New Nature Stories

It’s been a long road from Burren Tales to Burren Stories to Nature Stories. Now Nature Stories is moving to its new home and this site will shut down in a few months.

The new home for Nature Stories will be www.irelandsnaturestories.com and I would be very happy if you would drop by for a visit. The site is still under construction but will grow over the coming months and years.

Thank you for sticking with me / us for the past years!

Carsten

Between the Tides, Part 2

Ross

Gut Weed covering the upper shore.

Living conditions and the resulting problems differ greatly throughout the intertidal zone and most plants and animals have adapted to a certain part or zone of the rocky shore habitat. The rocky shore can be divided in either biological zones or physical zones. Biological zones look at the resident flora and fauna and takes its nomenclature from the prevailing colour the rock has been clad in. The orange zone hosts lichen of the orange and yellow kind as well as salt tolerating plants, the black zone is dominated by black tar lichen, the grey zone can be identified by their barnacle and limpet populations and the brown zone is home to the various brown seaweed species.

Physical zones on the other hand are defined by their immersion or emersion time and are measured in meters above CD (chart datum) which is the waterline at the lowest spring tide.

The sublittoral zone sits at the bottom of the shore and always stays under water even at the lowest spring tides. The lower shore only gets uncovered at spring tides, the middle shore is always exposed at low tide and covered at high tide and the upper shore is only immersed at spring tides. The splash zone sits above the highest spring tide water mark and while plants and animals in this zone might get splashed with seawater this zone never gets covered with water.

The splash zone is a good spot to sit down and have a look over the rocky shore before exploring in more detail. In spring this spot is likely to display one of Ireland’s most delightful wildflowers. Thrift, also known as sea pink, is one of the most common coastal plants and can cover roadsides, cliff tops and dune edges in a sea of various shades of pink, some flowers can also go to extremes and be white or an almost crimson red. If necessary single plants are complacent with the tiniest amount of dirt and grow out of narrow crevices or shallow hallows in the rock and are also not an unusual sight on walls. Often close by but far less conspicuous stand rock samphire, the leaves of which have traditionally been pickled or used fresh in salads, and the scurvy grass with its tiny white flowers. The leaves of this perennial are high in vitamin C and before citrus fruit were widely available scurvy grass was a main stable on ships to prevent the disease that gave the plant its name.

Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum)

Rock Samphire

The rocks those flowers are surrounded by are often covered in a colourful and intriguing mantle. Lichens are curious life forms that have been around for some 400 million years. They have been and still sometimes are classified as plants but lichen should rather be described as a community of certain life forms than an individual organism. For a long time it was though that lichens are a simple symbiosis between a fungus and an algae where the fungus provides housing and water for the algae and in return receives food in form of sugars produced by the algae through photosynthesis. Only in recent years it became clear that at least some lichen species consist of more than just one fungus and one algae. Some lichen have a 2nd fungal partner, which is often a yeast, that is thought to be responsible for the structure of the lichen. Many lichen also have cyano- or other bacteria as part of their community for functions like nutrient transfer between the symbionts or defense against outside threats.

Lichen grow very slow but can live a very long time, 100 years or even older is no rarity, and survive in extreme environments. A lichen that was brought to the international space station survived for 15 days in the vacuum of space and regular temperature swings from -12 to +40 degree. Life on a rocky shore must be a holiday in comparison.

Ross

A selection of lichen.

One of the most beautiful sights in the splash zone is sea ivory, a fruticose lichen (lichen with a bushy growth structure), growing alongside the yellow, foliose lichen (lichen with a lobed or leaflike shape) Xanthoria which is commonly known as orange or sunburst lichen. These lichen can cover vast areas of rock and often intermingle with white lichen like Lecanora gangaleoides and  Ochrolechia parella. Telling the different but often very similar looking lichen species apart is more than difficult and more often than not the use of a hand lens or even a microscope is necessary. Further down the shore, on the upper shore and even parts of the middle shore, the black tar lichen and green tar lichen are very common. Both can tolerate some immersion in salt water and often thrive side by side with seaweeds.

