Saturday 18 June 2016

Five Island Bioblitz: Part One - Tory Island

Tory Island
Image: Oisin Duffy
Reports are coming in from Ireland about last weekend's Five Island Bioblitz, which proved incredibly successful and attracted huge support from BSBI's Vice County Recorders (VCRs) - no fewer than seven of them were involved in recording on Tory Island alone! 

One of those VCRs is also BSBI's President, John Faulkner. With support like that, it's hardly surprising that botany in Ireland is so vibrant right now and gaining so much media attention

Donegal coastline seen from the ferry
Image: Oisin Duffy
So I asked Mairead Crawford, one of the seven VCRs, to put together a report for News & Views readers, and she very kindly agreed. 

The images which illustrate her report were taken mostly by Oisin Duffy, who shares with Mairead the recordership of the historic vice-county of East Donegal

Over to Mairead: 

Tory Island II
Image: Oisin Duffy
"Tory Island sits off the North-west coast of Donegal, at 14.5km from the mainland, it is Ireland’s furthest offshore island and a 40 minute ferry trip away. 

"It’s approximately 4.5km long by 1.5km wide and is the only island off the coast of Ireland to still have a king! His name is Patsy Dan Rodgers (Patsaí Dan Mac Ruaidhrí) and we all had the pleasure of meeting him.

The Anvil, Tory Island
Image: Oisin Duffy
"For those of you who are unaware of what a BioBlitz is, it is an event in which biological records are collected from a specified area over a specified period of time. 

"This BioBlitz included five islands off the coast of Ireland (Cape Clear, Bere Island, Tory Island, Clare Island and Inis Mór) and was organised by the National Biodiversity Data Centre. The main chunk of recording took place from 12:00 midday on the 11th of June to 12:00 midday on the 12th of June.

Carpets of Bird's-foot Trefoil
Image: Oisin Duffy
"Tory Island is a wonderfully scenic place and is relatively easy to navigate as it only has one road! 

"There are no fully grown trees at all on the island and there are so many rabbits you have to avoid stepping on them.

Common Spotted-orchid
Image: Oisin Duffy
"The habitats on Tory include: shingle, rocky shore, coastal lagoon, heath and cutaway bog, lake shore and grassland (wet, dry and improved).

"There was a healthy population of BSBI botanists on the island: John Faulkner (BSBI President and VCR Armagh), Maria Long (BSBI Irish Officer), John Conaghan (VCR West Galway), Ralph Sheppard (VCR West Donegal) and Oisín Duffy and myself (Joint VCRs East Donegal). Graham Day (VCR Down) was on the island recording earlier in the week.

"A total of 710 species was recorded on the island, 223 of which were plant species. 

Some of the most commonly recorded plants were: Wild Angelica (Angelica sylvestris), Bog pimpernel (Anagallis tenella), Sweet Vernal Grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum), Daisy (Bellis perennis), Heather (Calluna vulgaris), Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis), Glaucous Sedge (Carex flacca), Common Sedge (Carex nigra), Common Spike-rush (Eleocharis palustris), Sea Plantain (Plantago coronopus), Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and Lesser Sprearwort (Ranunculus flammula). 

Image: Oisin Duffy
"Common plants like Bramble (Rubus fruticosus agg.) and Gorse (Ulex europaeus) were hard to find and botanists were sent out on missions to specifically search for these species. Bird’s-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) formed carpets over a lot of the island.

"My botanical highlight of the trip was finding Moonwort (Botrychium lunaria) with Oisín Duffy. There was just one plant that we could see but as it was my first time coming across the species it was a special treat.

Adder's-tongue fern
Image: Maria Long
"Maria Long and John Conaghan came across a large stand of Adder’s Tongue (Ophioglossum vulgatum) on the west of the island. Meadow Thistle (Cirsium dissectum) was also found on the island by Therese Higgins. 

"A few different species of Orchid were recorded: Dactylorhiza fuchsii, D. purpurella, D. kerryensis, and D. maculata subsp. ericetorum. We didn’t manage to find the Scot’s Lovage (Ligusticum scoticum) but you can’t have everything!

"A few public events were held on the island. On Saturday a butterfly and bumblebee walk was led by Oisín Duffy, 3 butterfly species (Painted Lady, Red Admiral and Common Blue) and 1 bumblebee species (Moss Carder Bee) were recorded, a plant walk was led by botanist Therese Higgins and that night a bat walk was led by Tina Aughney but unfortunately not a bat was to be found. 

Elephant hawk-moth
Image: Oisin Duffy
"Early on Sunday morning a dawn chorus was led by Niall Keogh, this was followed by the opening of the moth traps by Ralph Sheppard where this stunning Elephant Hawkmoth was found. 

Opening the moth-trap
Image: Oisin Duffy
"One of the most amazing things about being on Tory Island is hearing the constant calling of the Corncrake, a sound once common in the Irish countryside and now rarely heard. 

"Tory Island is a stronghold for these threatened birds and approximately one sixth of Ireland’s breeding corncrakes live on Tory.

"The atmosphere on Tory was magical and the people were more than friendly. We were honoured to have the King make a speech just before the results were announced. 

"Tory may have lost out in the main award to Bere Island (most species recorded) but won the species richness award by a mile and came second in the running for most conservation species.

Tory Lighthouse 
Image: Oisin Duffy
"While on the island, Oisín and I completed a site for the Irish Plant Monitoring Scheme which is a pilot project run by the National Biodiversity Data Centre. More information can be found here

"I would like to thank the National Biodiversity Data Centre and Úna Fitzpatrick for organising this event. I would also like to thank the people of Tory for welcoming us onto the island and making us feel at home".

Sunset over An Loch O Thoir 
Image: Oisin Duffy
Many thanks to Mairead for telling us all about the Tory Island Bioblitz and I'm delighted to hear that she finally got to see Moonwort - it is a beautiful fern! Here's a great post by ecologist Dan about his lifelong love affair with Moonwort - with some gorgeous photos for Mairead to feast her eyes on! 

Our next Five Island Bioblitz report will come from Clare Heardman, Vice County Recorder for West Cork, who was out recording with her team on Bere Island, winner of the award for most species recorded. Watch this space!

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