Biodiversity enhancement plan for an outdoor recreational area in Cratloe
1.1 Aims of the plan
Date: 30th September 2021
Authors: Noreen Ramsay, Ann Breen, Lorraine Power
Clare CC Clare County Council
CLDC Clare Local Development Company
NBDC National Biodiversity Data Centre
SAC Special Area Conservation
SPA Special Protection Area
Everyone who attended the biodiversity training from Cratloe, including those who were not online but were receiving the weekly recordings, would like to extend our thanks to Fran Giaquinto, Linda Gilsenan and Deirdre Morrissey for a wonderful course. It was very inspiring, informative and so well organised. Your generosity in sharing your enthusiasm and knowledge is really appreciated. We are hopeful that it will bear fruit in our community and throughout Clare.
We would like to thank Clare Local Development Company for generously supporting this initiative through LEADER funding which made the training possible.
Cratloe volunteers on the day of the trainers’ site visit
Representatives from Cratloe Community Council who are involved with the Sustainable Cratloe Group, The Tidy Towns Group and the Community Woodland Group attended a training programme hosted by Clare local Development Company. Following a series of webinars and onsite training, which were shared with other members of these groups, a biodiversity enhancement plan has been compiled for 3 specific areas in Cratloe. Two of the sites were chosen because of their potential for enhancement and because they are very visible in an area of high usage near the school and church. The third site was chosen because it represents an area of biodiversity specific to Cratloe.
Cratloe is an area of natural beauty on a hillside above the Shannon estuary in Co Clare. There are records of oak woodland here since medieval times. The remains of the original oak forest is in the Garronnan Wood at the edge of the village and an extensive Coillte forest lies above it. Cratloe woods are a popular place for residents and visitors from Limerick and Shannon. It has a resident red squirrel population along with pine martens, badgers and barn owls. Gorteen Lake has mallards and moorhens nesting and is visited by grey herons and cormorants.
Cratloe is a watershed for the Shannon estuary, which is an SPA and an SAC. The Garronnan Wood and the Woodcock Hill Bog are both NHA. (Appendix Map 1)
Large areas of this forest are designated as ancient or long established woodland by the NPWS woodland survey 2010. (Appendix Map 2)
The extensive Fossit records show areas of oak-birch-holly woodland (WD1), mixed broadleaf / conifer (WD2) mixed conifer woodland (WD3) habitats in among the conifer plantations (WD4). (Appendix Map 3)
The area is spread over 13 townlands with over 650 households. The community surrounds a church, national school, community hall, 2 local shops, 2 pubs, GAA sports hall and grounds and a graveyard. The railway line to Galway runs through it.
1.1 Aims of the plan
Protect and encourage biodiversity in a planned and measurable way
Use the site for educational purposes by linking with the national school
Add to the beauty of this area by enhancing the natural landscaping
Educate the wider community about management strategies to enhance biodiversity
Provide a “pause” space to appreciate what we have surrounding us
Species rich area
Proximity to old woodland and area of natural beauty
Active community groups
Green flag school
Chosen sites are accessible and visible
Presence of invasive species at borders of the woodland
Communal green waste not managed
Herbicide spraying in practice to control growth at edges of pathways
1.2 Areas chosen for biodiversity enhancement
1 Raised flowerbed at corner of Church car park and long grassy strip on roadside
2 Small grassy area beside the school
3 Rocky area to left of grotto
Figure 1 Sketch map showing the location of the 3 chosen sites (not to scale)
2 Description and aims for our 3 sites
In this section we describe our 3 sites and our aims for biodiversity enhancement for each.
2.1 Site 1 Raised flowerbed at corner of Church car park and long grassy strip on roadside.
The aims of the project are:
At the edge of the church car park there is a large (5m x 4m) raised stone flowerbed, which is now past its best. Plants here include a large horizontal cotoneaster, which has taken over, some shrubs, heathers and self- seeded ash saplings. It is difficult to make sense of visually. Although cotoneaster is loved by birds and bees, its seed is widely dispersed and it can become very invasive. The bed is not overshadowed and is free standing. There is a good depth of soil as it is raised approx. 50 cms.
