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One of the most common trees in Irish hedgerows, woodlands and treelines is the ash. It can grow in a range of soil conditions, though it is not as water-tolerant as the likes of willow and alder, and is an important tree in Irish culture. Sacred to the druids, who would make wands from its straight wood, more recently, its strong shock-absorbent wood has been used to make hurleys, the weapon of choice for one of the fastest sports in Ireland, a well swung ash hurley can propel a sliotar over 150 km per hour. The ash seeds, also called keys for the way they hang in bunches, are eaten by bullfinches, their boughs provide nesting space for several bird species and their canopy is sparse enough to allow light to penetrate to the ground, allowing plants like hazels, dog violet and wild garlic to grow beneath them. Unfortunately ash trees are becoming increasingly threatened by a disease known as ash dieback, which causes the outermost branches to turn black and wither, eventually killing the tree. Resistant varieties are being bred to counter this but it is likely that the disease will take its toll on thousands of ash trees around Ireland.
As we come towards the end of our trail, it can be good to take a look back and think about the range of species that can be found around us and their interconnectedness. Flowers, long meadows and wet areas can support insects, which in turn provide food for birds, mammals and amphibians. Trees, planted accidentally by birds, can grow to shade the areas around them, changing habitats and providing future nesting opportunities and food for those same birds. Even humans rely on the various interactions between biodiversity. Insects pollinate many of our crops, trees give us shelter and draw water up through the ground, and some bird populations prevent us from being overrun with flies. The next time you are out and about in your own area, be it urban or rural, keep an eye out for the vast diversity and complexity of life around you, it is there, sometimes it just takes a closer look to find. Safe travels.
In the moat, you might see large groups of strange looking thin, segmented, green reeds. These are horsetails, part of a family that is over 350 million years old. At their peak, these would have been huge plants, creating the wet forests of the Carboniferous period, where most of our fossil resources originate, some of these ancient habitats are today even referred to as “coal swamps”.
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