Westmeath is known for its lakes, which are one of several types of wetland in the county.
Ecologist, Dr George Smith, from Blackthorn Ecology in Moate, explains that other types of wetland include; watercourses, springs, bogs, fens, bog woodland, and riparian and wet woodland. Dr Smith has a good knowledge of these wetlands having compiled a desktop survey of Wetlands in Westmeath.
“The desktop survey was based on maps and aerial photographs, as well as information from previous field work.
“It identified 493 wetland sites in Westmeath, covering approximately 17 percent of the land area of the county. Based on the information we have, 51 of those wetland sites have county value for biodiversity conservation,” Dr Smith commented.
Following on from the desktop survey, the task of ‘ground-truthing’ commenced in 2020, when 12 sites of county value were surveyed by Dr Smith and his colleague, Dr Rory Hodd.
These field surveys provide detailed information on the wetlands visited; recording the different species identified on site, the condition of the wetland and, where relevant, outlining recommendations for their conservation.
Many wetlands are threatened by drainage, pollution or afforestation and are no longer in good conservation condition. But some were found to support a greater biodiversity of habitats and species than expected.
“Interestingly, new populations of two rare plant species were found at two of the sites surveyed last year.
“The species in question are ‘round-leaved wintergreen’ and ‘varnished hook moss’. Both of these species are considered near threatened in Ireland so these are significant findings,” Heritage Officer, Melanie McQuade, stated.
Dr Smith will soon be commencing survey work on a further 25 wetland sites of county value.
“We are grateful for funding received from the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, under their National Biodiversity Action Plan Grant Scheme, which, with support from Westmeath County Council, makes these surveys possible. I look forward to seeing the results of this year’s site surveys,” Melanie concluded.
The desktop survey and the report on last year’s field surveys can be accessed online at https://www.westmeathcoco.ie/en/ourservices/planning/conservationheritage/heritageresources/