Seaweeds are the most obvious rocky shore dwellers and inhabit the complete intertidal zone as well as the shallow sublittoral zone. Seaweeds are part of the algae family which in the widest sense is part of the plant world. Some microalgae, microscopic algae that exist as a single cell or string of cells, are classified as protist which is a fancy way of saying they can’t be put in either the plant or animal kingdom. Seaweeds are classified as macroalgae and while many seaweed species share only a very distant relationship to the land living plants they all share one characteristic: They produce the nutrients they need to grow and survive mainly through photosynthesis.

Ross

Ross

A selection of seaweeds.

This photosynthesis can only take place, as already mentioned, when the seaweed is immersed in water. To catch enough light however most seaweed species have to stay more or less close to the surface which is the reason most seaweeds thrive only in the intertidal or shallow sublittoral zone. Only few species can be found free-floating in the open seas. In order to photosynthesize all seaweeds have chlorophyll in their cells, just like their cousins on dry land, but many seaweeds don’t appear green and some don’t even look anything plant-like. To stay in place most seaweeds anchor themselves with a holdfast, a structure resembling a small plate often with short, root-like fingers. In addition to this mechanical structure seaweeds also secrete an adhesive compound made of polysaccharides and proteins.

As seaweeds are the only plants around they are the only food choice for all the grazing animals on the shore. To avoid being constantly nibbled on some seaweeds have developed chemical warfare and can produce anti-grazing compounds like tannin and terpenes which makes them unpalatable. But not only that. Seaweeds can also warn their neighbours of potential attacks by periwinkles and other grazers. Like trees and other land based plants seaweeds also can communicate with each other.

Seaweeds are separated into three groups: Red seaweeds, green seaweeds and brown seaweeds. The red seaweeds can be found mainly on the lower shore and can be traced back some 1.2. billion years which makes them the oldest seaweed group around. Their red colour comes from the pigments phycocyanin & phycoerythrin which allows them to photosynthesize at the low light levels that regularly occur on the lower shore. Common species are the Irish moss, also known as carragheen and the pepper dulse. Also a part of the red seaweeds are the corallines like the coral weed and pink paint weed. Both integrate calcium carbonate into their cell walls which hardens their structure. While coral weed still has a seaweed-like appearance the pink paint weed is an encrusting seaweed and forms a continuous and colourful cover on the rock surface which can range from almost white to a deep pink.

Ross

Thongweed

Green seaweeds have chlorophyll B as their second pigment which gives them the green colour we expect from plants. It is not surprising then that green seaweeds are very closely related to land plants and most species thrive in freshwater far away from the coast. The most common of the few marine species are the various sea lettuce species and gut weed which are both the main food source of the rocky shore grazers. Unlike their red and brown cousins green seaweeds don’t produce any ant-grazing compounds which makes them an easy meal.

The youngest of the seaweeds, they only developed some 200 million years ago, are the brown seaweeds. They contain fucoxanthin and chlorophyll C to give them their brownish appearance. The brown seaweeds are the big seaweeds, the likes of the wracks and the kelps that mainly thrive in colder and nutrient rich waters like the north Atlantic.

Apart from their size and colour the brown seaweeds show a major difference to the reds and greens on a cellular level. The chloroplast is the part of a plant cell that conducts photosynthesis. It is thought that once upon a time an early plant cell engulfed a free living cyanobacterium which then became the host’s chloroplast, a partnership known as endosymbiosis. The chloroplasts of the red and green seaweeds have two membranes. The chloroplasts in brown seaweed however have four membranes, two from the original cyanobacterium and another two from the host cell. Brown seaweeds must at some stage of their evolution have engulfed a cell that already contained a chloroplast, for example a red or green seaweed cell.

The best known of the brown seaweeds are the various wrack species. The previously mentioned channel wrack spends the majority of its life out of water and has a fungal partner to help tolerate this emersion. Bladder wrack adapt their bladders, which helps the seaweed float upright underwater, helping them exchange gases and absorb nutrients when submerged, to the living conditions on their particular shore. Bladder wrack on exposed shores with strong wave action have smaller and fewer bladders than their relatives on sheltered shorelines. Egg wrack is one of the longest living seaweeds and reach an age of up to 25 years. Other brown seaweeds common on rocky shores are spiraled wrack, serrated wrack, oarweed, thong weed and sugar kelp which gets its name from the sugars forming its surface when being dried.

Although seaweeds have been used as food and for medicine since the stone age, kelp for example has long been used as source for iodine, carragheen is known for its anti-viral properties and use as a thickening agent and dried pepper dulse is widely used as a spice in Scotland, they only recently regained their recognition as superfood in the modern western society.

