Thursday, 21 May 2020
Covid-19 (Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht): Statements
Seán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
I welcome the opportunity to contribute predominantly on issues of biodiversity, particularly during what is national biodiversity week. On Monday morning, I was delighted to receive in the post from Laois County Council's heritage officer a beautiful, fantastic, practical and educational publication from the NPWS, funded by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht's national diversity fund. The booklet, entitled Gardening for Biodiversity, was authored by Ms Juanita Browne and illustrated by Mr. Barry Reynolds. I advise as many people as possible to look for it online if they do not have hard copies. It is beautifully produced. It came in the middle of the Covid-19 restrictions, although perhaps these books come on a regular basis. It was interesting because, in recent months, many people who were lucky enough to have a garden or allotment found a great interest in gardening once again. Many have spent time tending to the trees, shrubs, flowers and grass in their gardens that they did not had the time to work on previously because they were busy at work. Now they have a little more time at home to engage in these activities. Many people have reconnected with nature, which has been a positive side-effect of the Covid-19 restrictions. My own hands might be a little grubby under the nails, as I spent the past two evenings weeding various flowerbeds.
It is important that we help biodiversity. When I was chairman of Castletown's Tidy Towns committee years ago and we won the national award, there was one particular household whose walls were overflowing with weeds. I approached the man as chairman and asked whether we could do something about the weeds. He was a pure environmentalist. He looked me in the eye and told me that the weeds had to live too. That put me in my place. I was there to tidy up the place, but that actually made me think twice. There is something good in that, and I advise people to look at the recent publications.
People have been at home for the past number of weeks. I should also mention the international dawn chorus, which was cancelled. Many people are taking time to listen to the birds in their gardens or the trees or flying overhead. I have spotted in the big trees at the end of my garden buzzards and all sorts of thing I had not seen in some time. I have been told they are common in some areas. I have seen birds that face severe restrictions - herons and different birds that gobble up fish in the local rivers, streams and ponds where they can. Some people like those birds and others believe they must be protected. There are a diversity of views on the matter.
Apart from the people listening to birds in their gardens as they have been advised to do, I have found that extended families now communicate in a different way. They do WhatsApp quizzes. I have seen WhatsApp quizzes where people have taken photos of the birds in their gardens or taped their sounds and others must identify them. Schools could do more of that type of education. Back when we were a more rural society, we knew these things from birth. We lose that knowledge when we move into villages, towns or larger urban areas and stop seeing birds at first hand. Some people are fortunate enough to still see them.
I recognise and welcome the Department's historic towns initiative. I am unsure of its level of funding, but the initiative could be enhanced and developed in due course. It fits into the tourism sector, and people are looking at their surroundings more.
RTÉ needs to be complimented. It has shown many good television programmes in recent times. Maybe they had always been there and I just did not have time to watch them, so perhaps I am being unfair. It is not that I am watching too much television, as we have had lovely, fine evenings and I have been outside. However, I have watched some beautiful programmes.
I am not here to be critical of the Department, although we could talk about much in that regard.
I join in all of the praise for National Biodiversity Week. We could all do with a bit of diversity in our lives. We get up every morning, we take various modes of transport to work, we work, we come home, we eat food, we sit down and mingle with our families and then we go to bed and repeat it all again the next day. In a way, biodiversity week and the Covid restrictions - dare I say it - have been good for the soul. They have been good for people. We have taken a step back and we have seen many things we do not normally have time to absorb. I thank everybody for their efforts in this regard.
The Minister mentioned various fires in woodlands around the country. I am delighted to see drones in operation by local authorities and the fire services because they can identify the source of a fire and send firefighters directly to the areas concerned, which means they are getting to the core of the problem much quicker and their safety is enhanced because they are not in the line of where the fire is emerging.
I join with the Minister and others in advising people to enjoy National Biodiversity Week during the restrictions of Covid-19. It is a good side effect and it is good for the soul and humanity that we take time to do that.