Migration of this blog

Bog plants, BawnboyI hope to migrate this blog to bluedamseldiscovery.com shortly so with a bit of luck I should be active and interesting.

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Some Killeshandra Meadow Maintenance

   Looking  a bit rough

At this time of year our meadows  are looking a bit tired and old. Gone is the new freshness of spring . Long grass has started to lie, this way and that, and the chaotic impression can put our minds uneasy.

The docks in the meadow at Scoil Bhride national school ,were tall and  flourishing, so I decided to take action. Fortunately they seem to be only in certain sections, perhaps where machinery was during the installation of the septic tank.

dog daisies and docks

Scoil Bhride meadow , docks to the right of the dog daisies

The docks were producing lots of seed so, rather than adding to the seed bank of dock seed in the soil ,I decided to cut down the docks this week, before the seed was shed

 taking the secateurs to the docks

taking the secateurs to the docks




It is possible to pull the docks and thus remove these perennial  plants altogether.

I tried this before the heavy rain we had recently and decided I was so slow that the seed would be shed before I got it finished.


pulling up docks is much easier when the soil is wet

pulling up docks is much easier when the soil is wet

After rain, I found it was a very satisfying feeling, to pull out the long tap root, however, I still  got on and cut down most plants, rather than pull them, so no doubt there will still be docks next year.

We had some assistance  in grass removal this week we hadn’t  invited. A few cattle got in and selectively grazed, ignoring the docks, rushes and thistles of course. This didn’t help with the look of the meadow to the tidy mind !

grass removal and recyling

grass removal and recycling  (The Evidence they left behind)

The yellow rattle had been looking very impressive

massses of yellow rattle

Lots of yellow rattle

The bumblebees were enjoying he yellow rattle as were the meadow browns.

Meadow brown butterfly

Meadow brown butterfly


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Success with yellow rattle

DIY wild flower seed

Nothing is guaranteed when wildflower seed are DIY collected and sown on grassland. This makes me all the more chuffed that I can report a very healthy population of yellow rattle plants now growing in the wildflower garden in the grounds of Scoil Bhríde Killeshandra.

native yellow rattle flower

native yellow rattle flower

 Pupils from Killeshandra National school opening up the sward before sowing the yellow rattle seed

Pupils from Killeshandra National school opening up the sward before sowing the yellow rattle seed December 2014

Unsure as we were , of how well the seed would take, we only prepared and sowed a small area (10mx10m approx). If we manage the grassland correctly now this plant should spread.

Locally gathered

The seed had been gathered, still within the seed head ,in September and October in dry weather. The field I collected from , near Cavan town , had been grazed by horses in the spring which may explain why the flowering of the yellow rattle was probably late. The seed was still there to be collected in September.
To remove the seed from the all seed heads I had gathered, I simply shook them about, it a large closed plastic box. This seemed to do the job fairly well.


Yellow rattle plants ready for seed harvesting

Yellow rattle plants ready for seed harvesting

 Winter work at Scoil Bhride, Killeshandra national school

The seed is relatively large as flower seed goes. It is known that yellow rattle seeds need a time of cold before it can germinate. This means that the seed is sown in the autumn or early winter. The sward needs to be short and open so that seed reaches the soil surface. The pupils of Scoil Bhride, worked with rakes and mattocks , hoes and spades to open up the sward, before scattering the seed.

The seed rattles within the seedhead

The seed rattles within the seed -head


Even in the early stages after germination the yellow rattle parasitizes the neighbouring grass plants. It was noticeable how plants in a large bare patch of soil without grass did less well than those established in grass.



seed starting to swell and germinate

 Yellow rattle seed starting to swell and germinate in February 2015

This parasitism by the yellow rattle is thought to reduce the vigour of the grasses and help increase the diversity of the sward. Since yellow rattle is an annual . It is essential that the conditions are right for germination next spring.

seedling yellow rattle to the left of the snail

seedling yellow rattle ( to the left of the snail)

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Small White Orchid (Pseudorchis albida)

Geopark rarity brings me to my knees.

In order to appreciate the small white orchid it is best to lie down.  So,  I  prostrated myself  before the plant. I did feel that ,despite it’s diminutive size, this orchid also has the same mystical enchantments as the bigger, showier, members of the tribe.  It has a very limited distribution in Ireland and where it does survive it only occurs in low numbers. Added to this is the uncertainty, each June of  just whether the plant will reappear in known sites. Apparently some years it lies dormant. So with these enigmatic qualities it is  not surprising that this wee orchid is on the Irish Red data list of  very rare and endangered plants.


small white orchid (Pseudorchis albida) in Dowra grassland

small white orchid (Pseudorchis albida) in Dowra grassland

Andy King, geopark guide,  and Dowra resident, prepared and led, an orchid day event ,in Dowra on the 14th June.  This included a visit to his own orchid sites.  I am very grateful  to Andy for the opportunity to visit this area at just the right time. Happily the weather could not have been any finer. We were able to see, heath orchids, lesser butterfly orchids early purple orchids,, common tway-blades and small white orchids.  Not to be outdone by the orchids , the butterfly selection was good. We had small heath , cryptic wood-white and  marsh fritillary butterfly. Pollination of the small white orchid is not well recorded but the suspicion is that micromoths do the job.

marsh fritilllary butterfly

marsh fritilllary butterfly

early purple orchid

early purple orchid

small white orchid (Pseudorchis albida)

small white orchid (Pseudorchis albida)

 Our “Contempt for  small places.”