Ross Tidal Pools

Common Limpets

While some rocky shore inhabitants are happy to seek shelter in and under the carpet of seaweed others feel safer in a rock pool, an indentation in the rock surface that holds seawater and the inspiration for Phillip Henry Gosse (1810-1888) to build the first seawater aquarium. The size of these pools varies considerably, some are mere puddles, others can be the size of a swimming pool. Living conditions in this micro habitat resembles that of the lower shore and sublittoral zone. There is however one major difference. Living conditions in a rock pool can change rapidly. As already mentioned the often considerable variations in salinity can prove deadly for some animals. The salinity fluctuations often go hand in hand with rising water temperature and changes in the PH level of the water, all adding to the struggle of the rock pool dwellers. The normal PH of sea water is between 7.6 and 8.4. If there are seaweeds present in the pool they, during the day, use the CO2 in the water and exhale O2 which increases the PH level. In shallow pools with a lot of seaweed this process becomes visible in the form of bubbles, the O2 the plant produces during photosynthesis. In the night the process reverses, the seaweed expires CO2 and the PH goes back down to normal levels. While this PH shift rarely has any life altering consequences in the rock pools because it balances itself out we currently see a similar process in the oceans as a reaction to the ever increasing CO2 levels in the air. Much of the CO2 in the air is being absorbed by the oceans and reacts with the seawater to form carbonic acid which lowers the PH and in extreme scenarios would render the oceans’ PH neutral or slightly acidic. This ocean acidification unfortunately has some dire effects on calcifying organisms. These plants and animals will no longer be able to build and maintain their shells or skeletons and eventually perish. The first signs of this process have been seen in recent years as the coral bleaching events in the tropical zones around the equator. Should this process continue it is not unlikely that Ireland’s coralline algae, the vast shellfish population and any organism that relies on the production of calcium carbonate structures will also be affected.

Rocky Shore

Common Limpets, Periwinkles and other members of the shore community.

One of those shellfish and part of the mollusk family that face an uncertain future is the ubiquitous common limpet. Limpets, like many of their relatives, are made of a head that contains tentacles, eyes and the radula, a muscular foot and a visceral mass that houses the animals organs and is covered by a mantle which is not only connected to the shell but also grows it. The most interesting of those body parts is the radula, effectively a ribbon-like tongue spiked with countless teeth made of goethite, an iron-based mineral and one of the strongest materials on earth. Limpets and the majority of the rocky shore molluscs are grazers. This doesn’t mean they are munching on seaweeds; they are rather scraping up the biofilm that covers the rock and which consists of micro-algae, algae spores and cyanobacteria. The main grazing time for limpets is at night when the tide is out. During the day and at high tide limpets stay put in their personal parking space. This spot is tailormade to fit the limpet’s shell. To get the perfect fit the limpet either grinds away at the rock until it fits its shell or grows its shell to fit the rock surface. Having this home base means the limpet has to return to this particular spot after every grazing session. For a long time it was thought that limpets just follow their own trail back to get home. Studies however have shown that this is not the case. Limpets have no fixed grazing pattern and take different routes every day. Experiments have shown that they even find their way home when the surface around their home base is being changed during their absence which speaks for a certain amount of topographical awareness. A surprising ability considering limpets don’t have a brain.

Common Limpet (Patella Vulgata), County Clare, Ireland, August

What limpets are well known for is their ability to cling on to the rocky surface of their habitat. This is done with the beforementioned muscular foot and a very special mucus compound that can be switched from lubricant (when on the move) to superglue (when in danger from predators) in seconds. When clinging on isn’t enough limpets have another, rather unexpected defense that works especially well against starfish. This technique is known as mushrooming: The limpet brings up its shell and at the right moment, when the starfish is trying to get to the limpet’s body, the shell is brought down hard on the starfish’s arm or arms. This hurts and in most cases scares the predator away.

Another member of the limpet family that is often overlooked due to its size is the blue-rayed limpet. This tiny animal lives exclusively on kelp on which it also feeds. What makes it stand out is its unique colouring: The shell is somewhat kelp-coloured with a translucent quality and features kingfisher-blue, broken, parallel lines along its back.

