Biodiversity has been defined as "the variety of all life forms on earth" also it can be thought of as the variety of habitats and species at local or national level.
It is commonly recognised that global biodiversity is in decline as a result of a many factors such as over exploitation of natural resources, the loss and fragmentation of habitats, pollution of the environment, the spread of invasive alien species and global climate change.
Because the primary role of Killarney National Park Education Centre is to help people understand the need for conservation of biodiversity and protection of the wider environment we have chosen the Biodiversity Flag as our first one to aim for!
Our Green Flag Committee is made up of members of Centre staff, students and NPWS management. We meet regularly to see if we are meeting the targets that we have set ourselves and to see how work is going.
An action plan was decided upon by the Green Flag Committee. This included headings such as Environmental Review, Positive Actions, Monitoring & Evaluating, and Informing & Involving. Some of our actions are outlined below.
The first job that the Green Flag Committee carried out was to do an Environmental review. Some of this was done by Transition Year students on work placement. Conor Cronin (St Brendan’s Killarney) & Michael Lagan (Intermediate School Killorglin) carried out a desktop review of the Knockreer area and compiled a habitat map.
Links between Biodiversity and other themes of the Green Flag Award Scheme
Michael also identified links between biodivesity and the other Green Flag themes. The table below outlines the links that Michael came up with and how they are applicable to KNPEC. Michael also suggested actions that could possibly be undertaken by us in the future.
Energy, Water and Waste
In addition to identifying links between the various themes we also reviewed our energy and water consumption and waste production per capita over a seven week period. Water and energy units were recorded each week, while waste being sent to landfill or recycling was weighed by staff and work experience students.
The results are shown below.
As expected water usage increased with the number of people using the centre (mostly used for flushing toilets). Interestingly energy consumption did not follow the same trend but remained almost constant throughout. Very little electricity is directly used by students in the centre, while lighting, IT and heating consumption remains constant in order to operate the centre on a daily basis.
Similarly landfill waste increased with the number of people while recyclables did not. The largest type of waste being sent to landfill was soiled shredded paper used as bedding in mammal traps and food waste.
Invertebrates trapped in woodlands
This data is from a study carried out to investigate the influence of rhododendron infestation of invertebrate communities in mature woodlands. Pitfall trapping was used to compile an inventory of taxonomic groups for rhododendron stands.
Children collecting insects during a Summer Camp
Primary school children collected similar data for uninfested areas in the same woodland using pooters, sweep nets and beating trays. The composition of the invertebrate community for both habitats is shown in the pie charts above and below. A total of nine taxonomic groups were represented in samples collected in rhododendron stands study, while twenty were represented in the samples collected from uninfested habitats.
It must be noted, however, that this data is not directly comparable due to the difference in sampling techniques. For the sake of data representation species are grouped according to their Order.
Invertebrates identified by children have been labled in their common names.
A notable species recorded by the children was the invasive New Zealand Flatworm.
Construct a botanical inventory of the woodland habitats
Wildlife Biology Students from IT Tralee compiled a botanical inventory of woodland habitats while on work placement at the centre. The students recorded a total of 91 vascular plant species in the three woodland habitat types adjacent to the Centre. The woodlands were mixed broadeaved woodland, mixed broadleaved/conifer woodland and oak-ash-hazel woodland. The mixed broadleaved/conifer woodland was found to have the highest number of different species within it.
Construct an inventory of aquatic invertebrates in waterways.
Primary school children regularly survey the aquatic invertebrate groups present in the Deenagh River using kick sampling techniques and simple keys. They then record the types of invertebrates they find on a large wall chart in the education centre lab. The children use the knowledge of water pollution and what they have learned about the ecology of these invertebrates to decide if the Deenagh River is polluted or unpolluted. Below is a summary of the children’s findings from school tours which visited KNPEC in May 2012.
