'This is our chance to leave nature alone': Cork experts on the impact of lockdown on wildlife

'This is our chance to leave nature alone': Cork experts on the impact of lockdown on wildlife
An otter on the Blackwater River in Fermoy. Picture: Chris Martin

Coyotes spotted in Downtown Chicago, a herd of deer grazing on the lawns of a housing estate in East London and kangaroos venturing into central Adelaide – those are just a few of many bizarre occurrences which have happened in the last few weeks. 

Quieter cities as a result of reduced movement have caused animals to tentatively make their way into urban areas during daylight hours. 

In Cork, social media has seen a deluge of posts with people sharing images and videos of otters, seals, foxes and birds which they have spotted in the city. 

A seal coming up for a look at Parnell Bridge, Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan
A seal coming up for a look at Parnell Bridge, Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

John Quinn, Professor in Zoology, School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Science, at UCC explained that the increase in sightings is a combination of two factors.

"Almost certainly it is a combination of increased animal activity and people spending more time observing what’s around them. 

"More than ever people are noticing the buzzards in their local areas, for example. 

"Yes, it is true buzzards are making a great comeback in Ireland but they have been common in many parts of the country, including Cork, for a few years now, so with all of this spare time people are now beginning to notice the remarkable wildlife on our doorstep," he said.

A wild coyote going down a deserted Michigan Avenue, the busiest thoroughfare in Chicago. Picture: Daineh on Reddit
A wild coyote going down a deserted Michigan Avenue, the busiest thoroughfare in Chicago. Picture: Daineh on Reddit

"There are many ways that the lockdown is impacting wildlife in a positive way. 

"There is no doubt that while animals generally live in urban areas quite happily, some species nevertheless do their very best to avoid coming into contact with people, and this limits the areas they use and when they use them. 

"Take away the people, and the animals will use these areas more and at times when you wouldn’t normally expect to see them. 

"This includes species like otters, foxes, badgers and mammals in general who are typically nocturnal," Professor Quinn continued.

Gill Weyman, Chair of Cork Nature Network echoed this sentiment, stating that lockdown has given "breathing space" to the natural world.

"The lockdown is giving wild species a chance to wander into new territory where there are fewer threats put on them by humans. 

"Cork city has a wide range of animals often unnoticed such as red squirrels, otters, birds, foxes. 

"The recent situation has also meant that our limited mobility means that we are noticing things more instead of the hurried pace of modern life," she said.

A bee laden with pollen returns to a hive near the 5,000 apple trees at Ardress House in County Armagh have come into early bloom following a mild winter as nature responds to changes in weather linked to climate change according to the National Trust. Photo credit: Niall Carson/PA Wire
A bee laden with pollen returns to a hive near the 5,000 apple trees at Ardress House in County Armagh have come into early bloom following a mild winter as nature responds to changes in weather linked to climate change according to the National Trust. Photo credit: Niall Carson/PA Wire

"Reduced grass cutting by councils has allowed wildflowers to bloom in our urban areas. 

"This attracts pollinators (honey bees, solitary bees, butterflies), which attracts birds that feed on them," Ms Weyman continued.

Another aspect of lockdown which many people have commented on is how noticeable birdsong is. 

"Ironically, this is unlikely to be because more birds are singing, or because birds are singing more loudly. 

"It’s mainly because reduced noise from traffic makes it easier to hear them. 

"In fact, if anything, birds are singing less loudly because it has been shown that in urban areas songbirds sing louder to compensate for increased background noise," Prof Quinn explained. 

He also noted that quieter roads are also reducing the amount of roadkill – "a major cause of mortality for many animal species, especially birds and mammals, but also invertebrates like bees and butterflies."

A fawn made its way into Limerick on Easter week and got stuck on Sarsfield Bridge inside a 1916 monument. Photograph: Frayne Murphy/Press 22
A fawn made its way into Limerick on Easter week and got stuck on Sarsfield Bridge inside a 1916 monument. Photograph: Frayne Murphy/Press 22

Despite the overwhelmingly positive impacts lockdown has had wildlife, globally there have been a handful of negative examples.

In Africa, Professor Quinn highlighted, there are "major concerns that lockdowns are providing an opportunity for illegal poaching to take place."

In Ireland, Prof Quin said while there are "no major negative impacts of any note", "social distancing will interfere with some important conservation management from taking place in different places." 

"But where intervention is critical, special dispensation will be given to continue critically important work for sensitive species," he continued.

Speaking about the positive effects wildlife has experienced of late, Professor Quinn stated that these could have a lasting impact if people take the opportunity to permanently change some of their behaviours. 

"On the one hand, it is almost certainly the case that the vast majority of effects reported are temporary and will have little or no observable impact on the health of wildlife populations," he said. 

"On the other hand, people spending more time observing and appreciating nature should help to accelerate their appreciation for nature, and their willingness to invest in its protection, both in their own back garden and by supporting conservation charities in Ireland and around the globe."

Barn owl rescued from Crosshaven marina.
Barn owl rescued from Crosshaven marina.

For Gill Weyman, the current situation has afforded people the opportunity to let nature thrive again. 

"The current series of events means that nature is being left alone and that this is our chance to leave it alone, stop removing habitat, stop spraying and take the chance to understand nature and appreciate it," she said.

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