Tag Archives: Irish bogs

News Ireland daily BLOG by donie

Tuesday 14th June 2016

€200m fund will help build 20,000 homes, says Coveney

But the building fund will not be available until 2017 and the scheme will apply over three years.


The Minister for Housing Simon Coveney claims the building fund would allow developers “bring forward their plans for timetabling” developments and bring about “real movement” in the construction industry.

A fund established by the Government to help to build small infrastructural projects will speed up the construction of some homes by two years, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney has said.

Mr Coveney and Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe said the new €200 million “local infrastructure fund” would help build between 15,000 and 20,000 new houses or apartments.

Councils will be able to avail of the fund to build small infrastructural projects, such as access roads, bridges, amenities, and surface water management facilities. This would help speed up the development of sites for houses and apartments by removing the financial burden of such projects from developers.

Mr Coveney claimed it would allow developers “bring forward their plans for timetabling” developments and bring about “real movement” in the construction industry.

Not available until next year?

The move was welcomed by organisations including Engineers Ireland and the Construction Industry Federation.

The funding will not come into effect until next year, however, and the scheme will apply over three years. The Ministers said the money available, which will be awarded on a competitive basis, will be frontloaded.

“We are trying to ensure that projects that otherwise would be going ahead in 2019 or 2020, when local authorities find a way of affording infrastructure, that actually those projects can go ahead in 2017 or 2018,” Mr Coveney said.

“When Paschal talks about this fund being spread over three years, the vast majority of it will be spent over the first two years. Only €30 million of the €200 million is earmarked for the third year.”

Mr Donohoe said the fund could be used for infrastructure such as “a road . . . a connection to an ESB station, it could be a connection to a gas mains”.

It will help with urban housing shortages in Dublin and Cork in particular, Mr Coveney said. He said the average cost of building a house in Dublin is €330,000, with €57,000 linked to construction costs.

More than 7,000 Irish jobs could come from solar power “says a new report”

A new study shows huge potential for job creation from renewable energy?


Solar power could create up to 7,300 jobs while meeting 7% of electricity demand, according to report published by the industry on Tuesday.

The Irish Solar Energy Association is lobbying the Government for supports similar those given to wind and other renewables, which will cost consumers and businesses €181 million this year.

On Tuesday, the body said that a report it commissioned from accountants KPMG shows that solar has the potential to create 7,300 jobs in building and operating generating plants.

The association added that results from commercial rooftop solar panels installed in the south east over the first two weeks of June indicate that an established industry could meet 7 per cent of Irish electricity demand.

Chairman David Maguire said on Tuesday that solar is the only form of renewable energy that does not receive some form of subsidy to aid its development.

He explained that the group favours an auction system rather the system of guarranteed prices given to wind farms, which are funded through a levy on electricity bills known as the public service obligation.

Using the auction approach, the Single Electricity Market Operator could decide in advance that solar generators should supply a set amount of the country’s total electricity demand.

It would then invite the industry to bid for that and award contracts to the cheapest suppliers. “They would have to have land, planning permission and grid connections to qualify, and they would have to pay a deposit to take part,”Mr Magure said.

He added that any operator who fails to fulfill their contract could be sanctioned. “We believe that this would give the industry and consumers the best value ,” Mr Maguire said.

The Government is to decide on a replacement for the current round of supports, dubbed Renewable Energy Feed in Taruiff (Refit), this year. Householders and businesses pay for this through the public service charge on their bills.

Over the 12 months to next October, they will have paid €181 million to the renewable energy industry, which is largely made up wind generators.

The cash collected from consumers and businesses bridges the gap between the wholesale market price of electricity and prices guaranteed to the wind farm owners under the Refit scheme.

Despite the supports, Mr Maguire warned that the Republic is likely to fall short on renewable energy targets agreed with the EU, which require 40 per cent of all electricity to be generated from green sources by 2020.

This could result in the State paying fines of more than €300 million a-year to Brussels for failing to keep to this committment.

“It is clear the country is facing a real challenge to meet these targets and avoid significant fines,” Mr Maguire said.

“Despite the successful deployment of wind energy in Ireland, which enjoyed considerable state support, wind alone will not ensure that we reach that goal.”

He argued that solar, which contributes significantly to power generation in other European countries, but is still undeveloped here, could aid the Republic in meeting its targets with the right level of support.

He also pointed out that Germany, which is on a similar latitude to Ireland, gets 7% of its power from solar.

Mr Maguire’s association has more than 100 members, including his own company, BNRG.

Confused messages from Ireland’s banks on mortgage rates

Central Bank’s monthly mortgage figures confusingly based on a mix of loan types


Amid the persistent heightened attention in recent weeks on mortgage rates that Irish banks are charging their customers, there is one curious anomaly which continues to persist: the Central Bank’s publication of mortgage interest rates.

Last week, the bank indicated the rate on new variable rate mortgages was just 3.08% as of end-April. But how can this be when the lowest rate available to a property purchaser today is actually greater than this, at 3.1% from KBC Bank? And that rate is only available to people who have a deposit of at least 50% of the purchase price.

The reason apparently is that the 3.08% rate mentioned in the Central Bank’s report is drawn from the ECB’s Monetary Financial Institution Interest Rate (MIR) framework. So, despite the name of the data, “Interest Rates on new floating rate loan agreements to households for house purchase”, the figure published in the Central Bank’s monthly statistics is actually based on a mix of fixed and variable contracts – and in addition to mortgages also includes home improvement loans.

It’s a metric that allows the ECB to compare rates on a level footing in the euro zone, which is fair enough. But for those looking for a “fix” on Irish mortgage rates, the data can be confusing. Indeed in April the Central Bank itself published an article which acknowledged the MIR figure “is often mistaken to represent new mortgages with a standard variable rate”.

So why does the Central Bank persist in using this data in its monthly bulletins and not in conjunction with its own data on mortgage rates, which it publishes on a quarterly basis, and which it says itself, are “more suited to domestic analysis”?

The Central Bank says it is bound by an ECB regulation to continue publishing the MIR data, but to avoid confusion it would be useful if it could publish its new business rates each time it publishes the MIR data – or at least explain the difference between the two.