The creatures collected were dominated by freshwater shrimp, followed by mayfly and stonefly nymphs. Only four leeches were recorded for the month of May, 2012 and limpets, bloodworms and rat-tailed maggots were absent. The children thus decided that the Deenagh River was unpolluted.
A similar investigation was conducted by Third Year Wildlife Biology students. Here the students used the standardised Q-Value technique outlined by the EPA in order to assess the quality of the Deenagh River. This technique is rigorous and provides an accurate estimation of water quality. Also included was the BMWP score for the river, which is the UK equivalent of the Q-value system. Below is a summary table of their findings.
Construct an inventory of Fungi in habitats we use
Matt Hodd, a volunteer on work experience constucted a complete fungi inventory during the Autumn of 2012. In total 43 fungi species were identified over a 3 month period.
Constuct an inventory of Mammals
Children participating in our Halloween Camp used trapping techniques and recognised tracks and signs to identify what species of mammal occur in the Knockreer area. Features such as burrows, setts, and wallow holes were identified as were droppings, scats, hair, footprints and scrape marks.
Construct an inventory of Birds
Children attending our primary school nature days, summer camps and family fun days learned how to use binoculars and construct a bird hide. Bird feeders were constructed from recycled materials and hung adjacent to hides constructed by the children. Birds were identified using simple field guides.
Children preparing to go to spot birds. Bird feeders made from plastic bottles and milk cartons and wooden spoons.
Children recorded the birds seen from these hides, but also the birds spotted throughout the demesne while attending KNPEC. Children learned all about how birds are adapted to their lifestyles using our collection of stuffed birds. In particular attention was drawn to the importance of the eagle reintroduction and dismissing the negative myths associated with this bird. In total 36 bird species have been recorded in the Knockreer Demesne by staff and students of KNPEC. A list of birds recorded by our students is provided below:
Black bird, song thrush, mistle thrush, red wing, field fare, blue tit, coal tit, great tit, long tailed tit, chaffinch, swallow, chiffchaff, gold crest, raven, hooded crow, common crow, rook, jackdaw, magpie, jay, mallard, wood pigeon, pheasant, bull finch, gold finch, wren, starling, sparrow hawk, kestrel, robin, heron, grey wagtail, pied wagtail, dipper, mute swan.
Of particular interest are the swallow, swan, kestrel and starling, all of which are Amber listed as birds of medium conservation concern. The swan was observed flying over the Knockreer demesne and is not likely to have used the habitats, the other three species have been observed actively using the surrounds of KNPEC for foraging and nesting behaviour.
Establish a Butterfly and Bumble Bee transect at KNPEC
Some of the staff attended training workshops run by the National Biodiversity Data Centre and established a transect to collect data on the butterflies and bumble bees around Knockreer. The transect was walked by children on the summer camps, staff and students on placements and the different species and their locations were noted.
Establish Wild Meadow in formerly mown Parkland Habitat
In conjunction with Park management it was decided that there was extensive areas of mown parkland habitat surrounding Knockreer. It is widely accepted that such management practices do not encourage biodiversity to the same extent that semi-natural graslands do. Thus the decision was made to stop mowing a selected area of grasslnad and monitor the transition to wild meadow-like conditions. The monitoring was undertaken by Ann-marie Henderson as part of her final year thesis for her BSc in Wildlife Biology at IT Tralee.
Build Bird and Bat boxes with Primary School Students
Approximately 100 bird boxes and 100 bat boxes have been built by children attending Easter, Summer and Halloween camps. These boxes have been constructed using timber from old pallets and rubber from old tyres.
Approximately 200 bird feeders have been made using old plastic bottles, milk and juice containers, fir cones etc.
There are a number of websites that give advice on making and siting bird boxes. A good one is the RSPB site at: http://www.rspb.org.uk/advice/helpingbirds/nestboxes/smallbirds/making.aspx
Periodically perform litter clean ups
As some 12,000 students attend KNPEC annually there is concern that the large groups might cause damage to the habitats we use. Thus all students are informed of our “Leave No Trace” policy and encouraged to respect any habitat we are working in. We regularly change our study sites in order to avoid excessive trampling of vegetation, and animals are always released back to their natural habitat in order to minimize disturbance.
