As part of out ongoing commitment to support our ever-growing Ecology Team, we were delighted to organise a botany training day with John Feehan in Co. Offaly. Formerly a Professor in UCD, John is one of Ireland’s leading geologists, botanists, environmental communicators, authors and broadcasters. He has produced a huge array of books, including the excellent Wildflowers of Offaly, as well as the definitive books on Farming in Ireland, The Bogs of Ireland and The Grasses of Ireland to name but a few. We were clearly in very knowledgeable hands!

The day started with a short classroom session, followed by a trip to a disused gravel quarry just outside of Birr. Here, John led us through the basics of field botany, including techniques to look for and identify the 40+ species of wildflowers that were on show at this site. Stories and anecdotes about many of the species identified underlined John’s extraordinary experience and knowledge of the subject, as well as helping our understanding of them. Scarlet Pimpernel is Ireland’s only true scarlet wildflower – the Common Poppy isn’t truly red; the pollinators that visit these flowers see Common Poppy in the ultraviolet spectrum (which we can’t see). Also, many flowers aren’t really flowers but inflorescences – groups of small flowers squeezed together so that they are more obvious to pollinators. After 15 minutes, we were all enthralled, budding botanists!

Bord na Mona

After lunch we headed for a very different landscape – the post-industrial cutaway peatlands of Bord na Móna. This held familiar species from the morning’s session as well as some new flowers to experience. Many of the INIS Ecology Team are familiar with working on Bord na Móna’s peatlands, so an opportunity to pause and look in detail at the plant communities was particularly enjoyable.

One day is far too short to even dip your toe into botany, especially as the opportunity to catch up with colleagues after a busy field season also formed a core part of the day. Fantastically, John has offered to continue to build and develop his botany training for the INIS Ecology Team over the coming months to experience different habitats and seasons and hone the skills for a group of the more enthusiastic botanists that we have on staff, as well as support learning and development for those newer to the field. We can’t wait!