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New Year 2019

Notice Nature > Albert Nolan Essays

New Year along the Pollagh Trail.

The birds were singing and enjoying the very mild start to 2019. Eager to stretch our legs we headed to the Pollagh Nature Trail. This safe and nature-packed walk is located beside the beautiful village of Birdhill, and I have been walking here with the kids for the last ten years.
There is room by the entrance for a few cars or you can park in the railway station. The first part of the walk is bordered by mature broadleaf and conifer woodland. The latter is being slowly harvested and hopefully the replanting will consist of native species like alders, birches and oak. These would really add to the wildlife value of the Pollagh.
Our first bird is a robin and we often forget that this common garden resident started life as a woodland bird. A yew tree is growing near the path and this must have been planted by a bird. Given time, on a wildlife scale, birds and animals will create a diverse forest. Already there are a few beech, holly and hawthorn trees providing shelter and food for nature. Ivy flowers provide bees with a chemical that helps induce sleep, another important use for this amazing plant.
I am disappointed to see that the part of the hedge where the spindle trees grew has been cut down to the ground. This is a scarce tree in Tipperary and produces bright pink fruit that contain orange berries. The nearby hedge has also been topped but thankfully the tall oak tree has been left alone. On a few fallen branches from the oak we find colourful lichens.
We walk on and see a hooded crow flying low over the fields. It is unusual to see one on its own and his mates must be nearby. Along the base of the hedge, life is slowly stirring. Daises are in flower and the leaves of cow parsley are already a few inches from winter. Bramble has conquered a large section but its advance has been curtailed by a field gate.
The small stream is flooded and the swelling buds of the willow dip into the water. We spot a very well camouflaged horse whose coat is the same colour as the faded rushes.
The grassy line down the middle of the road is full of hardy and trample-proof broad and narrow leaved plantain. Another Robin bursts into song and the kids find some slime fungus in the grass. It looks like jelly but not the flavour you would want to eat.
At the end of a December rainbow we find a pot of gold. The gold in question is a single yellow flower of the dandelion. After a winter without flowers it is better than any treasure. The long purple catkins hang from the alder tree, and this species is perfectly suited to growing in wet ground.
There are plenty of muddy puddles and despite their advancing years my two can't resist and soon their shoes and clothes are covered in mud.
Birds too have responded to the mild weather and are singing. A song thrush's far-carrying song hangs over the walk and we also hear the powerful song of a wren. As we reach the crossing point the scent of baled silage perfumes the air.
The stony ground has been colonised by a few colourful wildflowers. Yellow flowers of groundsel and the pink flowers of red dead nettle brighten up the edge of the path. A timber fence post is covered in green lichens creating a life painting that only nature could fashion.
The kids run ahead and pause at our traditional picnic spot. While they have a quick snack I take in the view of the hills. The Clare hills dominate over the River Shannon and I can make out the distinctive shape of Keeper Hill. A woman passes by, being walked by two strong dogs and a robin starts to sing at the three intruders.
Big sow thistles are growing along the path and it is so disheartening to see how the once diverse wildflower meadows have been drained. In the place of 40 species of flowers and grasses there is now quick growing conifers, and the loss for nature and people incalculable
We pass through the style and take the track for the car. Two male blackbirds are foraging by the edge of the path and they fly away with scolding calls. The Gorse shrub has bright yellow flowers but they do not smell of coconuts till high summer.
Another hedge has been removed and I am concerned for the future of this walk. A wren gives an alarm call as we reach the car. Despite the losses, the Pollagh trail still remains one of the most interesting places to walk in Tipperary.

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