Experts now suggest a diet of whole-grains could be the secret to a longer life


A large bowl of porridge every day could protect against cancer and keep the doctor away?

A large bowl of porridge every day could protect against death from cancer, the biggest analysis of the benefits of whole grains has shown.

Oats have long been considered a superfood, staving off illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

But now a review by Harvard University has found that whole grains also appear to prevent early death and lower the chance of dying from cancer.

A meta-analysis of 12 studies involving nearly 800,000 people found that eating 70 grams of whole grains a day – the equivalent of a large bowl of porridge – lowers the risk of all-cause death by 22pc and death from cancer by 20%. It also reduces the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 20%.

Scientists believe that whole grains help lower cholesterol and help regulate blood sugar, as well as making people feel full for longer, preventing them from snacking on unhealthy foods. The same effect could be gained from eating bran, quinoa, whole-wheat pasta, or a mix of grains.

Whole grains, where the bran and germ remain, contain 25% more protein than refined grains, such as those used to make white flour, pasta and white rice.

Previous studies have shown that whole grains can boost bone mineral density, lower blood pressure, promote healthy gut bacteria and reduce the risk of diabetes.

One particular fibre found only in oats – called beta-glucan – has been found to lower cholesterol which can help to protect against heart disease.

Whole grains are recommended in many dietary guidelines because they contain high levels of nutrients such as zinc, copper, manganese, iron and thiamine. They are also believed to boost levels of antioxidants, which combat free-radicals linked to cancer.

Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Eating more whole grains is a simple change we can make to improve our diet and help lower our risk of heart and circulatory disease. Choosing brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, wholemeal or granary bread instead of white and swapping to whole-grain breakfast cereals such as porridge are all simple ways to help us up our fibre and whole-grain intake.”

The researchers said a 16-gram serving of whole grains lowered the risk of total death by 7%, and cancer by 5%.

Jack Conway shows a 2000-year-old edible lump of butter pulled from Irish bog


A huge lump of ‘bog’ butter discovered by an Irish turf cutter.

Finding buried treasure is a dream as old as stories themselves. Treasure chests overflowing with gold doubloons, shiny lamps containing genies, gargantuan lumps of thousand-year-old butter.

OK, maybe most don’t dream of unearthing enormous chunks of butter, but that’s exactly what Jack Conway discovered in the Emlagh bog in County Meath, Ireland, at the beginning of June, Atlas Obscura reported.

Conway is a turf cutter, meaning he harvests “turf” or peat – it’s similar to moss – from a bog to later burn for warmth during the cold winter months. He was chopping turf at the bog when he came across a 9.97kg chunk of butter, The Irish Times reported.

Researchers at the Cavan Museum estimated it to be more than 2000 years old.

Bog butter is just that: butter made from cow’s milk that’s been buried in a bog, though, after thousands of years, it often has the consistency of cheese.

It’s actually not that uncommon of a find for turf cutters in Ireland, either. As Smithsonian magazine noted, a 3000-year-old, one-metre wide barrel stuffed with 35kg of bog butter was found in 2009. Even more shocking, turf cutters found a 5000-year-old wooden “keg” containing 45kg of the butter in 2013.

People have actually been stumbling upon bog butter for at least two centuries. In the 1892 edition of The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Reverend James O’Laverty recounts finding a lump “which still retains the marks of the hand and fingers of the ancient dame who pressed it into its present shape,” and which he noted “tastes somewhat like cheese.”

In her article “Bog Butter: A Two Thousand Year History” in The Journal of Irish Archaeology, Caroline Earwood wrote, “It is usually found as a whitish, solid mass of fatty material with a distinctive, pungent and slightly offensive smell. It is found either as a lump, or in containers which are most often made of wood but include baskets and skins.”

The earliest discoveries of bog butter date back to the Iron Age, but she wrote that it may have existed earlier.

No one is sure exactly why the butter was buried in bogs – some think it was sometimes an offering to the gods – but evidence strongly suggests it was a method of preservation.

Most bog butter doesn’t contain salt, which was often used as a means of preserving food before modern refrigeration. The bogs, which are essentially cold-water swamps, and their native peat do a fine job keeping food fresh.

A University of Michigan researcher found that meat left in a bog for two years was just as preserved as meat kept in his freezer, the University Record reported in 1995.

Peat is compressed plant matter, which Nature reported is both cool and contains little oxygen while remaining highly acidic, allowing it can act as a sort of refrigerator. It seems to work – Savina Donohoe, Curator of Cavan County Museum who sent Conway’s butter lump to the National Museum of Ireland, said it smelled just like, well, butter.

“It did smell like butter, after I had held it in my hands, my hands really did smell of butter,” Mr Donohoe said recently. “There was even a smell of butter in the room it was in.”

In fact, peat bogs are such wonderful environments for preserving organic matter, they’ve been known to almost perfectly mummify corpses.

Hundreds of “bog bodies” have been found during the past two centuries, according to USA Today. The oldest one ever unearthed is a preserved skeleton that’s been named the Koelbjerg Woman, which dates back more than 10,000 years to around 8000 BC.

Other bodies, though, retain their skin and internal organs. The Tollund Man, for example, still had his leathery skin intact when he was found in the Bjaeldskovdal bog in Denmark and is considered by some to be the most well-preserved body ever found from prehistoric times. He was so well-persevered that the men who found him thought they had stumbled upon a modern murder scene, PBS reported. He was actually about 2400 years old.

Given that level of preservation, most of the butter is actually edible.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Thornton, who owns the Michelin-starred Thornton’s Restaurant in Dublin, claimed to have tasted a 4000-year-old sample of bog butter.

“I was really excited about it. We tasted it,” he told the Irish Independent in 2014. “There’s fermentation but it’s not fermentation because it’s gone way beyond that. Then you get this taste coming down or right up through your nose.”

Andy Halpin, assistant keeper in the Cavan Museum’s Irish Antiquities Division, said one could probably eat the butter, though he’s not sure why one would.

“Theoretically the stuff is still edible, but we wouldn’t say it’s advisable,” Halpin told the Irish Times.

