July 30th, 2018
Fionnuala Fallon, The Irish Times gardening correspondent, asked last year if the TidyTowns competition was “out-of-step” with our increasingly “environmentally-minded approach” to maintaining our shared landscapes. Speaking with conservationist and seasoned judge, Padraic Fogarty, Fallon was happy to come to the conclusion that the answer is “certainly not”.
While tidy by definition means “arranged neatly and in order”, it is becoming clear that the TidyTowns competition is making moves to embrace the wild and spontaneous essence of our diverse environment. The TidyTowns website explains that concepts have changed over the years and ideas as to what constitutes a tidy town from 20 years ago would “not necessarily be reflected in TidyTowns today”.
A closer awareness of our natural world is reflected in a rake of new award titles announced in 2017 including Our Community Climate Action, The Water and Community, Clean Air, EPA Waste Prevention, The Tree Project, and one for Sustainable Development. Further awards for focusing on Wildlife, Habitats and Natural Amenities and Sustainable Waste and Resource Management have now also been factored in the judging categories.
TinyTowns initiatives across Ireland are moving toward greener alternatives, with Ferbane TidyTown in Co Offaly, for example, now using vinegar to kill weeds rather than herbicides which are a more traditional weapon of choice in the TidyTowns movement.
Last year, Shrule TidyTown in Co Mayo obtained a grant for bat boxes around the town Castle, while Drangan TidyTown in Co Tipperary has been harvesting rainwater for community buildings and planted buddleia shrubs to encourage bee and insect growth. It is in Co Monaghan, however, where the community has taken TidyTowns biodiversity planning to the next level.
Monaghan TidyTown is a good example of a community working toward ecological biodiversity, winning three national awards for biodiversity projects over the last three years. Through a new development plan called Monaghan Town Biodiversity, they’ve created a three-year plan to address biodiversity.
Billy Flynn, the ecologist recruited to create the plan, told The Green News that it is “very well organised and very well supported by the community and businesses”. Mr Flynn said that due to the high-level organization in the county, the plan was approached in a “business-like manner to be taken seriously”, rather than an “oh, wouldn’t that be nice” outlook.
Emer Brennan of TidyTowns Monaghan told The Green News of some of the works undertaken as part of the plan, such as the creation of nesting boxes by the local Men’s Shed branch for Spotted Flycatchers and Irish Dippers in several local parks. Existing infrastructure like lamp posts is also being used to hang bird feeders, while a 19th century Canal lock house has now been designated as a protected bat habitat.
The bats contribute to the biodiversity of the Ulster Canal Greenway, a neat walkway through the town that preserves and brings awareness to its uncultivated banks. The plan has also seen the introduction of a Dispersed Urban Garden campaign, which has sold over 200 discounted pollinator friendly apple, pear, and plum trees to the community.
The only requirement is that the buyer plants them in their yard and documents their address. This way, pollinator-friendly plants can be tracked through personal gardens, and the committee will know which area of town needs the most support.
The Monaghan Town Biodiversity initiative also saw the establishment of a bio lawn project, with locals encouraged to leave plants and wildfires to grow in front lawns, a big leap forward from the traditional idea of what makes a garden ‘tidy’.