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Willsgrove Estate & Country Roads

Willsgrove Estate & Country Roads

To the north east, you can just about make out the tree line that marks the edge of Willsgrove estate, the seat of the Wills family in the 18th and 19th centuries. Estates like this played a role in introducing a variety of species into Ireland. Sometimes the owners would travel to other countries and collect plant species as souvenirs and then cultivate them on their lands, eventually leading to the widespread adoption of planting ornamentals like hydrangeas and lilacs but also had the negative of introducing invasive non-native species, like rhododendron, giant rhubarb and Japanese knotweed, which, though attractive, can outcompete native flora.

 

As you make your way down the road, pay attention to the diversity of species in the hedges on either side of you. Transport corridors like roads and cycleways can act as important bridges between fragmented habitats, giving cover for mammals to move unseen between nesting and foraging grounds and supporting birds and insects with fruits and flowers. As you go along this stretch of country road, watch out for more rugged hawthorn, vetch with its pea-like leaves, and the gnarled bark of the elder tree, along with the addition of some new species on our walk, like the dense thin trunks of young hazel, broad and leafy ferns, and even a few wild raspberry canes here and there.

Fun fact: Ferns are simpler plants than flowers and deciduous trees but are in fact much much older. Ferns first evolved around 360 million years ago, around the same time as conifers, and flowering plants began to appear (only) 200 million years ago.