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One hundred years ago a little bird called the corncrake lived in the Phoenix Park, says Niall Hatch, public relations officer with BirdWatch Ireland.
His late grandmother would hear the bird’s rasping call in the park when she was a child, he says.
This brown speckled bird was once synonymous with Irish summer, but due to changes in farming practices is now endangered.
Recent initiatives to support them in the west of Ireland are having some success.
Unfortunately doing that in Dublin city might prove too tricky, says Hatch.
We don’t have the right type of farmland in Dublin these days, he says. “The habitat just isn’t suitable anymore.”
Still, some other animal and bird species that are on the verge of extinction in Dublin could be reintroduced, says Pádraic Fogarty, an ecologist with the Irish Wildlife Trust.
The authorities just need to be more ambitious, says Fogarty. “They need to rewild the Phoenix Park and pretty much every other park in Dublin.”
The Office of Public Works (OPW) manages the Phoenix Park and a spokesperson says it is species rich and home to 50 percent of all Irish animal species.
Calls for More Wildlife
Both the white-tailed sea eagle and the golden eagle used to fly through the skies over Dublin. Wolves roamed on land, and oysters and sturgeon were once found in the region’s waters.
But they’ve all been wiped out in the Dublin region, says Fogarty. “There is an awful lot of nature that should be in the city that isn’t.”
Other critters are not yet extinct but are endangered in the Dublin region. Those include pine martens, red squirrels, Atlantic salmon, trout, European eels, red grouse, bees, basking sharks, and puffins, says Fogarty.
“Climate change is obviously a massive issue but we have big issues from other sources in Dublin too,” says Fogarty.
Those include polluted rivers, commercial overfishing at sea, owners letting their dogs off leashes in the wrong places, and a shortage of wild space for animals to make their habitats.
A spokesperson for the OPW says that the park supports 50 percent of the mammal species found in Ireland and around 35 percent of bird species.
As well as the deer, other animals that live in the park include bats, badgers, foxes, hedgehogs, rabbits, pygmy shrews, house mice, wood mice, and brown rats, says the OPW spokesperson.
It has 351 different plant species, three of which are rare and protected, says the spokesperson. “The park has retained almost all of its old grasslands and woodlands and also has rare examples of wetlands.”
In many parts of the park, the grass is not cut. The park has several semi-natural habitats and a semi-natural woodland near the Furry Glen, an area in the south-west of the park.
Fogarty says that to create natural woodland, the OPW fenced off part of the park to keep the deer out. Normally, they eat everything underneath the trees.
That worked well so the OPW should fence off more parts of the park to continue rewilding, says Fogarty. “There is enormous space there.”
If more of the park was allowed to go wild, natural woodlands would grow up and support more birds, he says.
Every park, and even many housing estates, could aim to give some green space over for rewilding, says Fogarty.
Fogarty says that he sat in the Phoenix Park during the summer and noticed that there were few flying insects around the grass. The grasslands there are “species poor”, he says.
A cheap and straight-forward project, which could help to save the city’s starving bees, would be to scatter native wildflower seeds throughout the Phoenix Park, he says.
A spokesperson for the OPW says it created a wildflower meadow inside the Victorian Walled Garden, but scattering wildflowers all over the park wouldn’t work because the deer would eat the flowers.
“The semi-natural grasslands of the park are rare so we do not introduce new species into these areas,” says the spokesperson.
The grasslands are natural and some are protected. “A rare type of grassland is found on the steep terraces on the south side of the park,” says the spokesperson. “It has numerous colourful wild herbs including the rare and protected plant, hairy violet.”
Another protected grass plant is meadow barley, they say.
Another more ambitious plan that Fogarty says he would like to see is a “green corridor” running through the city for animals to move around.
“There are amazing things you could do if it was seen as a priority,” he says.
“You could have a green corridor coming in the River Liffey into the Phoenix Park and linking the canals all the way to Dublin Bay, so that wildlife could actually move through the city,” he says.
The red squirrel has been all but wiped out by the grey squirrel, he says. But the pine marten is fighting his way back into the city via the Liffey Valley, he says.
If the pine marten got back into the Phoenix Park, he would soon sort out the grey squirrel, says Fogarty. Then “you could have a regeneration project for the red squirrel”, he says.