When asked why he wanted to climb Everest, George Mallory reportedly replied: “Because it’s there”.
Asked why she has taken on the almost equally daunting challenge of clearing the rubbish from her local beaches, and from the sea beyond them, 10-year-old Flossie Donnelly takes a similar approach:
“I go crabbing in rock pools in Sandycove with my mummy and we see rubbish and we pick it up. I go swimming and see rubbish in the sea, so I dive and take it out.”
She first became aware of rubbish in the sea when kayaking in Thailand. “It’s a beautiful country, but there is an awful lot of plastic in the water. We filled a whole kayak with rubbish on our first day out. I hate to see the same thing building up in Ireland, so I want to help stop it.”
This article appeared in The Irish Times on 4 December, 2017. Read full version here.
Video of my presentation at NY Botanical Garden Summit on alien invasive plant management goes live today
I gave the keynote address on alien invasive plant management at the very well attended Lower Hudson PRISM Summit on 3 November. You can see a video of the presentation, and the whole summit, here.
In summary, I argued that the poorly conceived 'novel ecosystem' theory has led to the popular notion that 'invasive plants will save nature' (Fred Pearce). This is scientifically false and undermines sound conservation policy; but I also argued that 'removal alone is not enough' , that ecological restoration is the best way to cope with the challenge, and that the new International Standards published by SER provide the best restoration guidance currently available.
There are two particularly troubling aspects to the ongoing crisis in Spain over the status of Catalonia.
The first is the re-emergence of what the Spanish call pensamiento único, or monolithic thinking, throughout the Madrid media. You can hardly find a single voice, with the very honourable exception of Iñaki Gabilondo’s video commentaries in El Pais, that demurs from the sole acceptable political line: the only cause of the crisis is the refusal by ornery Catalans to accept the constitution and the rule of law.
A similar media orthodoxy ruled for many years regarding the Basque conflict. The circumstances today in Catalonia are, mercifully, very different.
But the effect is the same: a blocking of the kind of open discourse that might resolve the conflict. Instead, messy and plural complexities are repeatedly reduced in Madrid to a comforting binary simplicity that Orwell might have appreciated: “Constitution good, Catalan nationalism bad.”
This article appeared in The Irish Times on 20 November, 2017. Read it here.
A native oak woodland in process of restoration -- Ballygannon People's Millennium Forest, Avonmore Valley, Co Wicklow. Photo: Paddy Woodworth
“Forest” may be a rather overblown word for most of our woodlands. Ireland has the sad distinction of being the least forested state in the EU, with only 10 per cent woodland cover. Only one tenth of that lies under diverse native broadleaf trees; the rest is monocultural conifer plantation.
Caoine Cill Cháis, with its haunting lines evoking lost “hazel, holly and berry”, is still sometimes quoted to blame our colonisers as the sole culprits for deforestation. But we have been clearing trees since the Stone Age; and we were still destroying priceless remnants of ancient forests decades after independence.
Happily, public opinion today has a much greater appreciation of the ecological, health and social benefits of native woodlands, and the rich pleasures of walking under varied and seasonally changing woodland canopies.
This article appeared in The Irish Times on 11 November, 2017. Read it here.
It’s natural to think of winter in Ireland as the season when nature pulls down the blinds. Light fades, leaves fall, vegetation withers and swallows fly south. Natural, but quite wrong for birds. This is the time of maximum abundance for waterfowl – swans, geese and ducks – and spectacular wading birds like curlew and sandpipers.
And these species are remarkably easy to see at almost any estuary, often very near our cities. You can see both wildfowl and waders in very large numbers at the North Bull Island in Dublin, for example, and from half a dozen sites in the Cork Harbour area.
Winter is also the time when some of our largest and most dramatic birds of prey roost together in quite large numbers, sometimes with elaborate pre-roosting flight displays, or are more easily spotted while hunting than in the summer.
This article appeared in The Irish Times on 10 October, 2017. Access full article and images here.
The spectre of the Franco dictatorship has quietly haunted Spain since his death 42 years ago next month. His legacy loomed over the Spanish-Catalan crisis long before many claimed to see the old general’s ghost in Barcelona two weeks ago, inspiring the Spanish police to assault Catalan voters at polling booths.