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

Images & Text Copyright by Carsten Krieger

Fridays for Future

CKP_Landscape_Clare_06012014-2

Tomorrow, Friday 20th September, will see the start of a week long global protest against the inactivity of governments to act against climate change. My son got involved in the Fridays for Future movement, which was started a bit over a year ago by Swedish student Greta Thunberg, during the summer and is trying his best to get the message out. If you are on Instagram check out jonahtheclimateactivist.

As part of my work I have been involved with conservation groups for many years. Progress was always slow and success little but right now it feels we have reached a crossroad and there is just no time left for slow progress and little steps. Over the past 100 years, which is not even a blink in Earth’s history, we have changed this planet beyond recognition. We destroyed habitats, polluted the land and the oceans, changed the atmosphere and triggered an event we still don’t fully understand. We are not only witnessing a changing climate, we are also in the middle of a mass extinction event of a global scale. And still we are living to the rule of political and personal agendas and short sighted egotism.

Loop Head

A few weeks ago my son and me attended the launch of the Irish Climate Action Plan 2019 in Limerick. It was a not completely unexpected but nevertheless shocking experience in the wake of which I wrote this letter to Ireland’s minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Richard Bruton:

Dear Minister,

My 14 year old son and myself attended the launch and discussion of the Climate Action Plan 2019 at Tait House in Limerick on 6th September. We were both hopeful to engage and witness a meaningful discussion on the problems Ireland and the rest of the world are facing and what everybody, including the Irish government, could do about it.

Unfortunately as so often in the political arena the event turned into a farce and left not only my son and me but most, if not all, of the attendees utterly frustrated and disillusioned. My son’s first words, close to tears, after we had left Tait House were: “We are all screwed.”

Minister Bruton, on your website you state “A transformation in Communications, Climate Action and the Environment will define this century. We either lead or we follow. I am determined that we aim to become leaders exploiting the opportunities of the technological revolution and a sustainable society. We have a lot of ground to make up. I hope we can engage every citizen in the challenge.” However during the meeting at Tait House it was hard to believe that these sentences came from you. While the attending citizens were engaged, concerned and critical, you came across as the absolute opposite. Answering to the majority of the questions and comments directed at you with “We will look into it in the future.”, “This is not my responsibility.” and “There isn’t endless money available.” is the behaviour that unfortunately more and more people expect from a career politician and shows not only a lack of respect for the people that elected you into your position but also a shocking ignorance of the situation.

“We will look into it in the future.” will be too late. Climate change, plastic pollution and habitat destruction is happening now, this very moment. I have been living in Ireland for 17 years and changes in weather patterns, nature and wildlife have become obvious, especially over the past 6 years. Overall it has become windier, winters have become wetter with more frequent extreme weather events like spot flooding, prolonged dry spells and violent storms. Insect populations have noticeably declined. For example some 10 years ago it was easy to find the caterpillar of the cinnabar moth on ragwort, the flowers were covered with the black and orange striped animals. I have always let a part of my garden grow wild and for the past 2 years I haven’t seen one caterpillar despite having a lot of flowering ragwort. The curlew, one of Ireland’s most enigmatic birds, is following the corncrake into extinction due to habitat loss caused mainly by modern farming practise. The list could go on and all of this is happening now and needs to be addressed now. Not in the future.

“This is not my responsibility.” is simply not acceptable coming from the person with the title Minister for Communication, Climate Action and Environment. I understand that the workload is enormous and that it will take a number of individuals and organisations to make the changes necessary but it is your job to oversee these changes and take responsibility. If you, the Minister for Communication, Climate Action and Environment, doesn’t feel responsible then who will and how can you expect the citizens of Ireland to take responsibility and make changes?

“There isn’t endless money available.” is a phrase that is always heard when it comes to environmental issues or pay issues related to nurses, gardai and other frontline occupations. Surprisingly I never heard it when comes to ministers’ pay rises and expenses and building projects that go over budget. Be this as it may some changes can actually be made without additional cost to the state: Stop mowing road verges and roundabout islands and declare them a protected wildflower habitat. Ban the use of pesticides and herbicides for private households. Bring in legislation that reduces plastic packaging. Not every fruit or vegetable needs to be wrapped up and there are also alternatives like cardboard and biodegradable materials. Ban double packaging (e.g. cardboard box wrapped in plastic) and force retailers to take back packaging for recycling (the latter has been a law in Germany for almost 20 years and has helped reducing packaging). Introduce a deposit system for plastic bottles and cans like it is standard in other countries. Many citizens would support this but these kind of changes have to come from government level. Ireland has led the way some years ago with introducing the smoking ban, so why is it a problem now to lead the way?

