Lifestyle – Fascinated by wildlife since childhood, John Lusby tells Judy Murphy about the importance of birds of prey to eco-system
John Lusby is up with the lark these days. The raptor expert with Birdwatch Ireland is keeping an eye on the sparrowhawks, kestrels, owls and other birds of prey that can be found along the west coast and ensuring that the populations are in good health.
It’s a busy season for them, so it’s a busy season for him. The day we meet, he’s just back from the Burren, having been there since 5am, checking on the breeding birds
The Oranmore native, who recently presented the Galway programme in RTÉ’s series Wild Cities, says of these birds of prey, “the more you get to know and learn, you see the benefits of studying them”.
These birds are “sentinels into the health of the environment,” he explains, “because they are at the top of the food chain. And having them around shows that the rest of the eco-system is in balance”.
For instance, studying barn owls helped to reveal a species of shrew that had previously been unknown in Ireland – the owls feed on this tiny animal, but its existence was only discovered because of birdwatchers.
That may be regarded as specialist stuff, but the health of these raptors has implications for humans too. For instance, studying birds such as owls, which live on rodents, shows the effects of rat poison and rodenticides on wildlife. That affects all of us.
Before rat poison was invented, barn owls were vital for killing rats – such was their value that farm buildings were designed to accommodate and encourage them, explains John. That’s no surprise, as a pair of barn owls could kill 25 rodents a night while feeding their chicks.
Owls still kill rats, but these days, poison has entered the food chain. John cites a case were 70 owls were tested that had died from other causes and more than 85 per cent of them had detectable levels of rat poison in their systems. As a result, there has been greater awareness that rat poison should be used more responsibly. “It has helped to change how it is used,” says John.
In the 1950s and 60s, the chemical DDT was widely used as an insecticide in agriculture. Slowly, it became clear that this chemical was affecting the peregrine falcon population. As a result, its dangers to all animals, including humans, became apparent.
DDT didn’t actually kill the peregrines, John explains. But it weakened their eggshells to such an extent that the birds didn’t reproduce and there was a time when peregrine falcons were on the verge of extinction in the UK.
They were also affected in Ireland but since the 1970s, the population has been recovering, although illegal poisoning has had had a big negative impact on all birds of prey.
“One of the issues some people have with birds of prey is that they hunt and feed on other animals,” he says. But this is part of nature, and necessary in a healthy countryside.
“Birds of prey keep other populations in check, many of which are considered ‘pest’ species and also help to clear carcasses by scavenging,” he stresses.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
Bikers do their bit to mark anniversary of blood service
This year marks the tenth anniversary of Blood Bike West, and the big birthday was marked in style with a sun-drenched afternoon at Galway Plaza’s Bike Fest West.
Galway stuntman Mattie Griffin was the headline attraction; there was face painting, games, plenty of ice-cream – and hundreds of motorcycle enthusiasts and families.
The birthday celebrations kicked off with a 160-strong motorcycle spin around the Galway countryside, raising well-needed funds for the volunteering efforts of Blood Bike West.
As a 100% volunteer-run and funded organisation, donations are vitally important for Blood Bike West to continue operating their medical transport in the West of Ireland.
Since its inception in 2012, demand for their volunteers’ services continues to grow: collecting and delivering all manner of urgent medical items regionally and nationally, such as bloods, breast milk, medicines, scans, and equipment.
In 2021 alone, Blood Bike West delivered 983 urgent medical deliveries throughout the country.
As part of Galway City Councils Community, Blood Bike West undertook to operate a 24/7 service, including 165 medication deliveries from pharmacies to the self-isolating and vulnerable during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Since Blood Bike West’s inception in 2012, this increase sees the ongoing need to replace and renew their fleet of motorcycles.
Their motorbikes, Madison, Heather, Margaret, and newly inaugurated bike Cara, are regularly seen on Galway roads, delivering consignments to and from local and regional hospitals.
Park fun to mark Africa Day
On Saturday next (May 28) in Salthill Park, Galway’s African community invites people to join them in a celebration of culture as part of the national Africa Day celebrations.
Africa United Galway, emerging from lockdown and having hosted online festivals for the past two years, will be delivering a family fun day event.
Africa Day 2022 will reinforce a collaboration between Africa United Galway and Galway Africa Diaspora, Shining Light Galway and GoCom Radio (broadcasting live), who have worked to create a festival that will showcase Galway as a city of culture.
Among the performances on the day will be Afrobeat dancer Lapree Lala of Southside Moves, who will show how to dance in African style; Elikya Band will be bringing indigenous African Congolese music; The Youth Performances will be displaying their talent in rap, singing, speaking, and dancing and for the young at heart.
Galway Afrobeat performer Dave Kody will get the crowd moving and there will be poetry through spoken word and cultural displays. There will be a photo booth and face painting and everyone will get to have a taste of African cuisines.
In the spirit of inclusion and integration, The St Nicholas Collegiate Church Parish Choir will be presenting a special African performance as well as a feature presentation by the Hession School of Irish Dance, who will be presenting the famous Riverdance.
Also organised is a football friendly between the African community and An Garda Siochana.
The Mayor, Colette Connolly, will officially be opening the event with a keynote speech and several African Ambassadors are expected to be present on the day to reinforce the culture, beauty and strength of Africa and support for its people.
Africa Day is sponsored by Irish Aid and supported by Galway City Council.
Domestic Violence Response recorded highest number of clients in 24 years under Covid ‘shadow’
BY TIFFANY GREENWALDT-SIMON
A domestic violence support charity in Galway has recorded its highest number of clients in 24 years – “under the shadow” of Covid-19.
Domestic Violence Response (DVR), which is based in Moycullen, also reported its highest level of counselling support sessions in its 2021 annual report published last week.
The charity saw 136 new clients in 2021, and a total of 266 people utilised its services. It also saw a significant increase of return service users.
The support service also provided 51 nights of emergency accommodation through a partnership between Airbnb, Safe Ireland, and Women’s Aid.
Elizabeth Power, Coordinator of DVR Galway, said: “Our 2021 annual report highlights the stark reality of the level of domestic violence in Galway. Under the shadow of Covid-19, DVR recorded the highest number of clients in our 24-year history and delivered the highest number of support services.
“Our staff noted increases in the level of worrying and harrowing experiences of control and abuse. The trauma of these experiences will live with our service users long after Covid-19 fades into memory.
“While Covid-19 restrictions are behind us, domestic violence continues to be present in hundreds of homes throughout Galway.
“As we move through 2022, we will continue to provide our much-needed services to women and men throughout Galway, with an extensive counselling support and advocacy service and a number of new initiatives including a partnership with the HSE which will be launched in the coming months.”
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
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