inspiration, and belonging in the heart of Wicklow." To kick off the planning for this project, there is an introductory talk on Tuesday night, September 26th, from 6.30 pm to 8.30 pm at Wicklow Town Library. During this presentation, facilitated by Muhammad Achour and Paddy Woodworth from Sanctuary in Nature & Heritage, we will discuss the concept of finding sanctuary in nature and how we can extend a warm welcome to newcomers in our community. Volunteers, who are enthusiastic about spending time outdoors, exploring Wicklow's natural wonders, and forming meaningful connections are invited to come along. Can't make it on Tuesday evening? No worries! We are offering another opportunity on Wednesday, September 27th, from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm. And also on Wednesday at Baltinglass Library at 2pm, and at Blessington Library at 3.30 pm. We do hope to see you at one of these meetings. Michael Nicholson, Deputy Chief Executive of Wicklow County Council expressed his support for this venture in Wicklow, saying "In the past few years we have welcomed people from all over the world seeking sanctuary. This project gives us another opportunity to send out that message of welcome to our new communities. Wicklow's landscapes and cultural heritage are free and accessible and this initiative empowers us to cultivate a diverse and harmonious community where individuals, regardless of their origins, have the opportunity to flourish."
I greatly look forward to revisiting the Basque Country in October, to spend time with Palmar Alvarez-Blanco's students from Carleton College as part of her very exciting Welcome to the Spanish (R)evolution programme in early October. My presentation is titled "The long and bloody life, slow and miserable death, and bizarre contemporary resurrection of ETA". I will also be participating in a discussion with Emilio Silva, founder of the Asociación por la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica, and Itziar Mínguez, poet and essayist. The topic will be the nature of peace processes, reconciliation, and reparations for victims of conflict.
This has been a busy summer for me on Culture File with The Naturalist's Bookshelf, and the autumn will be busy too. In July, producer Luke Clancy organised a Culture File Debate on the Past, Present and Future of Gardens in Kilmacurragh National Botanical Garden with Seamus O'Brien, Colin Stafford-Johnson, and Mary Reynolds, which I researched and chaired. In the same month, I broadcast a Naturalist's Bookshelf on a nature book I love, 'Comeragh: Mountain, Coum, River, Rumour' by poet Mark Roper and photographer Paddy Dwan. There will be another Naturalist's Bookshelf in the coming weeks. And in November, as part of Dublin Book Festival, we will be doing another Culture File Debate, discussing The ‘wild’ word in nature writing: shifting meanings, clashing responses. Luke Clancy will chair, and I will participate with Anja Murray, Lisa Fingleton and Gwen Wilkinson. More on this soon.
It's also been a busy summer for Sanctuary in Nature and Heritage, the project I co-direct with Syrian architect Muhammad Achour. We organise excursions for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, offering them opportunities to engage with Irish natural landscapes and heritage sites with local people. A capacity building grant from the Heritage Council has enabled us to employ Muhammad full time, and focus on promoting the formation of similar groups in Wicklow, Cork and Galway. We will be holding information days in each county in September and October. Muhammad has also developed our social media and video channels. We were delighted with an article highlighting our work in The Irish Times by Sylvia Thompson in August, reporting on the event we organised for Heritage Week with Meath Partnership in the Phoenix Park.
The EU's Nature Conservation Law represents essential, if still inadequate, advances in conserving biodiversity, but it sparked a fierce controversy, often fuelled by blatant disinformation. I wrote an Op Ed making the case for the law. However, I do believe that conservationists need to avoid conflating science-based ecological restoration, which is the subject of law, with the misleading and divisive rhetoric of 'rewilding'. I wrote a piece for the Irish Times Science Page pointing out the strengths of restoration, and the weaknesses of 'rewilding'. As always, words matter!
After the Spanish Left succeeded in stopping the Far Right in its tracks, at a crucial moment in the European Union's history, I published this Op Ed in The Irish Times, suggesting that Spain does need to move beyond the binary legacy of the Civil War.
It is a great honour to be launching Mark Roper's new poetry collection, Beyond Stillness (Dedalus Press), at Books Upstairs, 17 D'Olier St, Dublin 2, next Sunday 27 November at 3pm. Mark's poems weave a deep love and knowledge of the natural world into exquisite and often startling images that reflect both our own existential crises and the crisis we have inflicted on all life on Earth. This collection places him at the forefront of contemporary Irish writing.