Image 1 Site 1: Raised flower bed at corner of Church car park
There is a strip of ground (15m long x 1.7m wide) beside the flowerbed and parallel to the footpath. This area, which is in a prominent location, looks unkempt. There are a few young tree saplings which have self seeded, including a holly and hazel but otherwise there is little of interest plant-wise, largely because a weed-suppressing membrane was laid here in the past, topped with some stone and there was no ongoing maintenance of this bed. The rose bushes that were in this strip have been removed.
Image 2 Site 1: Grass strip beside roadside
Our aim for biodiversity enhancement of this site
To improve the beauty and the visual impact of this area
To plant pollinator friendly plants, keeping in mind the species that are food plants for the 4 threatened butterflies found in the area. The butterfly records were obtained from the National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC) for the national 2 km grid square R46V in which the site lies.
We have designed a new planting scheme for the raised flower bed with the assistance of Linda Gilsenan, See Section 7.1
Table 1 Threatened butterflies recorded ion this area
Species list R46V Threatened butterflies
Wood White (Leptidea sinapis) Generalist, the adult’s nectar sources include: Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), Bramble (Rubus fruticosus), Bugle (Ajuga reptans), Buttercups (Ranunculus spp.), Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea), Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) and Vetches (Vicia spp.) are also used.
Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus) Generalist, adults nectar sources include: Bramble (Rubus fruticosus), Buttercups (Ranunculus spp.), Devil's-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis), Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica), Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea), Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria), Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), Tormentil (Potentilla erecta) and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium).
Grayling (Hipparchia semele) Generalist, adult nectar sources include: Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), Bramble (Rubus fruticosus), Carline Thistle (Carlina vulgaris), Heather (Calluna vulgaris / Erica spp.), Marjoram (Origanum vulgare), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) and Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.).
Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages) Generalist, adult nectar sources include: Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), Bugle (Ajuga reptans), Buttercups (Ranunculus spp.), Hawkweeds (Hieracium/Hypochoeris), Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) and Vetches (Vicia spp.).
Specialist, the larvae feed exclusively on Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus).
Figure 2 Sketch map for Site 1
2.2 Site 2 Small grassy area beside school
There is a small grassy slope adjacent to the school boundary. It is adjacent to the path that the children use to come out to the field for playtime and also the side gate and path leading up to the Grotto. It is very visible and has a high footfall. However it is surrounded by fencing nearly all the way around which protects it from being walked on. A variety of wildflowers and grasses grow there. It is regularly strimmed and the edge is sprayed with herbicide. A hawthorn grows near the wall. There is a Red Hot Poker plant in the middle of it.
Measuring with a 1 meter square quadrat revealed a paucity of species with vigorous grasses, creeping buttercup and sow thistle dominating
Image 3 Site 2: Grassy area near school
Aim of Biodiversity plan for this area:
Make a small highly visible area of native wildflower grassland to be enjoyed by the children in the school and those who pass by on the way to the grotto. What we are aiming to achieve here can easily be seen by looking at a grassy area further up the hill by the Grotto road where grasses and wildflowers thrive by not being cut as frequently.
Increase the number of species growing here to enhance biodiversity and include food plants for the 4 threatened butterfly species in the area. Encourage the Birds’s foot trefoil, red clover, vetches and buttercups that are already growing here as favourite foods of these butterflies and add in yarrow, bugle and devil’s bit scabious.
Engage the school in the monitoring and management of this area for biodiversity education
Have a bench nearby which will encourage the children and passersby to pause and look
Image 4 Wildflowers growing near the grotto path
Figure 3 Site 2: sketch map
2.3 Site 3 Rocky area to left of the grotto
Cratloe has an interesting range of soil types with some pockets of acid soil. This is found on the rocky bank to the left of the grotto. On first glance, this area looks as if it has been overtaken by gorse and bracken, both of which are undesirable in this location. Where the gorse has been cut the cut brush is evident as a thick layer over the highest part of the area.