Curious what it might taste like, Ben Reade, head of Culinary Research and Development at Nordic Food Lab created his own bog butter, albeit one aged for a bit less time than the aforementioned.

Echoing the lines from James Farewell’s 1689 poem The Irish Hudibras – “butter to eat with their hog, was seven years buried in a bog” – they buried one large birch barrel of butter in the ground, where it will remain for seven years. The other only remained in the ground for three months, before it was tasted at the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen and the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2012 in Oxford, England.

He wrote of the flavours:

“In its time underground the butter did not go rancid, as one would expect butter of the same quality to do in a fridge over the same time. The organoleptic qualities of this product were too many surprising, causing disgust in some and enjoyment in others. The fat absorbs a considerable amount of flavour from its surroundings, gaining flavour notes which were described primarily as “animal” or “gamey,” “moss,” “funky,” “pungent,” and “salami.” These characteristics are certainly far-flung from the creamy acidity of a freshly made cultured butter, but have been found useful in the kitchen especially with strong and pungent dishes, in a similar manner to aged ghee.”

Even so, if you happen to find a lump of butter buried in the back yard, it might be best to forgo it for the store-bought variety.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday/Tuesday 10th & 11th August

Germany saved €100bn from Europe’s debt crisis


Fall in borrowing costs far outweigh costs of crisis to economy, says Leibniz institute

German chancellor Angela Merkel and finance minister Wolfgang Schaüble. Investors have fled instability in the euro zone for the safety of German bonds since 2010, pushing down interest rates on those bonds.

Germany has saved €100 billion since 2010 because its borrowing costs have fallen during Europe’s debt crisis – savings that outweigh the cost of the crisis to the German economy, an economic think tank has reported.

Investors have fled instability in the euro zone for the safety of German bonds since 2010, pushing down interest rates on those bonds. Paying less interest has helped the government save more than 3 per cent of gross domestic product, the Halle-based Leibniz institute for economic research said.

The institute created a model of a fictitious “normal” situation, without the crisis, to establish what German interest rates would have been, based on inflation and slack in the economy.

The report observed a close connection between political flashpoints in the euro zone debt crisis and fluctuations in the interest rate on German government bonds.

Interest on German government bonds fell sharply when markets saw bad news out of Greece, such as Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras’s decision in late June to hold a referendum on reforms demanded by its creditors. Similarly, rates rose on good news from Greece.

The total savings from this pattern since 2010, an estimated €100 billion, far outweigh the costs of the euro zone crisis to the German economy, even if Greece were to prove completely unable service its debts, the institute said.

Government bonds in other countries – including France, the United States and the Netherlands – have also benefited in the same way from the crisis, the report suggested, but on a smaller scale.

Over half of Irish people use their phones in the loo


We know you also use your phone as a mirror and to avoid talking to people. Really!

10% of Irish people check their mobile phone 160 times per day, according to a new study.

The research, carried out by Ireland’s newest mobile operator iD, also found that more than half of us (56%) use our phones in the bathroom.

While one in three use it as a mirror. Over 40% of women said they used their phone to check their appearance, compared to 28% of men.

The study also revealed that while Irish people check their phone on average 40 times per day, one in 10 people check their phones 160 times a day. That’s an average of six times per hour, or once every 10 minutes.

One in two people surveyed admitted to using their phone to avoid talking to someone, with 63% of 18-24 year olds being the biggest offenders.

When asked about who you contact most often, a spouse or partner is number one for 49% of people, but before you go thinking we’re all so romantic it’s worth noting that almost one quarter of those aged 25 or younger said they dumped someone over the phone. Ouch. The survey was carried out on 1,000 people.

Turf cutters ‘close’ to agreement on right to cut


Plot owners at one of the country’s most contentious bogs are close to a deal to end their row with the Government.

Ross Bog on the Meath-Cavan border has been the scene of protests by turfcutters as rangers from the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) sought to implement the ban on removing turf under the terms of the EU Habitats Directive.

Members of the Sheelin Turfcutters Association have fiercely defended their right to cut their turf despite the designation of the raised bog as a Special Area of Conservation and gardaí have attended at the site as tensions rose between the sides.

Last year, almost 100 people marched at Ross Bog to assert their right to continue to cut turf there and to protest against the ban on working the peat banks.

Earlier this year, the association sat down to negotiate with senior officials of the NPWS to ensure they would retain their right to work the bog as their families had done for generations. The meetings in Castlepollard hinged on the amount of bog that would be retained for the plot owners under a relocation scheme that would be acceptable to both sides.

At a recent meeting, the turfcutters were offered 12.9 hectares of bog on which they could continue to cut turf for their own use.

The association declined the offer and has held out for a greater area. The NPWS, which implements the terms of the EU Directive on behalf of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, is now to carry out a further survey of the site to examine the possibility of making an improved offer.

However, chairman of the Sheelin Turfcutters Association, Sean Reilly indicated that an agreement between the sides was now close and the survey was expected to be completed within a matter of weeks.

Action needed on climate change before the point of no return


The focus on not letting world temperatures rise more than 2C can distract from the fact that many places are already feeling the effects of climate change,

IN 2009, global leaders agreed to try not to let the world warm more than 2C above pre-industrial times. This is sometimes seen as a rule of thumb for keeping on the right side of climate change, within ‘safe’ territory.

But that’s not at all how scientists meant it, Camille Parmesan, an expert in biodiversity at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom said. Climate risks don’t begin at 2C, she said; it’s more like where they go from high to intolerably high.

The planet has already warmed by about 0.8C since the late-19th century.

Some of the world’s most iconic places are also the most vulnerable, and they are already feeling the effects.

“We’re already seeing contraction of species in the most sensitive ecosystems, such as those dependent on sea ice or those living on mountain tops,” said Prof Carmen.

“We’re also seeing declines in some tropical systems, such as coral reefs, and the valuable services they provide for fish nurseries, tourism and protection from coastal flooding.”

And that’s just the beginning.

“At more than 2C, we wouldn’t just face losing the most sensitive species but some common ones, too,” said Prof Parmesan.