The Naturalist's Bookshelf went live, with friends, at Dublin Book Festival at 3pm on Sunday 13th November at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin. It was so exciting to be joined by poet Jane Clarke (When the Tree Falls), photographer Tina Claffey (Portal) and writer Richard Nairn (Wild Shores) to talk about the nature writers we love, and take off our shelves for inspiration and information, again and again. In partnership with RTE Lyric FM's Culture File. Feedback from the audience was beyond our highest hopes.
Meanwhile, you can listen to my latest Bookshelf broadcast, celebrating one of my favourite books, Wildwood by Roger Deakin, on Luke Clancy's Culture File slot, on Lorcan Murray's Classic Drive on RTE Lyric FM
It was challenging, fascinating, and troubling to review Greta Thunberg's The Climate Book for The Irish Times (5 Nov). Lots of good information, plenty of passion, and incisive exposure of greenwashing. But it is distressing to find no clear vision for how we might achieve the titanic shifts in public opinion and political/business agendas that this book shows are so urgently required, to avoid the catastrophe getting worse, and begin to restore our climate and our biodiversity on a global scale. Cormac O'Regan's Climate Worrier, which I review in the same article, offers a refreshingly innovative way, honest and wickedly comic route into our personal contradictions about coping with the crisis.
On Wed 14th September, after the screening of Laurent Charbonnier's [Winged Migration] beautiful film about the rich ecological communities supported by a single tree, Heart of Oak, at the Irish Film Centre as part of Dublin Climate Action Week, I chaired a panel discussion on the links between the biodiversity and climate crises. Thanks to Páraic Fogarty, Lorraine Bull, Liam Lysaght, Jane Clarke and Anabel O'Hora, and the audience, for a lively and, I hope, useful, discussion.
It's always a pleasure to talk about the nature books I love for Luke Clancy's Culture File, on RTE Lyric FM's Classic Drive. In September, I reached for a rich anthology of the writings of American naturalist John Hay, The Way to the Saltmarsh. After several readings over 20 years, I'm ever more fascinated by his stimulating meditations on New England's coastal ecosystems, landscapes "“full of wild, unparalleled desire”. You can listen here.
The Society for Ecological Restoration Europe's 2022 conference in Alicante, Spain, from Sept 5th to 9th, was a vibrant, uplifting and productive event, attended by hundreds of people from dozens of countries. Its theme was 'Restoring Nature, Reconnecting People'. I organised a workshop critiquing the trend towards describing restoration projects as 'rewilding', a term I believe has very little scientific basis in Europe, and one that tends to alienate many people, particularly in our countrysides: Mind Your Language! Restoration, Regeneration or Rewilding? What is the best way to communicate conservation strategies to the public?I'm grateful to my co-facilitators, James Aronson and Sara Pelaez Sánchez, for illuminating contributions, and to all participants, especially those who disagreed with us, for a lively, robust, thoughtful and courteous discussion.
I gave the opening presentation for the Wildlife Crime and Conservation Conference at Sonairte Ecology Centre on Sunday August 24th, arguing that the our national and local authorities not only continue to fail miserably to enforce our environmental laws, but routinely violate them -- think destruction of hedgerows by county councils, think continuing rhododendron infestation of our best oak woodlands in Killarney National Park.
It was very exciting to return to the always imaginative and stimulating Festival of Writing & Ideas at Borris House on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 June. I was to present two sessions, see below, but sadly the 'Oceans' event below was cancelled due to both my guests falling ill days before the festival. I wish James Thornton and Finn van der Aar speedy recoveries:
SAVING THE OCEANS TO SAVE OUR LIVES: Environmental lawyer James Thornton and marine biologist Finn van der Aar discuss the escalating threats to our oceans and the use of legal challenges to help turn this deadly tide. Saturday, 3.00 pm.
WHAT’S ON YOUR PLATE MATTERS: Dan Saladino (Eating to Extinction) gave a fascinating and troubling account of declining food diversity, the essential foods we risk losing and how eating them is, paradoxically, a key weapon in the battle to restore healthy living and healthy ecosystems. Sunday, 10.30 am.
I was happy to be contribute to a panel on Connecting National Priorities: biodiversity, culture and social well-being at the National Biodiversity Conference 2022 in Dublin Castle at 9.40 am on Thursday 9 June. I talked about Sanctuary in Nature & Heritage [see more on this project below]: "Finding Sanctuary in Nature & Heritage: offering refugees and asylum seekers opportunities to engage with Irish biodiversity and architecture, and share their experiences with local people."
