Tony Bailie's Take On Nature: The truth is out there

Most people associate Armagh Observatory and Planetarium with looking outwards into the farthest reaches of our galaxy

INSIGHTS into alterations to the environments of other planets in our solar system and beyond have helped drive a tree-planting initiative in Armagh.

Most people associate Armagh Observatory and Planetarium (AOP) with looking outwards into the farthest reaches of our galaxy and even further afield; however, its newest project is rooted in the landscape around it.

The observatory is set within a landscaped estate but has lost 16 trees in recent years in the Astropark area of its historic grounds due to storms or that had to be felled because of disease. Many of the trees which have been lost had stood for hundreds of years and, according to the observatory, some may even have survived dramatic meteorological events such as ‘the Night of the Big Wind'of 1839.

Although situated in the more modern area of the estate, the new tree-planting scheme will seek to replicate tree-lined avenues which appear on historic maps, with some of the original trees growing.

The Astropark, constructed in 1992, is also home to a variety of astronomical concepts, the most recent project being the ‘augmented reality interactive stations' throughout the site.

The observatory's head of research Dr Marc Sarzi said: “These historic trees must have felt in their roots the more recent overall warming of our planet. Whereas air temperature measurements are subject to erratic fluctuations dictated by the weather, underground temperatures are more stable and, as AOP's own daily meteorological record shows, can reveal the inexorable upward trajectory of climate change.

“The study of other planets in our solar system reveals dramatic past changes in their climate, billions of years ago. At AOP we are acutely aware of both the fragility of our planet and its uniqueness, leaving us with the responsibility to cherish our own home.”

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AS WE move into the warmer days and our winter-sodden landscape begins to dry out the risk of wildfires starts to grow.

Fortunately these are never as dramatic or dangerous as those which seem to sweep through California or Australia and threaten to engulf entire cities.

However, fires in Ireland – and unfortunately all too often they are started deliberately – still pose a huge danger to people and our wildlife.

Four years ago one third of Slaibh Beagh, which straddles counties Fermanagh, Monaghan and Tyrone, was destroyed in a single wildfire. The first small dry spring burns of 2021 have already occurred on Sliabh Beagh, and there are fears that another big one could be around the corner.

In a bid to pre-empt further destruction to the region's habitats and biodiversity a Landscape Scale Wildfire Management Plan for Sliabh Beagh has been developed.

The CANN project (Collaborative Action for the Natura Network), is funded by the EU's INTERREG VA Programme, through the Special EU Programmes Body, and is working with international experts in wildfire management, the Pau Costa Foundation, to develop this plan.

Rory Sheehan, Sliabh Beagh site coordinator for the CANN project working with partners Monaghan County Council, said: “This plan will ensure that we fully engage with communities and that they are aware of ‘flashpoints' on the uplands.

“We will work with land managers and owners to ensure they understand the most effective way to prevent wildfires occurring or spreading in an uncontrolled manner.”

Pau Costa says it will consult widely in the community. This cross-border consultation will allow the foundation to recommend actions to manage the landscape sustainably.

The plan will enhance the fire service's ability to control wildfire and reduce its impact on Sliabh Beagh's internationally important peatland habitat.

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