“So it wouldn’t just be the polar bear and the mountain pika, but other species living in lowland and temperate habitats that aren’t necessarily at risk right now.”

Against this backdrop, the world’s carbon emissions have continued to rise and the task of staying below 2C looms ever larger. Global leaders will meet again in Paris in December to agree on a plan for how to get ourselves on a pathway to achieving 2C in the long term.

But suppose that doesn’t happen. Suppose we collectively decide the task of keeping to this target is too great, or the price of cutting emissions quickly is too high. What would it mean to resign ourselves to a post-2C world? And if not 2C, then what?

Science is helping to answer these important questions. Climate models tell us that if carbon emissions stay very high, global temperatures could reach 4C above pre-industrial temperatures by the end of the century, perhaps even rising to 5C.

And unless emissions cease altogether after that, temperatures will continue to rise long past the end of the century.

And that would mean a world unlike anything we have ever known.

Climate change won’t treat all countries the same. Often the most serious and damaging effects will happen in the countries that are least able to cope.

A global temperature rise of 4C by the end of the century would see parts of Africa warm by up to 6C, making life near impossible for vulnerable urban populations and people working outdoors.

Drying of river basins and falling crop yields would raise the risk of food and water scarcity in many parts of the world, particularly among poorer rural populations.

Society is vulnerable to extreme weather. The UN body whose job it is to assess the science on climate change says the North Atlantic and Western North Pacific will see more strong storms like Typhoon Haiyan, which tore through the Philippines in 2013.

In Europe, heatwaves like the 2003 event, which killed 70,000 people, are already 10 times more likely than a decade ago, and this pattern is set to continue. Scientists also know that warmer air will mean rainfall in heavier bursts, while higher seas will make storms more likely to breach coastal flood defenses.

As humans, we tend to focus on what we experience up here on Earth’s surface. So it’s often overlooked that more than 90% of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases goes into the oceans, warming them up from the surface to hundreds of metres below.

The oceans take up some of the extra carbon in the atmosphere, too, making them more acidic. Warming and acidifying oceans spell bad news for marine ecosystems, including valuable fisheries that people the world over depend on for their food and livelihoods.

As seawater warms, it expands. That’s why, throughout Earth’s history, changing temperatures and sea levels have always been closely linked. Since the turn of the 20th century, the global sea level has risen by nearly 20cm, which is already enough to threaten low-lying island nations such as Kiribati, Tuvalu, or the Maldives.

Even if the oceans continued this steady march, scientists expect sea levels to be at least another half a meter higher by the end of the century. But the higher temperatures rise, the greater the chances of tipping the balance into a totally altered state, which carries far more serious consequences.

At some point, the vast Greenland ice sheet will collapse. Scientists don’t know exactly when this will happen, but they say it’s likely to be with less than 4C of global warming. The collapse wouldn’t happen quickly, perhaps taking centuries or millennia.

But once it starts, we’d be committed to a sea-level rise of several metres. This would inundate some of the world’s biggest cities, including New York and Shanghai.

At the other end of the globe, scientists are already seeing early signs of collapse in parts of the Antarctic ice sheet. And once that starts, it’s likely to be unstoppable.

In the meantime, almost all the world’s glaciers are losing ice. In the Arctic, temperatures are rising more than twice as fast as the global average, and if we stay on a path to 4C, scientists predict there could be no Arctic sea ice left in summer in as little as 30 or 40 years.

The climate system, in all its infinite complexity, is impossible to predict entirely.

There are some things happening that scientists don’t completely understand yet, such as why ice floating on the sea around Antarctica is currently growing slightly.

Scientists think, perhaps counter- intuitively, that it’s down to climate change, too, as the winds encircling the continent push freezing water outward from the coastline, extending the icy platform offshore.

And the climate system could still hold some surprises. As the Arctic warms, the once-frozen ground is thawing and releasing the powerful greenhouse gas methane.

Scientists are unsure yet just how much 4C of global warming could speed up this process.

Two, three, and four degrees are all points along a global warming continuum. None represents a climate precipice, but it’s clear that as the temperature rises, so do the risks.

What’s left to decide is, how much of a chance are we willing to take? The science is solid enough that whatever we choose, we can’t tell future generations that we didn’t know the risks.

Bees ‘prefer gardens with native flowers’


Gardeners keen to help wildlife are advised to plant a variety of flowering plants

Bees and other pollinating insects prefer gardens planted with flowers that are native to the UK and the northern hemisphere, a study has found.

But exotic plants provide nectar and pollen food for bees and hoverflies at times of the year when native flowers are thinner on the ground, while certain foreign blooms can prove a hit with some species, the Royal Horticultural Society research showed.

The researchers, writing in the Journal of Applied Ecology, said the best advice for gardeners keen to help wildlife was to plant a variety of flowering plants, focusing on native and northern hemisphere species but with a selection from further afield.

With around half of gardeners in the UK actively encouraging wildlife into their gardens, the findings will help nature-lovers make their plots more attractive to bees, hoverflies and other insects

Garden border-like plots were planted with three different sets of bulbs, perennials, shrubs, climbers, grass and ferns that were either native to the UK, near-native from the northern hemisphere, or exotic species from the southern hemisphere.

The plots were monitored for the abundance of flowers and the number of pollinating insect visitors over a four year period for the study, which was supported by the Widllife Gardening Forum.

More flowers – wherever they were from – meant more visits from pollinators, but a greater number of insects were recorded on the plots with native and near-native species than the exotic ones, with 40% fewer visits to the beds with flowers from far away.

Short-tongued bumblebee species were found in larger numbers on the native and near-native plants, hoverflies favoured native flowers and honeybees preferred the near-native plots, the study found.

Long- tongued bumblebees and solitary bees were found on all three sets of plants in around the same numbers, but in the exotic plot a third of visits by solitary bees were to one type of plant, the Eryngium agavifolium Griseb, a variety of sea holly.

There were fewer visits to exotic plants in early summer compared to the other plots, but relatively more later in the season when the non-native species were flowering more than the UK and northern hemisphere blooms.

RHS experts said the results showed that gardeners who wanted to encourage and support pollinating insects should plant a mix of flowers from a wide range of geographical regions.

