A national park of which Mayo can be very proud


THIS morning it was a pair of jays that woke me. It wasn't even daylight, not properly. Yet there they were in the apple tree, helping themselves to the last of the fruit.

A simple twitch of the curtain sent them on their way, but as soon as they thought I saw them no more they were back, nibbling at one of their favourite foods and chattering away in low, musical tones.

Anybody seeing one of these colourful birds for the first time might be forgiven for thinking they are more closely related to birds of the parrot tribe than crows.

Yet crows they are, despite the relative lack of black in their plumage or their reluctance to fly further than the edge of the trees.

Thirty years ago we would see few, if any, jays at all. Yet now every year they breed in the woods at the edge of the lake, and continue to expand their population to the west and north of Mayo.

Of course, nobody can tell us if we had a population of these birds hundreds of years ago, when much of the country was still covered in native woodland.

Certainly, when the forests were cut and destroyed, the jay, together with many other woodland birds, would have disappeared. Only now, with an increasing number of maturing woodland sites, are some of these finding their way back home.

Take the greater spotted woodpecker as an example. How long is it since we had these splendid little creatures adorning the woods of the west?

Now, after they have been making their way across the country, the first for many years has been sighted (and photographed) in Wild Nephin National Park.

I must confess I was somewhere near the front of an incredulous crowd when this park was established.

After all, where could be the benefit in making a national park in the middle of a boggy swamp where few wild creatures could reasonably live and where people dare not venture for fear of sinking out of sight in a swamp?

Yet now, after a great deal of work amid bouts of improvement and expansion, we do have something the county can be proud of.

While much of the park remains inaccessible due to its intrinsically boggy nature, there are other parts of exceeding value.

Besides, should there not be places set aside where nature can prosper alone, unaffected by the hand of man?

There is a danger here though, in that we imagine that because a few miserable abandoned acres that we have no real use for have been turned over to wildlife, where it may do as it will, that we can continue unabated along our destructive path.

If the latest scientific predictions regarding climate change come to pass, planet Earth will see an increase in global temperatures close to 3C before the end of the century. While we could happily tolerate such a thing here, other countries would surely burn up. The consequences of melting ice sheets, increased tidal surges, the spread of sub-tropical disease and more would hardly escape us.

Yes, we are truly glad we have protected areas like the Ballycroy National Park, or Wild Nephin National Park, or Ballycroy Nephin National Park or whatever else we think it should be called.

We need more, though. We need a new mindset. Anyone with eyes to see knows well we are in crisis. Nobody wants to do anything about it.

We watch with interest as the jay family continue their march north and west, not caring for the reasons why. As one of many species changing their range, they speak a truth we choose to ignore.