I was delighted to participate in a Society for Ecological Restoration Europe webinar on 15 Feb 18.00 CET, to tell our continental and British colleagues about the current state of, and future prospects for, restoration projects in Ireland, in the field and in national policy. The other participants will be Catherine Farrell, Sara Peláez, and Brendan Dunford. More details, and registration, here
It was a real pleasure to chair a thought-provoking webinar on 'Embedding Climate in Heritage', led by our local authority Heritage Officers, with Heritage Minister Malcolm Noonan participating throughout. This webinar, on 27 Jan 2022, focused on how we can work to embed the climate crisis, and mitigation and adaptation approaches, into the heritage agenda. We still forget too much and too often that our natural landscapes are our national primary heritage; without them our precious built heritage would not exist. Yet we still neglect and degrade ecosystems, accelerating the climate and biodiversity crises. You can still visit/revisit the webinar on this link www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Xx9KTNkgAE&ab_channel=LaoisHeritage
My most recent academic publication is Natural capital approaches: shifting the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration from aspiration to reality for Restoration Ecology. I feel humbled and privileged to have collaborated on this paper with world leaders in developing the natural capital concept: Catherine A. Farrell, James Aronson, Gretchen C. Daily, Lars Hein, Carl Obst, and Jane C. Stout. I'm particularly happy that this paper directly addresses two persistent misconceptions that some environmentalists use, in good faith, to critique the natural capital concept: Firstly, that the concept somehow "puts nature up for sale", when the truth is the reverse: by revealing the true costs of degrading ecosystems, blindly ignored by conventional economics, the concept provides tools to guide us towards truly sustainable policies; secondly, that the concept is inherently 'capitalist', when natural capital, like other forms of capital, simply refers to stocks that yield a flow of services and benefits that is necessary to all members of society, and all social systems. Who controls those stocks, and how, is an entirely separate issue, though a very important one.
Early in the pandemic, Luke Clancy, producer of the innovative CultureFile slot on Lorcan Murray's Classic Drive programme on RTE Lyric FM, invited me to contribute a single item on my experience of the natural world during the isolation of lockdown. This grew into The Naturalist's Bookshelf, a series of reflections on nature writers whose work I particularly love. Books covered range from Michael Viney's A Year's Turning to Robert Macfarlane's The Wild Places, from Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams to Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek. It's been a rich pleasure to revisit these books, and in some cases, like the most recent broadcast, on JA Baker's The Peregrine, encounter them belatedly for the first time.
We are fortunate in Ireland to have as our President Michael D Higgins, who brings to his progressive socialist and environmental politics a sharp, cultured, well-informed mind, humane and witty mind, in sharp contrast to many other particular leaders today. He invited me to interview him about his new book, Reclaiming the European Street, which gathers his recent speeches on European themes and calls for us to learn lessons of solidarity and shared values from the pandemic, at Dublin Book Festival at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, in November 2021. I hope to be able to post a link to recording of the interview here soon.
The pandemic had severe impacts on the Sanctuary in Nature & Heritage project, which offers opportunities to asylum seekers, refugees, migrants and New Irish generally to engage with our natural and cultural landscapes and heritage sites, and for Irish people to learn about nature and heritage in other cultures. We had to curtail our excursions for more than a year. So it was a great pleasure, with my partner in this venture, Syrian architect Muhammad Achour, and our wonderful volunteers, to be able to organise trips to Christ Church Cathedral and the Liffey, to the ancient monuments at Newgrange, and to Causey Farm and Girley Bog between June and November 2021, as well as a follow up art class for children led by Kate Kavanagh. We will organise several more events in the coming months. We are very grateful for the support of Meath Co Council, Fingal County Council and Dublin City Council, of the Heritage Council and the Office of Public Works, BirdWatch Ireland, and of our partners in Sonairte National Ecology Centre. And for the advice and support of our parent bodies, Dublin City of Sanctuary and Places of Sanctuary Ireland. You can find details of past and upcoming events and more about the project here.
It was an honour to chair a celebration of the legacy of the great nature film-maker, musician and environmental advocate , Éamon de Buitléar, for the Shaking Bog Festival, in the Mermaid Arts centre in Bray on 11 September, 2021. The participants were Éamon's widow, Lailli de Buitléar, the editor Jim Dalton and the fiddler Paddy Glackin, who had both worked with him, and Colin Stafford-Johnson, one of our foremost nature film-makers today. There many wonderful moments, and for me an unexpected highlight occurred when Paddy Glacken, after playing a tune for Éamon, told us that this was the first time he had performed in public since the pandemic began.