While there should be an emphasis on plants native to the UK and the northern hemisphere, southern hemisphere plants such as Lobelia tupa and Verbena bonariensis can play an important role.

Southern hemisphere plants tend to flower later, extending the flowering season and providing much needed food for bugs and bees after other species have gone to seed.

Lead researcher Dr Andrew Salisbury said: “The UK’s 1,500 species of pollinator are thought to be under increasing pressure due to the loss of habitat and food sources.

“As more traditional habitats have been reduced the role of gardens as havens for pollinators and other wildlife is growing in importance.”

But he said the role native and non-native plants play in helping wildlife had been unclear and confusing before now.

“Now for the first time, gardeners can access robust, evidence-based information on the most effective planting strategy they can adopt if they wish to attract and support pollinators.

“These findings will help gardeners to confidently pack their borders, window boxes and allotments with flowers without getting hung up on the idea that they are somehow doing the ‘wrong thing’ if the plants are not all UK natives,” he said.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 21st July 2014

Irish state spent some €128k hiring out helicopters to spy on our bogs


The Irish State has paid out more than €128,000 on surveillance of protected bogs over the past four years, the Irish Independent has learned.

The bill was racked up mostly through the hiring of helicopters to monitor activity on the raised bogs which are considered Special Areas of Conservation.

Figures released to the Irish Independent show the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht paid out €105,417.93 from 2011 to date on hiring helicopters to monitor the bogs.

Surveillance is carried out on areas where there is a requirement that turf cutting cease.

A spokesperson for the department stressed that it only hired in private aircraft when the Air Corps was not in a position to undertake these flights.

Figures from the Department of Defence show surveillance flights had cost the Air Corps €22,703 in the past two years.

The total Air Corps figures were not broken down for bog surveillance prior to 2013.

However, the figures from both departments reveal the cost of monitoring the bogs has dropped dramatically this year.

While the total bill for 2013 was €76,373 for private helicopter and Air Corps surveillance, it has dropped significantly, hitting just €6,448 this year to date.

A breakdown of the cost incurred by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht shows it has paid out €3,516.84 to date this year.

The largest bill for hiring private helicopters occurred in 2013 when €56,602.05 was paid out to private aircraft.

This was a rise from the €9,543.33 total for the final six months of 2011 and €35,755.71 for 2012. “There would be other ground monitoring work carried out by officials of the department in relation to the cessation of turf cutting which would be undertaken as part of their normal course of duties and therefore separate costs are not available for this work,” a department spokesperson said.

Separately a spokesperson for the Department of Defence confirmed the total cost to the Air Corps of bog surveillance had reached €19,771 in 2013.

Up until June 26 of this year the Air Corps had amassed bills of €2,932 on bog surveillance.

A spokesperson for the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht added: “Ireland is at risk of action before the European Court of Justice if these Special Areas of Conservation, which are protected under Irish and European law, are not preserved.”

Fish Oil prevents brain shrinkage and cognitive decline In Older Adults


Three more cases of Alzheimer’s disease will have been diagnosed by the time you finish reading this article. More than 5 million people have Alzheimer’s in the United States alone (44 million worldwide), and the rate of new diagnosis is about one patient every minute, with no cure on the horizon.

Now a new study adds evidence to the argument that fish oil supplementation could be one of the best preventives we have against the disease–at least for people not at genetic risk of developing it.

Researchers from Rhode Island Hospital studied three groups of older adults, ages 55-90, using neuropsychological tests and brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) every six months. The group included 229 adults with no signs of the disease; 397 who were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment; and 193 with Alzheimer’s. All participants were part of the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), which began in 2003 and ended in 2010.

Results showed that adults taking fish oil, who had not yet developed Alzheimer’s, experienced significantly less cognitive decline and brain shrinkage than adults not taking fish oil. Cognitive decline was measured using the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale (ADAS-cog) and the Mini Mental State Exam (MMSE). (Unfortunately, the study did not specify the amount of fish oil taken, nor the percentage of EPA and DHA in the supplements.)

These are promising results, but they have one notable caveat: benefits of taking fish oil only held true for people lacking the main genetic risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s, known as APOE ε4 . The researchers think that people with APOE ε4  are incapable of metabolizing DHA, the fatty acid in fish oil thought to promote cognitive benefits.

The researchers add, however, that it’s still possible that starting fish oil supplementation during or before middle age could protect against developing Alzheimer’s even for people with the genetic marker. If you think of the gene for Alzheimer’s as a light switch, taking fish oil earlier in life could prevent the switch from being flicked on.

At least that’s the hope, and given the fact that Alzheimer’s—the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.—still evades a cure, fish oil will continue to be a hot target of cognitive research as a possible shield against developing the disease

New Bull elephant calf born at Dublin Zoo


A baby boy elephant which weighs as much as an adult human born in Dublin Zoo and the public are asked to name the new mammal

Dublin Zoo have introduced their newest arrival, a baby Asian elephant to the public. The male calf which is yet to be named was born to mother Yasmin on Thursday after a 22 month gestation.

Dublin Zoo has welcomed the arrival of a new baby elephant, and the public will be invited to help name the bull calf over the coming weeks.

The healthy Asian elephant calf was born last Thursday morning after a 22 month gestation period. The calf is over a metre tall and weighs as much as an adult human. He will join the rest of the herd, including mum Yasmin and dad Upali, in the Kaziranga Forest Trail at the zoo.

“We are absolutely thrilled with the new arrival. The calf was born within three minutes and after eight minutes he was up and taking his first steps, watched closely by his mum Yasmin and the rest of the females in the herd,”the zoo’s assistant director Paul O’Donoghue said.

Mr O’Donoghue said the calf and his mother are bonding well. The birth is significant because it “will play an important role in the conservation of Asian elephants”.

Dublin Zoo and The Natural Confectionary Company will run a competition to name the new arrival. Entries should be inspired by the elephant’s Indian origin and will be accepted through the company’s Facebook page. The winning family will be invited to Dublin Zoo for a naming event.

The public can keep an eye on the herd via the elephant webcam at Dublinzoo.ie.