In addition we periodically perform litter clean ups of habitats used frequently. As the National Park is open to the public it is difficult enforce a litter free zone, especially at night time when sometimes large groups congregate around KNPEC to drink. To date a total of 23 bags of rubbish have been collected, sorted and recycled by staff and volunteers at KNPEC. Most of this rubbish consisted of glass bottles and aluminium drinks cans. Student groups have also been enlisted to assist in litter clean ups. Additionally the local tidy towns committee and other groups such as Killarney Nature Conservation Group, Lough Leane Anglers and Scouts & Brownies packs regularly organises clean ups throughout the National Park.
Establish a wormery for organic waste produced at KNPEC
We have established a wormery in a garden shed close to Knockreer House. We are able to divert much of the organic material that would have otherwise gone to landfill to the wormery. The material that we are adding at the moment is apple cores, banana skins tea bags and other food waste. We also add some shedded paper that has been used in our mammal traps. Until the worms have built up their numbers we will not be able to add a large amount of material. We will continue to be monitored our waste to see if the wormery is having a significant influence on our waste reduction.
Hold Green Code Poster Competition & Invite Winning School to Participate in Biodiversity Action Day
A green Code Poster Competition was held amongst the schools in Munster registered for the Biodiversity Theme of the Green-Schools Programme. Students were asked to design a poster with a slogan and image which highlighted the importance of biodiversity and the impact human activity can have.
In total 27 entries from schools throughout Munster were received.
The posters were displayed and staff and visitors to KNPEC voted for their favourite poster.
The overall winner was Jamela Mirza, from St. Columba’s National School with Facility for Deaf Children, Douglas Cork. Her poster was simple with vibrant images and a powerful slogan “Small World. Big Impact”. Jamela, her class and her Geen-Schools committee have won a Biodiversity Action Day for their school. They came to visit Killarney National Park for a day to learn all about biodiversity, do pond dipping, trap mammals, do a scavenger hunt, use microscopes and have a lot of fun!
The winning poster and the top entries are displayed in KNPEC for members of the public to view.
Our Green Code has been developed on foot of Jamela’s poster, the code is shown below and is on display in our hallway as a beautiful work of art decorated by the children of Holy Family N.S., Rathmore, who attended KNPEC as part of Biodiversity Week 2013.
The Green Code adopted by KNPEC
"Small World. Big Impact.” (Jamela Mirza)
We promise to:
Always care for, respect and look after all living things.
Try to enhance local biodiversity by making Knockreer a better place for wildlife to live.
‘Leave No Trace’ in any of the habitats we use.
Inform the community about the value of biodiversity and how to enjoy it.
Participate in conservation & biodiversity recording initiatives.
Continue to learn and educate about the variety of life and how to protect it.
Submit newly collected records to the National Biodiversity Data Centre and compare the state of our knowledge now with records prior to the Eco-Centres biodiversity campaign.
After data on species identified in the area adjacent to KNPEC was collated it was submitted to the NBDC to be uploaded to the national database and online distribution maps. Some of the highlights of the biodiversity records submitted by KNPEC were:
- A total of 122 new species records for the 2km grid square in which KNPEC lies.
- Some 62 new plant species recorded for the area.
- 42 new records of fungi species for the area, this is particularly significant as the fungi were under represented by previous recorders.
- 16 new species of invertebrate were recorded for the area, 8 of which were moths.
- 2 new bird species were recorded for the area.
- 5 new wild mammal species were recorded for the area, including one bat species and a new invasive species.
Since we took on Biodiversity as our theme, this is how the habitat map has changed. The largest change in habitats is the change from Amenity Grassland to Wet Grassland. But we have also recognised the litter black-spots and have installed bird feeding areas and our wormery.