As the Covid restrictions lifted last summer (briefly as it turned out), I was very excited to re-enter the world of public engagement, and meet old friends, courtesy of the rich and varied Borris Festival of Writing and Ideas, in August 2021, organising an environmental strand made up of three sessions with people much more qualified than I am:
WHAT IS NATURE REALLY WORTH? New, science-based accounting systems reveal that nature is really worth much more than we usually think. But how can we build that insight into public policy and private actions? Paddy Woodworth and Catherine Farrell (of the INCASE project) discuss how we can use natural capital accounting to inform better decisions for people and planet.
THE FUTURE IS IN THE FIELDS: Paddy Woodworth, Lisa Fingleton and Hannah Quinn Mulligan talk ‘Creative Conservation on the Farm’ - about policies and practices which can keep Irish farmers happily on the land, while meeting increasingly urgent climate and biodiversity targets, and on the role the Arts can play in this
TO PREVENT PANDEMICS, RESTORE DEGRADED LANDSCAPES: Paddy Woodworth and Barry McMahon talk about why epidemic diseases leap from animals to humans, and how the destruction of intact habitats is increasing the frequency and virulence of pandemics
A big gap follows, which I'll fill in shortly, back to 2018:
It was really interesting to participate in two symposia, just a few days apart, on how artists respond to environmental issues. One was the Olivier Cornet Gallery discussion on artists and climate change, the other was at Siamsa Tire, based around the artists of the INSITES/ÓN CEAPACH exhibition, who all engage not only with the environment, but with people who live and work in jobs often at the sharp end of environmental questions, like farming and turf extraction.
One of the most challenging things I've done in recent years was to participate in a panel reflecting on Brian Maguire's brilliantly disturbing show, 'War Changes its Address', at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, which portrays the devastation caused by the wars in Syria. I was especially impressed with the remarkable contribution of Giath Taha, a Syrian photographer who documented revolutionary fighters in the city before the Islamists moved in (2012-14), and juxtaposed his images with anti-heroic quotations from George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. Brave work, and utterly heart-breaking.
The video of the LH PRISM Invasive Species Summit at New York Botanical Gardens, including my keynote presentation on the relationship between ecological restoration and the elimination of alien invasive plants, (see below), is now live here.
And following that presentation, Kim Eierman, the founder of EcoBeneficial, has done two podcasts with me on ecological restoration issues, the first of which can be heard here, and the second here.
I spoke at a conference organised by Trinity Politics Society and DU Hispanic Society in November 2017: "Catalonia in Context: Independence or Unity?" My theme is Trumping Democracy: How two nationalisms fuel Spain's Catalan crisis. Read More...
How can the confrontation between Catalan and Spanish nationalists be peacefully resolved? And can ecological restoration deliver in the face of global change and the challenge of scaling up? Also, the magic of a marsh, a five-day field trip into Brazil's Pantanal, finding giant otters, pigmy kingfishers, and horned screamers...Most recent articles and blog
I gave a keynote address at the LH PRISM Invasive Species Summit in New York Botanical Garden on Nov 3rd. My title was Removal is not (usually) enough! The vital role of ecological restoration in keeping landscapes free of invasive alien plants. I argued that, while current rates of global change are indeed very challenging, the keys to successful restoration and the permanent elimination of invasive plants are now in the hands of engaged communities -- as long as they can persuade their societies to commit sufficient resources to do the job properly. The event was very well attended, and there were great contributions from Kristy King, Art Gover, Jessica A.Schuler and Tate Bushell, with a very high level of discussion from the public. I was delighted, needless to say, that my book sold out on the day. Read more
I spoke at the symposium entitled "At the nexus of wetland restoration and climate adaptation: Trade-offs, targets, and trajectories"at the World Conference of the Society for Ecological Restoration on 28 August in Brazil. Read more
I chaired the twin 'Big Ideas/Big Practice' symposia at the World Conference of the Society for Ecological Restoration on 29 August in Brazil. Read more
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Hannah Hamilton for her patient help in designing this website, and Aaron Bennett of Pixilated Orange Design Studio for his sterling work on my previous site, and making the transition to this one so smooth.