Beautiful blooms now await the Summer butterflies


The rain and heat have advanced the fragrant lilac blooms of the butterfly bush to a perfumed pinnacle by a couple of weeks so that this growth of waste lots and railway lines now expectantly awaits colouful brides to its altars.

There are no painted ladies, red admirals or small tortoiseshells so far to flutter in the nectar feast of buddlja davidii . Insects, especially bees, have it all to themselves and, too soon, pale and browned by the sun, its perfume almost expunged, it will send its seeds to whatever crevice will provide a protective womb. In the meantime, we may watch and pray for the butterflies.

The buddlja has had an interesting history from its origins in the Himalayas, and Irishmen have played historic roles.

It got its Linnaean classification from a Basque missionary, Pere David, who came upon the plant in the mountains along the China-Tibet borders in 1869.

A couple of Irishmen had found it 20 years earlier but it took until the 1880s before some specimens were grown in a Paris plant nursery.

It is probable that the first buddleja to be grown in Ireland was in the 1840s in a walled garden at Edgewardstown, County Longford , ancestral home of the novelist Maria Edgeworth, author of Castle Rackrent.

Her half-brother, Michael Pakenham, had sent home seeds from the Tibetan hill country where he was a British colonial official.

Pakenham’s friend, a Bengal Lancers’ officer, Major Edward Madden from Kilkenny, also sent buddlja samples to the Botanic Gardens in Dublin from Simla and Almorah. These were named crispa with a fragrant orange or golden eye.

Madden wrote from Snowy Ridge in 1847: “Neither fatigue, danger nor admiration of the stupendous and sublime scenery prevented my gathering a few seeds and specimen parcels.”

Two packets arrived at Glasnevin in January 1848 containing the crispa and a white-flowered rhododendron which is named after him.

The naturalist Christopher Moriarty has drawn attention to another Irishman, Augustine Henry (1857-1930), who found the plant while working for the Chinese customs service and sent home samples.

Madden appears to have been a serious botanist, using the services of three porters – who were “changed every day” – to carry his stuff.

He also wrote lengthy instructions about necessary supplies (including baked biscuits, tin utensils, hermetically sealed soups and “a liberal allowance of beer, wine and brandy in stone bottles”) for those who wished to follow after.

Madden retired from the army in 1850, became president of Edinburgh Botanical Society and left a legacy of a number of plant species bearing his name.

The prolific buddlja bushes seen today along railway embankments and urban waysides did not all blow in as seeds from Longford or Glasnevin but are probably descended from escaped nursery stock marketed from London more than 100 years ago.

And these growths don’t contain any worrying hidden dangers such as those along some rivers in China where travellers were warned that the buddlja thickets provided “famous harbourage” for tigers!

Climate change broke temperature Records In 2013


The effects of climate change are getting more and more apparent as scientists continue to compile present data and compare it to recorded history.

According to Live Science, 2013 tied for the fourth hottest year ever recorded on Earth due to climate change.

Information released by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that the combined land and ocean surface temperatures across the globe were 1.12 degrees Fahrenheit (or 0.62 degrees Celsius) above the average temperature of the 20th century, which was 57 F (13.9 C). Climate data from the past 134 years has been examined to identify a steady trend of rising temperatures, which most climate scientists attribute to the increase in greenhouse gasses (like carbon dioxide) due to emissions from industry, power, and transportation.

“The climate is changing more rapidly in today’s world than at any time in modern civilization,” said Thomas Karl, director at NOAA National Climatic Data Center. “If we look at it like we’re trying to maintain an ideal weight, then we’re continuing to see ourselves put more weight on from year to year.”

According to NASA, as a result of global warming, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher than it has been in over 800,000 years and currently stands at 400 parts per million.

“Long-term trends in surface temperatures are unusual and 2013 adds to the evidence for ongoing climate change,” said climatologist Gavin Schmidt from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “While one year or one season can be affected by random weather events, this analysis shows the necessity for continued, long-term monitoring.”

Yahoo! News reported that global warming was responsible for record highs throughout 2013, showing a trend of gradually rising temperature over the past few decades. In fact, most parts of the planet experienced annual temperatures higher than average. Australia experienced the warmest year it has ever had, and Argentina and New Zealand their second and third warmest, respectively. The temperature record at the South Pole was also shattered, with a peak temperature recorded at -53 degrees Fahrenheit (-47 degrees Celsius).


News Ireland daily BLOG

Sunday 28th July 2013

Germany & Angela needs a dose of their own medicine


Beneath the impressive headline numbers there is a darker side to Germany’s success.

While the rest of Europe heads to the coast, German politicians are heading to their constituencies to prepare for September’s elections. The campaign is shaping up to be a lackluster affair: The economy has performed well, living standards are rising and Chancellor Angela Merkel has a commanding lead in the polls.

At the same time, Ms. Merkel’s habit of appropriating popular issues such as the introduction of a minimum wage has denied other parties political space. Although there is a mathematical possibility that the Social Democrats and Greens win enough seats to cobble together a coalition, senior opposition politicians privately expect Ms. Merkel will re-emerge as chancellor, possibly of an unchanged coalition.

Neighbors can only look on with envy, marvelling at Germany’s transformation in less than a decade from the “Sick Man of Europe” into the Continent’s economic powerhouse.

Foreign governments have beaten a path to Berlin, eager to learn the secrets of Germany’s success. The number of visits by U.K. ministers and officials has quadrupled since 2010 to 140 in 2014, according to a Foreign Office source.

Even Boris Johnson, the mayor of London who has made his career pandering to the xenophobic wing of his Conservative party, recently expressed himself amazed to find that Germans weren’t “clicking their heels or restraining their arms from performing a Strangelovian fascist salute.” Instead, he declared Berlin to be “hip” and encouraged Britons to look at Germany as a role model.

But nothing is ever quite what it seems. Beneath the impressive headline numbers there is a darker side to Germany’s success. Germany may have enjoyed robust growth in 2010 and 2011 on the back of booming Chinese and emerging-market demand, but since 1999 and the introduction of the euro, Germany has in fact experienced among the slowest growth of any euro-zone country—and that’s despite the recession in the periphery.

