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Donegal County Council planting seeds for the future

The colourful plantings that line approach roads to the town of Buncrana or burst from large containers throughout the town not only brighten the townscape but play an environmental role.

George McDermott, the Buncrana town gardener, already had an interest in bees, butterflies and moths when Donegal County Council’s Inishowen Municipal District chose the town for a pilot project in the new All-Ireland Pollinator Plan last year.

The national initiative encourages everyone, from local authorities to schools, businesses and community groups to individuals, to nurture Ireland’s bee population with pollen-rich plantings and other actions.

“You’re always thinking of what you can plant for pollinators,” George said. “I would have been doing it anyway.”

Their work paid off: Last year Buncrana Tidy Towns won the regional Tidy Towns Local Authority Pollinator Award for the North West and West Region in the large town category for its pollinator project.

George has been involved in this work since the days of the Buncrana Town Council, when he developed a butterfly garden at Swan Park. One of the most striking examples of this work is the meadow George and the county council are developing near the play park at the Buncrana shorefront.

You can see where the plans are going: A neat grass path winds through broad-leaf grasses and pollen-rich plantings a couple of feet high – good growth for the two years they have been there, but George said it will take about five years for the meadow to develop fully.

Still, he said, “You come down here at night and it could be full of moths.”

He reached down to a yellow rattle, a grassland annual. “It’s full of seeds,” he explained. And sure enough, when George shook one of the blossoms, the rattle of seeds could be heard. The plant helps to suppress grass growth, allowing flowering plants to flourish: While these meadows may appear wild, their growth is managed in this herbicide-free zone with only occasional cutting.

“It’s all about encouraging wildlife,” George said. To measure the meadow’s success, George assesses the local bee population by walking a two-kilometre transect regularly and counting the bee species he observes there.

There is a smaller meadow near the Buncrana tourist office, at the Amazing Grace Park. It is hard to believe this was wasteland not so long ago. A manmade pond is nestled among paths and pollinator-friendly plants, such as Russian sage, verbena and stalks of purple loosestrife. Council engineers were involved in designing the meadows, with George selecting the plants.

The work of the town gardener is year-round, with these months spent tending to plants in place and planning and ordering new ones for next year. A major project for the whole town this year was the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Ballyliffin Golf Club. Inishowen shone in the international spotlight, during a week of splendid sunshine.

“We would have been getting ready from January, to be honest,” George said. It was a bad spring – long, wet and cold – but weather is often a challenge for gardening in Inishowen, he said. The warm weather during the Open brought its own challenges for the physical work.

“But it all came good,” George said. “People pulled out all the stops. People put in a big effort, the whole community.”

George and his two-person seasonal team are also responsible for the roundabouts at Bridgend and at the entrance to the town; maintaining hedgerows and 20-odd acres of grass on county land; and planting trees and the containers that bring colour and pollinators to town streets.

“We’re trying to create avenues coming into the town, corridors,” George said “I like to think of containers as something that come and go – they’re very seasonal. But you like to think the hedges or the trees after my day will maybe still be there.

“Hopefully we’ll leave something like that behind,” he said.