On closer inspection, the ground dwelling species are very interesting where they are not taken over by the bracken and gorse. We found tormentil, heath milkwort (Polygala serpyllifolia), birds foot trefoil, tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum), cuckoo flower, dog violet, meadow vetchling, catsear, bush vetch, and sweet vernal grass, along with some interesting sedges.
Knapweed was present in the damper, shadier area.
Green waste (mostly woody brush) has been dumped at the woodland edge in this area. This will increase the vigour of undesirable plants such as bracken, brambles, gorse and nettles and it brings the risk of introducing invasive species.
Image 5 Site 3: Rocky area to left of Grotto
Aims for the area:
Manage it for its native biodiversity
Manage it to reduce the invasion of Montbretia and the dominance of gorse and bracken.
Manage the green waste by developing a compost and dead hedge system nearby
Figure 4 Site 3, sketch map
3 Other areas for biodiversity management highlighted by the trainers’ site visit
3.1 Stone walls beside church and car park
There is a beautiful stone wall, which borders the old church grounds. On the church side of the wall we found specialist wall ferns, such as maidenhair spleenwort, wall rue, and rustyback fern, along with some small Hart’s tongue fern, which is an indicator of old habitats
Image 6 Stone wall beside the Church with a rich variety of specialist wall ferns
Notably, the car park stone wall opposite the church (on the car park side) also has some of the fern species but they are very small. It looks as if they have been cut off or power washed, and it will be worthwhile to find out how the wall is maintained and to encourage a greater level of protection for the species that live in or on it.
Image 7 The car park wall where the ferns are very tiny and look as if they have been cut or power washed
Image 8 Ferns on old stone wall beside church
Aims for this area
Raise awareness about the biodiversity of this wall and to protect it as much as possible.
3.2 Approach road soil bank left behind by railway work
This area is outside the biodiversity plan site, but management advice was given at the time of the site visit.
The area consists of a grassy bank left behind by railway works. Yarrow, ox eye daisy, bush vetch, and birds-foot trefoil are present, and these are all positive indicator species and worth protecting.
Willow and hawthorn have self-seeded at the back of the bank. We will allow these to develop into mature trees with their lovely natural shape. They will not grow tall. In future years, if the willow starts to become invasive we can cut the female plants out to reduce seed dispersal by marking the female trees which have a profusion of fluffy flowers in May and then removing them in Autumn.
3.3 Earth bank at Cratloe woods car park
Several of the earth banks at the car park in Cratloe woods are covered in solitary bee holes and bees can be seen actively using them.
A request has been made to check the identification of the bees.
Janice Fuller, the ecologist for Coillte, has been asked if she can make a visit to see this area and devise a method for its protection and management
Image 9 Earth bank at Cratloe Woods car park
Image 10 Miner bee seen at Cratloe woods earth bank
Image 11 Miner bee nesting holes (red arrows) in the earth bank
4 Invasive species plan
On the site visit it was noted that there are several invasive species in the area, which if left uncontrolled will invade the adjacent woodland.
A large Rhododendron ponticum was flowering to the right side of the grotto. This is an Invasive Alien Species of European Union Concern (EU Regulation 1143/2014), and regulated for control under the EC (Birds and Natural Habitats) regulations S.I.477 (2011). This means that it is regarded as a very serious invasive species in Europe and actions must be taken to prevent its spread.
Himalayan Honeysuckle (Leycestaria formosa)
Himalayan honeysuckle has been widely planted as a garden ornamental but it is now becoming a problem throughout Europe. It produces fruit, which are edible to birds and this is the main way it is dispersed. Information about it is documented by NBDC at the following link:
We have found it growing along and at the edge of the field close to where we plan to make a compost system.
Our plans to control this are:
Cut it back to ground level repeatedly, and prevent it from flowering. Over time, this will kill it.
Dig it out in the area where the green waste is to be managed and remove to Mungret green Waste facility.
Burn or carefully chop up all the shoots that are cut off and compost them separately from the main compost system or rot them in a barrel of water.