More worrying, Germany’s longer-term growth potential may not be as strong as often supposed without some structural reforms of its own. The economy risks being held back by low investment rates, weak labor productivity and a shrinking population. With already close to full employment, delivering non-inflationary growth may be challenging.

Some of these challenges are the flip side of Germany’s recent success. The Agenda 2010 reforms introduced a decade ago by former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, frequently held up by Berlin as a model of successful structural reform, were hardly the exercise in radical new-Thatcherism that is sometimes supposed.

But they did overhaul the social-security system in a way that created incentives for the unemployed to return to work. The result was to increase the supply of labor, keeping wages down, reducing unit labor costs relative to the euro zone and boosting German competitiveness.

But the reforms also encouraged German firms to hire more workers rather than invest, with consequences that are only now starting to become apparent. Germany now has the largest low-cost labor sector in Europe.

“In 2008, almost seven million Germans, or almost 20% of all employees, worked for low wages, defined as wages below €9 [$11.95] per hour. The lower quintiles saw their real wages fall between 2000 and 2006,” says Sebastian Dullien, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

But the corollary is that German labor productivity growth over the past decade has been among the weakest in the euro zone while public- and private-sector investment—the key to future growth—have been among the lowest among industrialized countries, according to Marcel Fratzscher, president of the think tank DIW Berlin.

“In 1999, [the investment rate] was approximately 20% and today the rate is only just under 17%,” Mr. Fratzscher argued in a recent report. “Since 1999, Germany has generated an average annual investment shortfall of three percentage points, which corresponds to over 40% of the country’s GDP.”

Indeed, the situation is getting worse: Gross-fixed-capital formation has declined for five consecutive quarters, resulting in a level of investment spending that is almost 5% lower than at the end of 2011, notes Huw Pill, chief European economist at Goldman Sachs.

This is particularly troubling for a country whose economy depends to such large degree on research-intensive industries. Instead of using the country’s vast private-sector savings surplus to fund domestic investment, the German financial system has tended to invest overseas—typically with disastrous results.

“From 2006 to 2012 alone, losses [on foreign assets] were as high as approximately €600 billion, which is 22% of the country’s GDP,” says Mr. Fratzscher. “If these had been domestic investments, German annual economic growth per capita could have been up to one percentage point higher.”

Of course, some of the recent investment weakness may be cyclical, notes Mr. Pill. Economic conditions are currently favorable for investment spending, given that borrowing costs are very low and corporate balance sheets are healthy. But some spending may be being held back amid concerns over the euro crisis or until the domestic political landscape becomes clearer: the Green party and SPD are both threatening tax rises.

Even so, Berlin can’t afford to be complacent. Germany needs to update its economic money to encourage much higher investment growth to boost productivity and create the conditions for faster growth. And with government debt currently at 90% of GDP, this investment must necessarily come primarily from the private rather than public sector. But it will be up to the government to put in place the tax and regulatory policies to encourage the private sector to take long-term bets on the country’s future.

For example, Germany needs to spend up to €38 billion a year on energy infrastructure if it is to complete its switch away from nuclear power and meet ambitious renewable energy targets, estimates Mr. Fratzscher. But that will require regulatory clarity after years of shifting policy priorities.

Germany also needs to spend about €11 billion ($14.6 billion) a year to upgrade its neglected transport network. Housing and education have also suffered from years of underinvestment. At the same time, further deregulation of the services sector, long resisted by Berlin, would help boost productivity.

Of course, this requires Germany to take its own dose of the economic medicine it has been prescribing for others.

If it does, the boost to growth would be good for Germany and good for Europe. And if it doesn’t, how long before Germany falls sick again?

Spent Irish bogs and disused railways have huge eco-tourism potential


Ireland’s largest landowners are Bord na Mona and Irish Rail. Between them they own hundreds of thousands of acres – much of which has been lying idle and disused for years.

However, an ambitious project to restore Ireland’s boglands will transform large tracts of Ireland into a wetland Savannah-like wonderland and attract hundreds of thousands of eco-tourists.

Elsewhere, Irish Rail owns almost 1,000 miles of disused tracks and railway embankments – which at one stage linked every town in the country – and is keen to transform the old lines into grass-covered cycle and rambler ways.

Together, both eco-tourism initiatives will bring millions of euro to parts of the country where a tourist seldom sets foot.

Bord na Mona has concluded a successful trial run in Mayo, where it converted a dead, barren landscape into a Garden of Eden.

Bord na Mona and the Environmental Protection Agency now plan to breathe new life into 150,000 acres of severely degraded cut-away boglands, which are totally devoid of any life.

Bord na Mona manages a staggering 200,000 acres of bogland, three-quarters of which has become spent and lifeless due to the industrial harvesting of peat.

However, over 90,000 acres of land may be available for rewetting and restoration over the coming years with more lands coming on stream as time goes on.

At one stage, almost 13 per cent of Ireland’s landmass consisted of bogs, which, in their original pristine condition, were teeming with birds, exotic plants and insect life.

The pilot project on a rewetted industrial cutaway bog in Bellacorick, in northwest Co Mayo, has shown that over time, birds and plants and wildlife flourish if the bogs are left to fill up with water naturally.

For years, the 16,000-acre Bellacorick bog near Belmullet was dead and barren and resembled a post-apocalyptic landscape. Now, however, the pilot scheme resembles the Florida Everglades and is teeming with life.

Biologist and water chemist Dr David Wilson, who was part of the UCD end of the research, has seen first-hand what can be achieved by rewetting industrial scarred boglands.

“It went from a desert with nothing growing on it to a wetland in a really short space of time.

“When the Sphagnum mosses appear the wetland plants start growing, then everything else starts to come in, from spiders and mites to butterflies.

“The important thing is to maintain drainage and to keep the water table as high as possible. Sphagnum mosses are the building blocks of the bog, they are like sponges and they hold up the water table. They also protect the bogs in dry periods by holding on to the water.”

Bord na Mona botanist and zoologist Dr Catherine Farrell, who oversaw the restoration project, says that Bellacorick is only the beginning.

