News 2016

Title:  Mixing green stuff and hard stuff
Date:  08/09/2016

Mountaineering Ireland’s first Mountain Environment weekend held recently at Delphi, Co. Mayo provided all participants with new knowledge to share with groups on the mountains.

Ecological consultant Dr. Rory Hodd helped us see an advantage in Ireland’s humidity, high rainfall and low levels of sunshine. Our hyper-oceanic climate has endowed our small island with 50% of Europe’s moss and liverwort species. In comparison we have just 10% of Europe’s higher plant species, a group largely made up of flowering plants. Rory has a particular interest in mosses and liverworts, together referred to as bryophytes (plants which have no roots and instead take in nutrients through their leaves). Rory explained to workshop participants how mosses and liverworts are the ancestors of all our higher plants, describing them as essential cogs in our ecosystem.

At times during Saturday’s outing Kevin O’Callaghan (a.k.a. Geo) pulled our attention from the green stuff to the hard stuff underneath, telling us that the rocks we were standing on in the valley below Mweelrea date from the Ordovician period (490-450 million years ago) and are potentially valuable to the construction sector. They are also the origin of the soils and plant life we find on the surface.

We lingered for some time at Lough Bellavaum, many of the group visiting this beautiful corrie lake for the first time. Hearing how just a few weeks previously a local hillfarmer, Christy Gallagher, fell to his death while gathering sheep on the steep slope beside the lake brought an air of sadness to the group. It also reminded us how easily any one of us could have a similar accident in the mountains.

Back in the comforts of Delphi on Saturday  evening Trish Walsh, Director of Petersburg OETC took over the batting for the hard stuff team telling us that the geology of our home place is reflected in our teeth and that the rocks in the Mweelrea / Maumtrasna basin are 20km deep in places. In her presentation on the aspirant Joyce Country Geopark and the pilot Mountain Access Project at Binn Shléibhe, Trish revealed her passion for the landscape and people of south Mayo and north Galway and her desire to encourage ‘edutourism’ in the area.

On Sunday morning we headed from Doo Lough up into the dramatic coum below Ben Lugmore, by a route known to many hillwalkers as ‘the ramp’. As the ground started to rise Rory pointed out overgrazed areas – bare peat with tussocks of mat-grass, a thin grass which holds little appeal or nutritional value for sheep.

Trish described the geomorphological and glacial processes that created the mountains and valleys around us, moving from the macro features down to the clues visible in the rocks at our feet and hands.

Rory kept us enthralled with more green more stuff. After pointing out flowers such as starry saxifrage and harebell he introduced us to the hepatic mat community. These rusty orange mossy clumps are made up of species that consistently grow together at a small number of sites in the west of Ireland and western Scotland and also in the Himalayas. Higher up we saw roseroot a plant mostly found on mountain cliffs and Ireland’s smallest tree - dwarf willow. Dwarf willow, one of our arctic alpine species, grows on the windswept summit of Ben Bury. Much of its woody stem remains below ground leaving just its rounded glossy leaves visible on the surface.

The participants in the workshop included representatives from ten west of Ireland-based clubs, a number of outdoor instructors, a couple of individual members of Mountaineering Ireland (including one travelled from the Mournes) and a small number of people relatively new to hillwalking. Overall our two days of learning, indoors and outdoors, improved our understanding of why Ireland’s mountains are special and fragile places, land ownership, the different land use possibilities for these areas and the where our recreation activities fit in. All participants left Delphi equipped with additional knowledge and ideas to share with fellow club members, clients and friends on future days in the mountains.

Mountaineering Ireland extends thanks to all those who contributed, particularly Dr Rory Hodd, Trish Walsh, Kevin O’Callaghan and the staff at Delphi Adventure Resort who helped things run smoothly. Mountaineering Ireland's Mountain Environment Weekend 2016 was arranged to coincide with National Heritage Week.

 

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