I am also sure that many citizens, like myself, would opt for hybrid or electric cars, install solar panels and green heating systems, but simply can’t afford it despite government grants. Ireland might be a rich country like you mentioned during the event, but most of its people aren’t. Why not make green cars more affordable like for example Norway does? Why not allow people interest free loans to transform their homes to green energy and accept any extra electricity that these private homes put back into the grid as repayment for these loans?

Finally what shocked me the most was this statement you gave during the event: “Ireland is and will be for a long time dependent on fossil fuels.” This very much contradicts the statement on your website mentioned earlier. There are numerous studies that suggest Ireland is in a unique position to be a leading producer and exporter of green energy through wave and tidal applications. However the development of these energy sources isn’t properly supported by the state. To my knowledge a testing site in Galway Bay lies mainly idle and other proposed sites off the Mayo and Clare coast haven’t been developed.

As I said at the beginning, the event at Tait House and your attitude towards the problems we are facing has left not only me desperate and frustrated. Climate change, plastic pollution and habitat destruction are problems bigger than the time span to the next election but as long as people like yourself keep handling these issues in the usual ignorant and short sighted political way we are indeed all screwed.

Kind regards,

Carsten Krieger

Not unexpected I didn’t get a reply.

Also not unexpected the ministry of Communications, Climate Action and Environment confirmed that some aspects of the Climate Action Plan 2019 are unrealistic and won’t be met.

Also not unexpected… we are screwed unless we take action ourselves and protesting is one of the actions we can take.

Please support #WeekForFuture 20. – 27. September 2019 across Ireland and across the world.

The Perfect Storm, Loop Head

 

#weekforfuture #climatechange #fridaysforfuture

 

 

Between the Tides, Part 1

 

Ross

Evening light and incoming tide at the cove.

I am standing on the cliff top overlooking the small cove. Its western end is protected by towering rock sheets that, over a few million years, have been raised to an almost vertical position. Parts of the sheets have been torn open more recently by the forces of the Atlantic Ocean and now a small sea cave extends into the rock. The eastern end of the cove seems to have been tortured considerably more by the waters of the Atlantic. Low lying rock platforms are overlooked by narrow rock towers and twisted cliffs. Caves,  tunnels, blow holes and deep pools have been sculpted into these cliffs. The petrified remains of sand volcanoes and ripples that flowing water left on the bottom of an ancient river bed reveal the ancient origins of the rock.

A path and an artificial ramp, built for the filming of the Hollywood classic Ryan’s Daughter, lead to the bottom of the cove. Here it becomes clear that the cliffs that encircle the head of the cove are not made of solid rock but consist of clay and rocks of various sizes. Lumps of clay at the bottom of the cove and sagging parts of the cliff top state the obvious: These soft cliffs are being eroded away with every spell of rain and every gust of wind that comes in from the north Atlantic. Just below the cliffs the eastern half of the cove is covered with a boulder beach. Hundreds of hefty rocks, rounded and smoothed by water, cover the underlying rock platforms that stretch out into the bay and become visible where the boulder beach ends. On the other side of the cove the boulders are missing and sculpted and terraced rock dominates the scene. In the far eastern corner the Atlantic has managed to drill a canal into the rock that disappears under the soft cliffs und underlying rock only to reappear a few meters inland where a sinkhole has formed.

The rock platforms in the center of the cove are covered in seaweeds and dotted with rock pools of different size and depth. Massive rocks dislodged from the cliffs at the entrance of the bay and thrown onto the shore are a brutal reminder of the violent storms that hit this coast on a regular basis. It is a place that never fails to amaze me. First it’s only a kaleidoscope of colours, shapes and textures, beautiful in its own right. A closer look reveals a microcosmos of life and death, struggle and survival. It is Ireland’s most fascinating habitat: The rocky shore.

I have been visiting this particular cove for almost a decade and have been watching its inhabitants going about their daily business. All the images in this and the following posts have been made on this little stretch of rock, between the tides

Ross

Rough seas at the cove.