“The area is now like the landscape that existed in Ireland 8,000 years ago; we call it teenage peat land – it has been a fantastic story and we are delighted. We have 75,000 acres (30,000 hectares) along the Shannon that will be rewetted and turned into a blue fen wetland habitat teeming with wildlife.

“We have also identified bogs in the midlands, which we plan to restore as part of a five-year plan,” explains Dr Farrell.

Restoring spent bogs costs practically nothing and works out at roughly €150 per acre.

Eco-tourism, which attracts walkers and cyclists, has become a major niche market in Ireland. A key ingredient are green routes that are way off the main roads – and that is where Irish Rail comes in.

The Department of Transport, South Kerry Partnership and Kerry County Council have commissioned a feasibility study into creating a 26km cycleway between Glenbeigh and Renard using the old abandoned railway line.

The project is a win-win for everyone, with a disused line being converted into a profitable rambler and cycle way.

Typically, it costs roughly €25,000 a mile to convert a route into a green rambler way with full payback within six years. A study by Trinity College into the 42km-long Great Western Greenway, which runs from Westport to Achill, showed it was found to generate €1.1m for the local economy every year.

If the paths were rolled out across all the old disused railway routes, it would unlock the entire country, enabling ramblers and cyclists to travel from, say, Dublin city to remotest Achill Island without ever meeting a car.

Maynooth NUI achieves big breakthrough in fight against Crohns disease


Scientist says discovery represents a significant breakthrough against disease that affects 2 million people in Europe

Professor Paul Moynagh, who led the research team, says the identification of the protein Pellino3 may protect against the development of the incurable Crohn’s disease.

University researchers have made a major breakthrough in the fight against bowel diseases such as Crohn’s, they have revealed. Scientists at NUI Maynooth discovered what they described as a crucial role for protein in controlling unwanted inflammation in the intestine.

Professor Paul Moynagh, who led the research team, said the identification of the protein Pellino3 may protect against the development of the incurable Crohn’s disease.

“My hope is that we can build on these findings and use Pellino3 as a new diagnostic for Crohn’s disease and as atarget for new drug discovery,” Prof Moynagh said.

“Our aim at NUI Maynooth is to progress this research even further and we look forward to further advancements in the area of immunology in years to come.”

Prof Moynagh, head of the Department of Biology and Director of the Institute of Immunology at the university, said the research represents a significant breakthrough.

The team discovered that levels of Pellino3 are dramatically reduced in Crohn’s disease patients.

It will now use the protein as a basis for new diagnostic for Crohn’s and as a target in designing drugs to treat the illness.

More than two million people across Europe suffer from some form of inflammatory bowel disease.

Inflammation is the body’s response to disease-causing micro-organisms, which involves the movement of white blood cells from vessels in the infected tissue where invading micro-organisms are destroyed.

But this can result in chronic inflammatory diseases with the symptoms of the diseases being dependent on the inflammation area.

When chronic inflammation occurs in the intestine, this can lead to inflammatory bowel diseases — Crohn’s disease is a particularly debilitating strand of this.

Some symptoms of the illness include abdominal pain and diarrhea. Patients are also at an increased risk of developing gallstones.

The findings of the research, which had support from collaborators in Trinity College Dublin and University College Cork, have been accepted and published in the Nature Immunology journal.

 NUI Maynooth president Professor Philip Nolan said research is about finding answers and solutions to major challenges.

“Immunology is an area of strength for Ireland and developments such as this will cement our position as one of the world’s leading nations in this field,” he added.

“The findings by Prof Moynagh and his team have the potential to impact positively on many lives.”

Woman airlifted after suffering serious injury on Croagh Patrick


A WOMAN has been airlifted off Croagh Patrick after suffering a serious head injury.

A total of 17 people were injured while carrying out the annual pilgrimage earlier today.

However, the vast majority of these suffered minor cuts and abrasions which could be treated on site.

The woman sustained the injury after falling near the summit of the mountain during the annual Reek Sunday climb.

She was airlifted by helicopter directly to Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar.

She was one of two casualties airlifted from the mountain earlier today.

The incident occurred shortly after 9am near the top of the mountain when the woman fell and sustained a serious head injury. The injury occurred on what is known as the cone of the mountain and she was carried by rescue workers to the summit in “a dazed state”, according to the Order of Malta.

A 67-year-old man who suffered a cardiac incident was also airlifted from the mountain and brought to the hospital by ambulance.

The man was a tourist who was holidaying in the area and took part in the climb.

The number of injuries sustained by pilgrims was down on previous years.

Last year, more than 20 people were injured with three airlifted from the mountain including an 83-year-old woman and a teenage boy.

A spokesperson for the Order of Malta said the number of injuries this year was “relatively low”.

“The dry weather has meant that the path is not as slippery as in previous years but people still need to take care. We need to get away from the idea of people going for a walk, they are not walking, they are climbing a mountain,” said Eamon Berry, duty manager with the Order of Malta.

Russian Cargo Ship Docks with Space Station


The Russian M-20M cargo spacecraft successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS), less than six hours after being launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on an express trip during which it orbited the Earth four times, NASA said.

The unmanned cargo rocket completed its automatic docking maneuver at 10:26 p.m. Eastern Time Saturday at a distance of 418 kilometers (259 miles) above the west coast of South America.

The craft, which docked with the Pirs module, which is one part of the Russian portion of the ISS, was placed into orbit aboard a Russian Soyuz-U rocket that lifted off at 12:45 a.m. Moscow time.

The M-20M is ferrying water, oxygen, food and fuel to the ISS, along with equipment for experiments being carried out by the current residents of the orbital platform.

The ship is also carrying space suit repair kits after Italian astronauts Luca Parmitano was put at risk during a spacewalk when his suit developed an internal water leak.

The last cargo ship sent to the ISS – the Progress M-19M – was launched in late April and burned up in the atmosphere last Friday at the end of its mission. On its flight into space, it took two days to dock with the ISS after it developed problems in deploying one of its approach and docking antennae.

Russian cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov, Alexandr Misurkin and Fyodor Yurchikhin, American astronauts Chris Cassidy and Karen Nyberg, and Parmitano make up the current crew on board the ISS.