Montbretia (Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora)
Montbretia is another garden escapee, which is difficult to control once established. It was planted along the border of the grotto walkway, and it is now infesting the edge of the woodland here.
Our plans to control this are:
Carefully remove shallow rooted corms and rot in a barrel of water
Include this is in a request for professional removal of invasive species
Raise awareness among community members in Cratloe and advise everyone not to plant it in their gardens. It produces bulb like corms and these can be easily dispersed.
4.1 Our aims for invasive species control at our sites
The invasive species at our sites, especially Rhododendron ponticum and montbretia are too difficult to control by community members and there is a risk that we could make the problem worse. So, our plan is to look for funding to appoint a professional contractor to remove these species.
Coilte will be informed of the problem of Rhododendron ponticum spreading into the woodland. As a statutory body, they are obligated to prevent its dispersal.
Repeatedly cut back Himalayan honeysuckle and dispose of shoots appropriately (see above).
We will advise contractors and volunteers who work at our sites to follow the following biosecurity measures:
Clean all equipment (mowers and strimmers) before coming onto our sites because fragments of invasive species on machinery is one of the main ways by which invasive species are spread.
5 Green waste management
Currently green waste is being dumped at a couple of points around the site as grass is cut or shrubbery cut back. This will increase the vigour of undesirable plants such as bracken, brambles, gorse and nettles and it brings the risk of introducing invasive species. The large piles of cut grass will be producing methane and carbon dioxide and contributing to climate change.
Develop a managed community composting area to tackle the green waste produced here using a static compost heap system and a dead hedge for the larger brush cuttings. Tidy towns group to manage one area near the edge of the field and the church garden group to manage one area near the grotto.
6 Tree Nursery for oak saplings
Members of the woodland group have noticed oak saplings growing on the road verge by the Garronnan wood. These end up being strimmed by the County Council when they cut back the roadside verges.
To move these saplings into a temporary tree nursery bed and find homes for them within the community when they are 2-3 years old.
Image 12 Oak sapling on road verge, Wood Road, Cratloe
6.1 Brian Boru Oak sapling
Cratloe has successfully applied for an oak sapling, which Irish Seed Savers have grown from acorns of the ancient Brian Boru oak in Tuamgraney. We have identified a place at the edge of the woodland by the community field away from buildings and roadways where the oak could be allowed to grow to its full potential. We hope that it will become a gathering point for our community connecting us with our own heritage of ancient woodland.
7 Action Plan
Our planting plan for the raised bed (Site 1) is shown in Section 7.1.
Our action plan for our 3 sites for 2021 – 2023 is shown in Section 7.2.
7.1 Planting plan for Site 1 raised flower bed
Figure 5 Planting plan for the Site 1 raised bed
Please note that there has been an amendment to this planting plan -
the Alstemeria has been replaced with Achillea millefolium ‘Red Velvet”
7.2 Three year enhancement plan
Map 1 Special area of conservation (SAC), Special protection area (SPA) and National Heritage area (NHA) maps for Cratloe area
NHA – horizontal blue lines – Garannon oak wood and Woodcock Hill bog
SPA and SAC – orange and crosshatch – Shannon Estuary
Map 2 NPWS 2010 Ancient and long established woodland inventory
NPWS 2010 ancient and long established woodland - green hatched area
NPWS woodland habitats survey 2010 - yellow area
Fossitt guide to habitats in Ireland 2000
HIGHLY MODIFIED/NON-NATIVE WOODLAND
WD1 (Mixed) broadleaved woodland This general category includes woodland areas with 75-100% cover of broadleaved trees, and 0-25% cover of conifers.
WD2 Mixed broadleaved/conifer woodland This general category includes woodland areas with mixed stands of broadleaved trees and conifers, where both types have a minimum cover of 25%, and a maximum of 75%.
WD3 (Mixed) conifer woodland This general category includes woodland areas with 75-100% cover of conifers, other than conifer plantation - WD4. The broadleaved component should be less than 25%.
WD4 Conifer plantation This category is used for areas that support dense stands of planted conifers where the broadleaved component is less than 25% and the overriding interest is commercial timber production.