If there is one truly wild place left in Ireland it is its coast. Ireland boasts over 3000 kilometers of coastline, the majority of which is made of rock, mainly shale, sandstone and limestone. This rock comes in a variety of shapes. The most eye-catching of those are the sheer cliffs that rise vertically out of the sea, can reach heights of several hundred meters and in places have been sculpted into pillars, arches and caves. As a habitat these rock faces are home to a variety of seabirds. Over the summer months these colonies with many thousand individuals transform the rock into a busy bird metropolis. In autumn the birds leave and the cliffs return to their quiet and barren state. Other varieties of the rocky shore however are keeping busy all year round. Where the rock is gently sloping into the sea or low lying rock platforms are regularly engulfed and released by the tides life is teeming under and above the water. These kind of rocky shores are one of the most crowded habitats imaginable. Especially the intertidal zone hosts a staggering variety of plants and animals with a population density comparable to the tropical rainforest.

Ross

A rocky shore still life.

This is an ever changing and rough environment full of challenges. The first challenge the rocky shore inhabitants face is the power of the waves when they meet the shore. The force of this wave power depends on a number of factors like the depth of offshore water, fetch (the expanse of open water before it meets a shoreline), aspect (the direction the shore faces), and position (the layout of coastal features). The worst case scenario in Ireland is a west or north facing shore without any protecting headland. The vast extend and the deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean combined with regular low pressure systems can create massive waves that can hit the shore with a power of up to 30 tons/square meter. On the other end of the scale are the rocky shores of the east coast, ideally situated inside a bay which is protected by headlands or a reef. The variations between these two extremes of an exposed and a sheltered rocky shore are of course numerous. The prevailing fauna and flora has adapted to these variations and has come up with tailormade and very interesting solutions to avoid being crushed to death on the rocks or being swept away by waves.

An even greater danger than crashing waves however comes with the tides. Twice each day the inhabitants of any rocky shore are being exposed to sun and wind and then being covered again by seawater. The movement of the seawater is of course mainly caused by the moon with the further away sun lending a helping hand. The gravitational forces of the moon and sun pull on our planet’s oceans and move these vast amounts of water. Roughly twice each month, when the moon is full or new and aligned with the sun, spring tides occour. At spring tide’s high water is higher and low water is lower than the remainder of the month and subsequently a wider area of the shore is exposed at low tide and covered at high tide. The spring tides are at their greatest at the equinoxes in March and September and at their weakest at the solstices in June and December. The ‘spring’ in spring tide has nothing to do with the season but has its origin in the old Anglo-Saxon language where the word springam meant ‘to rise’. The rest of the month the moon and sun sit at approximately right angles and their gravitational forces oppose each other causing smaller tides known as neap tides.

Barnacles

Barnacles exposed at low tide.

Most rocky shore dwellers are built for life under water, they breathe through gills and the concentration of their internal fluids is the same as that of the seawater surrounding them. Water can pass freely in and out and all is good as long as the plant or animal is immersed in water. The moment the plant or animal is emersed it loses water through evaporation and is in danger of dying from dehydration and, if it is not able to extract oxygen from the air, suffocation. The latter obviously doesn’t apply to plants. Those however face another problem: The plants of the intertidal zone, the seaweeds, can only photosynthesize when they are covered with water. Yet another problem that comes with immersion and emersion are temperature fluctuations. Under water the temperature is more or less constant no matter the time of day or year. Out of the water however temperatures can reach boiling point on a dark rock surface on a clear summer day or can go below freezing in winter.

Rocky Shore

A collection of seaweeds on the middle shore.

Ross

A sunlit rockpool.

One solution to the problem of dehydration, and the one that most rocky shore inhabitants capable of locomotion use, is to hide under seaweed, in rock crevices or rock pools, anywhere some moisture and shade remain after the tide has gone out and wait for the water to return. The safety of a rock pool is however deceptive. Variations in water salinity can be substantial. Average sea water salinity along Ireland’s shores is 3.5%. In rock pools this can rise to around 9% when wind and high air temperatures increase evaporation or drop to around 0.5% when rain or run-off from nearby fields add freshwater to the pool. Osmoconformer, animals like the acorn barnacle or common mussel that can control their internal fluids, are able to cope with these fluctuations. For stenohaline animals like anemones that have no control over their internal fluids, this can be lethal. An anemone stranded in a pool with decreasing salinity will involuntarily take on water and eventually burst.

