Local Green Party Councillor for Athlone-Moate Municipal District, Cllr Louise Heavin, has welcomed two new heritage initiatives - a survey of barn owls and a survey of thatched buildings across Westmeath, both of which were discussed at the most recent local authority heritage forum meeting.
“It’s very exciting to see these two new surveys start up this year. Thatched buildings and barn owls are really important parts of our history and environment. It’s going to be really interesting to see what this survey uncovers and I for one hope it’s good news. The more people that can take part the more successful this will be and I encourage all members of the public to get involved in reporting. It’s important we cherish these great elements of our heritage,” Cllr Heavin stated.
A survey of the thatched buildings in Westmeath is commencing this month. The aim of this project is to create an up-to-date record of all the thatched buildings in the county, which were once typical in Ireland but are now a rare sight.
“Up until the 17th Century, thatch was the main type of roofing in Ireland but over the years other roofing materials became available and fashionable and now there are only a few thatched buildings in the country”, Heritage Officer, Melanie McQuade, remarked.
Westmeath County Council are delighted to be supporting Conservation Consultant, Bronagh Lanigan of AR&R (Architectural Recording and Research ), on this project, which is as an action of the Westmeath Heritage Plan, funded by The Heritage Council.
As well as recording the building details and history, the survey will involve the owners and get their views on the conservation needs of these thatched buildings and on the future use of thatch. The survey results will help to inform conservation priorities, including grant assisted works, for original thatched properties in Westmeath.
Bronagh is looking for the public’s help in finding the remaining unrecorded thatched houses in the county and any information on the history of thatch in Westmeath.
“If people have old photographs of thatched buildings, have thatching tools in a shed that haven’t been used or looked at in a while or any information about thatching in the county I’d love to hear from them,” Bronagh commented.
If you are the owner of a thatched building or if you know of a thatched building in your locality, that may not have been included on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH ) in 2004, (https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/ ) then the Heritage Office would like to hear from you - contact [email protected] or Melanie McQuade on 087 6074496.
Barn Owl Survey
In addition to a survey of the county’s built heritage, Cllr Heavin has confirmed that a survey of Westmeath’s natural heritage will take place.
BirdWatch Ireland are undertaking a survey of barn owls in Westmeath this summer and they are requesting the assistance of the public and landowners to report information on such birds to help direct the survey efforts.
Although barn owl populations have declined over recent decades, there seems to be early indications that such presence may be recovering in certain parts of their range, and BirdWatch Ireland want to establish if this is the case in Westmeath.
One of the reasons for this recovery may be due to the range expansion of non-native small mammal species, the greater white-toothed shrew and the bank vole, both of which are recent arrivals to Westmeath and are taken as prey by barn owls and other predators.
The barn owl survey in Westmeath aims to establish how the species are currently faring in the county. The findings of the survey will be used to ensure the protection of nest sites and to direct targeted conservation efforts which will include the provision of nest boxes in suitable areas to help the local barn owl population.
“We are excited to be working with Bird Watch Ireland on this barn owl survey which is funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Housing, local Government and Heritage, through their National Biodiversity Action Plan Grant Scheme, with support from Westmeath County Council.
“Local information will be really valuable to the survey and we are encouraging people to report sighting of barn owls in Westmeath,” Melanie McQuade remarked.