Raheen’s, Castlebar Parish

Reviewing 621 photographs taken on 11 September 2021 in Raheen’s wood near Castlebar has been our exercise of the afternoon today 09 October 2021. The photographs are a mix of woodland landscape and ground flora shots and macrophotographs of tree trunk bark and the moss, lichen, liverwort and fungus species in this epiphytic habitat. They were all taken with one camera and the numbers stretch from 9110962 to 9111582.

On the day out in September, we met a wedding photographer, who fell into step and aesthetically came aboard with our agenda of woodland conservation and education. Falling into conversation, He pitched his skills as a short film maker, and in tow had an exceptionally handsome dog Gizmo with extraordinary droopy hairy ear tassles.

The camera is an extraordinary tool for scientists and for weddings. They can be used to tell the story of a day out, with some of the minutae. Reviewing digital media streams of 500 photographs from a day was predicted to become normal (Fox & Cullen 2016), and now five and a half years later, it is becoming normal for us in supporting our forensic examination of the biodiversity detail of Raheen’s wood outside Castlebar.

The roast potato dinner at our second break this evening was sublime. Vegetarian gougons and kale with soy sauce preceded apple pie and vanilla ice cream. They were rather chickeny in their appearances to my palate.

Raheen’s is an exceptional place – Lobaria pulmonaria is among the denizens of this woodland – an indicator of ancientness and ecological continuity over the centuries. The first hundred photographs have resulted in 5 pages of notation in latin of the names of identifiable species from the photography, a good yield in any case. The photograph of Lobaria pulmonaria led us to some respite from the immediate task.

At our first beak in proceedings of the write up today, I was charged with finding a name for a yellow discomycete, probably a Hymenoscyphus on a hazelnut. It turns out to be Hymenoscyphus fructigenus, first reported in Cork in 1845 on a dead hazelnut, the same microhabitat as our Raheen’s photograph and sample.

What is biodiversity has been occupying my writing for a booklet in the last two days. This exercise in documenting biodiversity in a small range of taxonomic groups for one site near Castlebar is today’s output. That there were no coral fungi on show that day at Raheen’s does not mean that they are not there, they did not surface on the day for our scrutiny, or I have not got to the ditch with Leotia lubrica and/or, perhaps Microglossum olivaceum, in Raheen’s in the photograph review.

In this vigil on life …, appears as a line elsewhere on lichenfoxie in a composition I called Cosmos Mundi. Doing what you can to document biodiversity, is to leave a trail of latin in arcs for another person’s mind to understand. To give a gist of the five pages from the first hundred photographs, my memory first deals with highlights of the day – Peltigera collina, a species which was hidden among Sticta limbata as a concept but with a thin textured Nostoc vesicled smooth upper cortex which is itself an unusual grey. Only one thallus of this Peltigera species caught our eye.

The next session goes like this: Lecanora expallens, Betula pubescens, Hypnum cupressiforme, Thuidium tamariscinum, Betula pubescens, Hedera helix, portrait 9110975 mushroom basket with orange pencil, Glechoma hederacea, Blechnum spicant, Dryopteris cristata, Betula pubescens, Thelotrema lepadinum, Arthonia didyma, Isothecium myosuroides … you will understand when you see the portrait …

Harmonising multiple people’s botanical memory of place is, as Bruce McCune put it, hard work for thought police. We have decided on a gift for our dog kennel handler in Cavan who has agree to take Bran the Irish Terrier for the weekend. It will be the late Paddy Reilly’s 2001 Flora of Cavan. We are looking forward to an event at Longueville House Hotel, and teaching and demonstrating mushrooms, with this year’s set of guests in an exploration of the grounds of this wonderful hotel. Mushrooming without dogs is a luxury.

Readers of this text have an insight into my cognitive life and the notation required for botanical activity in floristic studies on the biodiversity of a place in Ireland. I would like to encourage all interested in conservation to try and develop such sublime moments as outlined above in your own daily mental life, and really engage with the biodiversity crisis question – what plant or fungus is that here, now?

Getting ready for COP26 and caring for all life puts readings into another focus onto Laudato Si animators and what can be done around the world to maintain this … vigil on life … especially in tropical countries where the Latin names for plants are not so tip of the tongue, as it is to us, scientists in this Castlebar parish in north-western Europe.

Howard Fox

828 words.  

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