Ross

Beadlet anemones in a rock pool.

Another solution to the dehydration problem is having a shell. A shell protects from evaporation and the space between the body and the shell, known as mantle cavity, can be used to store water which keeps the body moist and is a source of oxygen. Seaweeds unfortunately have no protection mechanisms against temperature fluctuations and evaporation and simply have to cope with the fact. Some do this better than others, the channel wrack for example can tolerate 95% of water loss and fully recover after 20 minutes immersion.

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

Images & Text Copyright by Carsten Krieger

Ireland isn’t Green…

Hay Meadow

Species rich Hay Meadow in the Burren National Park.

I came across this on Instagram @irelandisntgreen. It is one of those stories that just leaves you scratching your head wondering what is going on.

The person who runs this Instagram page was cycling the Waterford Greenway and noticed a consistent strip of dead vegetation on both sides of the Greenway and bigger patches around signposts and rest areas where weedkiller had obviously been used. After being confronted Waterford County Council supplied this information (taken from the Ireland Isn’t Green Instagram page):

1. The whole length of the Greenway was sprayed to a width of 300mm. The Greenway is 46 km long. Both sides were sprayed.
2. The Greenway is sprayed along the verges as little as possible but it is seen as necessary to stop vegetation going onto the Greenway and impeding users.
3. Strimming of verges is not a viable option.
4. There is an environmental policy in place for the Greenway and the importance of wild flowers and pollinators is part of that.
5. The Council are planning to install information boards to tell visitors about the flora of the Greenway.
6. It’s not known what type of weedkiller was used.

It is obvious that policies and actions don’t match and unfortunately this is only one example of many that can be found across the whole country. It is a positive to have environmental policies in place but unless those policies are followed accordingly by actions those policies are useless.

Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)

Undisturbed roadside with Purple Loosestrife and Honeysuckle in West Clare and managed fields in the background.

In this particular case I would like to know the reasons why it is thought spraying is necessary in the first place. The Greenway is frequented by cyclists and walkers neither of which would be impacted by tall grasses and wildflowers at the road margins. Over the past few decades road margins, boundary- and field-walls have become a major refuge for those wildflowers that once had been part of the species rich hay meadow flora. Yet instead of protecting this habitat it is being strimmed and sprayed into oblivion under the ‘health and safety’ pretext. I understand that in some cases it is actually necessary to keep vegetation under control, e.g. road junctions, but in most scenarios the strimming and spraying is done under the now ill informed tradition to keep things tidy.

Ireland has declared a Climate Emergency, environmental policies are in place and most people are aware that we are at the threshold of destroying what is left of the native flora and fauna and the countryside that goes with it. What must happen now is actually changing habits and behaviour. But this not only has to happen in everybody’s household and garden, government and county councils must lead the way.

Red Clover (Trifolium Pratense)

Red Clover in my own, rather unmanaged, garden.

 

Images & text Copyright by Carsten Krieger

Another New Beginning

Lough Bunny

Lough Bunny

After a one year hiatus I have decided to pick up the pieces and try to make this blog work by myself. Burren Tales will become Nature Tales although many of the stories will still take place in the limestone karst of the Burren.

While the Burren is one of Ireland’s foremost nature spots, it is only one of many. There is the nearby Shannon Estuary or the wild mountain areas of the south-west, the wide blanket bogs of the west and the raised bogs of the midlands to name but a few.

I will also merge Nature Tales with my more photography related blog Ireland in Pictures so hopefully I will manage to put out regular posts in the future.

The first story is almost ready to be revealed so watch this space.

Carsten

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)

Grey Heron at the Shannon Estuary

Bloom, Burren, Bloom!

INTRODUCTION

The Burren has begun to bloom. The apex of the blooming period will be mid-May to mid-June. The Burren wild flower extravaganza is one of Europe’s great annual natural history events. The grey limestone pavement landscape in winter is transformed in early summer into a mosaic of wild plants with origins in different climatic zones in the world.

 Here are five plants I found in the coastal Burren townland of Ballyryan on the 2nd of May this year.

SPRING GENTIAN

Spring Gentian (Gentiana Verna)

The unofficial symbol of the Burren region. A plant with a short stem and five brilliant blue petals. A metallic blue. They say no photograph can do full justice to the plant. Best seen with the naked eye. 