Undoubtedly some recent accusations from Catalan nationalists (and the Spanish left) about the return of Francoism have been outrageously exaggerated. Franco’s police were, routinely, infinitely more savage than their counterparts in Catalonia on October 1st.
But dog whistles from conservatives in Madrid, attuned to Francoist nostalgia among their voters, have also inflamed the Catalan bonfire. Last week, a government spokesman appeared to threaten the Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, with the same fate as Lluís Companys. The latter was a democratic leader, tortured and executed by the Francoists in 1940.
And the roots of the current Catalan crisis can be traced back to flaws in the transition from the Franco dictatorship in the late 1970s.
This article was published in The Irish Times on 14 October, 2017; for full text click link below.
The relationship between industrial production and the environment has very rarely been a happy one.
So it comes as an agreeable surprise to find that an international manufacturing company, Intel Ireland, seems to have an active interest in protecting, and even restoring, biodiversity not only on its own site, but in the nearby communities of Leixlip, Celbridge and Maynooth, and even further afield.
“We would love to create a situation in which every employee becomes an advocate for biodiversity,” says Mark Rutherford, the company’s environmental health and safety manager.
This does sound too good to be true. How authentic is this commitment? How much of it is simply the familiar PR effort to put a new green sheen on the same old degrading and destructive industrial practices?
This article appeared in The Irish Times on 14 October, 2017. For full text, click link below
Analysis: The monarch offered no olive branches, only the threat of a bigger stick
This article was published in The Irish Times on 4 October 2017
The restored Spanish monarchy has been warmly supported in the past by many democrats, and even by some republicans, for one very simple reason. They have long believed it is the only glue capable of bonding the fractious national project called Spain after the long dictatorship of Gen Franco.
According to this view, King Juan Carlos, although the dictator’s designated heir, skilfully steered the country towards democracy in the late 1970s. He presented himself as democracy’s front-line defender during the attempted military coup of 1981, when he talked his insurgent military commanders back to barracks.
By the time of the king’s abdication, three years ago, his image had been tarnished by his extravagant private life, which contrasted sharply with the austerity suffered by so many citizens. But many Spaniards invested high hopes in his son, Felipe VI. Indeed, some polls showed a public willingness to entrust him with more powers, to forge consensus among Spain’s increasingly polarised and fragmented political parties.
He now faces the severest test of the monarchy’s unifying role, as the rapidly escalating crisis in Catalonia threatens to break up the Spanish nation state.
Perception of authoritarian government denying gallant small nation right to express itself is widespread
Whatever happens next in Catalonia, the Catalan nationalists’ independence referendum campaign had already proved a significant success, from their own point of view, by Sunday afternoon, regardless of the outcome.
This campaign, and especially Spain’s potentially disastrous response to it, has created a widespread perception that neatly reflects the Catalan nationalists’ favoured narrative.
This can be seen both in much international news coverage, and in the ever more defiant mood of many Catalan citizens on the streets. It is becoming common currency worldwide that an authoritarian, even brutal, central government has denied a gallant small nation the right to express itself democratically and peacefully.
This article was published in The Irish Times on 2 October 2017
Close encounters with toucans, tapirs and even jaguars in the Pantanal, in Brazil
Many years ago, dreaming my way through schooldays with the help of a world map hanging on the classroom wall, the swamp icons clustered in the middle of Brazil caught my eye, again and again. So did the strange names associated with them: Mato Grosso and, where the icons were thickest, Pantanal.
Perhaps somebody told me something about this region, or perhaps it was just the evocative power of those swamp icons, but the Mato Grosso became the quintessential emblem of wildlands, teeming with strange and wonderful creatures, such as the macaw, tapir and toucan, in my mind’s eye.
The facts on the ground, of course, were rather different, even six decades ago. Most of the Mato Grosso, the “Great Scrubland”, has long been transformed to ranchland. You approach the Pantanal (“Great Marshland”) today past the vast slag heaps of a score of gold mines.
This article was published in The Irish Times on 30 September, 2017
Articles & Blog
Articles on the environment; Spanish, Catalan and Basque politics; travel; culture; and other subjects; interspersed with personal reflections and images