Cabragh Wetlands - Detective in the Wild
With the sun beating down and the exams almost over, there are increased calls for students to commit to STEM subjects. Science is the way to the future. This innate natural curiosity, such an important part of children’s lives, allied with a love of the outdoors and the freedom to range widely is becoming a scarce commodity in today’s technological world. Cabragh Wetlands’ effort to combat this and to introduce today’s children to the joys of the natural world is “Detective in the Wild”, the annual Cabragh Wetlands summer camp. Beginning on July 16th for one week from 9-2 each day, it is open to all primary school children from first class upward.
The idea is that the participants will experience many different types of natural habitats in fun ways and use all the equipment and expertise available at Cabragh to explore the landscape. And what an array of different landscapes are available? Working as young scientist with quadrat, net, pooter and microscope, the children will delve into the mysteries of pond, wet meadow, reedbed and hedgerow. The children will also explore peatland, woodland and hillside. Local communities around Tipperary have done some wonderful work in recent years conserving at-risk habitats and children now get an opportunity to explore Derryvilla Bog and Grange, Kilcooley.
Children get most pleasure from the still water ponds in Cabragh. The ponds were dug about twenty years ago and now host a vast array of insect and plant life. One would never expect the range of insect life that now inhabits the ponds following an unexpected summer flood many years ago. The story of the Irish landscape has brought us from the numerous lakes and ponds remaining in the barren landscape after the ice age of ten thousand years ago to a landscape of drains and ditches where the water table has been lowered significantly and where the water runs off extremely quickly leading to unexpected flooding in the lower reaches of rivers and streams. Cabragh is one of the few places that holds water and even in this warm summer it is never too far from the surface. It is interesting to look at the plants and see how each has found its particular niche. Some like relatively dry ground, others a consistently wet base while others will flourish only when the roots are completely covered with water.
On a walk around the pond, white is the predominant colour, a colour we have not seen since the demise of the summer snowflake some weeks ago. As the meadowsweet bursts into bloom, the air is filled with its sweet scent so typical of wet meadows. It is probably the most common whiteflowered plant in Cabragh. The bank of the pond is a tangle of plants and weaving its way through is the beautiful star shaped stitchwort named in medieval times for its habit of stitching itself into the mini-jungle of plants. There are places around the pond where you would love to sink and relax and this is Our Lady’s Bedstraw, another beautiful plant named since the middle ages. Here and there you may spot angelica and it will repay close examination for the stunning and complicated symmetry of its petals.
But for me, the star of the white-flowered plants is the floating plant, our native water lily, brought to this pond many years ago by our founder member, William Gaynor, from one of his many Praeger like expeditions around the country. Willie, who was a renowned artist and craftsman in bronze, was a passionate bird watcher and observer of the natural world. The ponds at Cabragh are home to many floating plants including pondweed, bistort and crowfoot and therefore are also home to dragonflies and damselflies, hawkers and darters which will thrill the children on sunny summer days with their size, colour, speed and agility. The waterlily’s stems are soft and filled with spongy air filled tissue which keeps them buoyant. The leaves are tough and leathery and can withstand a battery of heavy rain or waves. The flowers are the largest of any wildflower in Ireland. They open by midday giving out a scent that attracts pollinators and they fold shut at dusk and sink slightly in the water.
If your child is interested in nature,why not pick up an application form from your local library or ring Cabragh Wetlands at 0504 43879.