It is a rare wild flower in the north of Europe.  Spring Gentian grows in a few scattered  limestone localities in the west of Ireland.  Teesdale in England is the only other region where it is found in Northern Europe. 

The gentian is one of the earliest flowers of the year. My colleague Mary Howard recorded it for the first time this year on St Patrick’s Day – the 17th of March. 

An Illryian king, Gentiana, is credited with first identifying the medicinal use of the flower. In the past the folk belief was that death would follow if the flower were picked. It was also believed that if an individual brought the gentian indoors he or she would be struck by lightning.

COWSLIP

Cowslip (Primula veris)

The cowslip is one of three primulas which grow in the Burren and Ireland. The other two are the primrose and the false oxlip. “Slip” is an old English term for dung . Anywhere the cow lifted its tail in the past, one could find the cowslip. However, that was before the advent of agri-chemicals. The cowslip has now been eradicated from most of the fertile lowlands of Ireland due to “techno-farming”. 

The Burren  winterage land, (the land whereto the cattle are transferred from November to April each year), remains a stronghold of the cowslip thanks to the light grazing and the absence of chemicals. Cowslips on farmland are an indicator of “sympathetic” agriculture.

Bealtaine was a great agricultural festival  in Ireland with pre-Christian origins. The festival took place at the start of May and it is still celebrated in Ireland to a limited extent today. One of the many rituals that took place on Mayday in the past was the rubbing  of cows’ udders with cowslips to protect the milk.

Reference – Mac Coitir, Niall. Irish Wild Plants Myths, Legend and Folklore, The Collins Press, 2006.

COMMON SCURVYGRASS

Scurvy Grass (Cochlearia officinalis)

Common Scurvygrass is a coastal plant. It is a member of the cabbage family. The plant is rich in Vitamin C and was used by sailors in the past on long voyages.  Sailors suffered from Vitamin C deficiency due to lack of consumption of citrus fruits which would have rotted on long journeys.  The deficiency causes a disease called scurvy. Today the plant is used in herbal medicine as an antidote to skin irritation, canker sores, gum disease and nosebleeds.  

Scurvygrass is found all around the coast of Ireland –  thriving on the salty soil and the lashings of salt spray from  the sea.

 The plant’s name in Irish/Gaelic is biolartrá which translates at strand cress. Scurvygrass is small and cress-like. The cress is another plant of the cabbage family.

MOUNTAIN AVENS

Mountain Avens (Dryas octopetala)

This is my first sighting of the plant this year. The avens looks like a poached egg and almost always has eight petals…hence Octopetala  in its name in Latin. 

Mountain avens is of Arctic origin and is the national symbol of Iceland.  Remarkably It grows in the Burren alongside orchids originally from warmer, southern climes.  The plant has a limited distribution in Ireland and Great Britain.

The flower tends to carpet the landscape extravagantly. It was Robert Llloyd Praeger, the outstanding 20th century naturalist, who said: “He who has viewed the thousands of acres of the Arctic-alpine plant in full flower on the limestone of the Burren region of Clare, from hill-top to sea level , has seen one of the loveliest sights that Ireland has to offer”.

Reference – Praeger, Robert Lloyd. The Botanist in Ireland,  Hodges,Figgis  & Co., 1934.

BIRD’S FOOT TREFOIL

Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria)

“The Father of Burren botany”, Frederick Foot, first recorded bird’s foot trefoil in the 1860s. An eclectic plant and thus very widespread in the Burren – home on high ground and at sea level , on damp ground and dry…. Foot said that it is “to be met with in every direction”. 

Bird’s foot trefoil is a member of the pea family. The pea pods resemble the feet of a bird. Hence bird’s foot in English or crobh éin (bird’s foot) in Gaelic. The name is in part misnomer as the plant is not trefoil (three leaved). It is so named as three of the five leaves are most prominent. 

The lemon-coloured flowers with red streaks are a striking aspect on the landscape. One of its folk names in the U.K is bacon and eggs.

The flower provides nectar and pollen to the caterpillar of the Common Blue Butterfly and also the adult.
It is used in natural medicine as an anti-spasmodic and a sedative. It is also used as a tonic for the heart.

Words by Tony Kirby / Images by Carsten Krieger