The decline of the orchid population has been attributed to habitat loss,specifically by farm intensification and forestry. Andy King grazes his small orchid sites with two horses over the winter. Under-grazing is  detrimental for the small orchids as is overgrazing. The land does not receive artificial fertilizer or herbicides.  The decline in orchid populations is part of a general problem caused by the use  of agricultural fertilizer. Each small place attempting to increase production and losing grassland biodiversity.

This is a big, world-wide problem,  Wendell Berry describes it thus; “The health of the oceans depends on the health of the rivers; the health of the rivers depends on the health of  small streams; the health of small streams depends on their watersheds. The health of the water is exactly the same as the health of the land. The health of small places is exactly the same as the health of large places.” Wendell Berry,” Contempt for small places” (2004)

Lying down in  a Cavan field, admiring orchids ,gives me lots of reasons to humbly think of my own contribution to these world wide problems .

butterfly orchid
butterfly orchid
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Merrily Looking at Bits of Old Woodland in Cavan



holly and wine

holly and wine

woodland flower red campion

woodland flower, red campion

Silene dioica red campion , (pictured above). Google informs  me that it is named after Silenus, who was the merry (winemaking ) god of woodlands

Last of the red campion flowers, were just about to be, killed off by frost. This is one of the species regarded as an indicator of the old age of the woodland ,like bluebells and wood anemone

bird cherry groth pattern

bird cherry growth pattern

 The branches of the more interesting trees were easier to see. Birdcherry is one of the less common native species . It often seems to have this growth shape of spreading stems

spiders web like branches of bird cherry

spiders web like branches of bird cherry

This tree is struggling for light, because of conifers nearby, resulting in this stretching and rising pattern

Bird cherry buds prunus padus

Bird cherry winter buds (prunus padus)

The terminal winter buds of bird cherry are different to that of wild cherry.

terminal bud of wild cherry prunus avium

terminal bud of wild cherry (Prunus avium)

In addition the young bark is a different hue

The bark of bird cherry

The bark of bird cherry

prunus avium

Bark of wild cherry

But the trees that make the woodland are the Hazel grovesderries and deerpark 002

derries and deerpark 027


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Dark November

Flooded inter-drumlin landscape  Co. Cavan

derreskit 012

flooded woodland round drumlin lake

 The Dark of November needs a  L. Cohen poetry  link,? dont it

derreskit 020

Moss the in the dark damp; the steep north facing side of the drumlin

cavan lake

Cavan interdrumlin lake , November sun.

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The wonders of sheugh water

Killeshandra family fun day
Killeshandra family fun day

I recently brought lots of water creatures to Killeshandra Family Fun Day . We had great fun looking at water spiders, water boatmen, dragonfly larvae and water scorpions.

water boatman

water boatman



Water scorpion

Water scorpion

Look at the water spiders  air bubble  !

Water spider with an air bubble

Water spider with an air bubble

The spider has to come to the surface to collect the air

water spider abdomen out

So where do the creatures come from ??

Of course the answer is sheugh water , or many lake edges

“Of coorse their’s ither thaveless bein’s,
saft, hairmless, feckless doits – the lea’ins.
They’re happy hokin’ in a sheugh
or dungin’ byres, or somethin’ rugh”

 From the “The hiring fair”  by John Clifford.

I happy hoking in a sheugh (a sheugh , pronounced “shuck” is a drain.)


This may not be every bodies idea of happiness, indeed the poem above calls those that hoke  in sheughs, soft, harmless, useless, idiots  (I know  the language of the poem is a bit peculiar , its in Ulster Scots,). 

Now the days of hard labour cleaning out sheughs are long gone,  we can hoke on sheughs at our leisure! 

hoking in sheughs at our leisure

hoking in sheughs at our leisure

The young (and the young at heart) find this quite absorbing, Why?

A bowl full of life

A bowl full of life


Sheughs are full of life ! 

It’s a bit like  a lucky dip when you put the net in water,you’re not quite sure what you will get, but unless the water is very polluted you are bound to get something.

damselfly larvae

damselfly larvae


So its great fun , interesting, but it is also very important.

Since the 1950s we have been altering our streams, sheughs, rivers and lakes with nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorous to make the grass grow. , This in turn has altered the plants , creepy crawlies , fishes and bigger animals such as newts and birds that live in water.

4 spot dragon fly

4 spot dragon-fly


So have a hoke in sheugh water


There is a lot of life depending on it.

swallows feed up on insects round water before heading off on the long migration back to Africa

swallows feed up on insects round water before heading off on the long migration back to Africa


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