We often think that we have to go beyond a city's boundaries to experience the joys of nature. But with almost 50 per cent of Dublin made up of green spaces - 25 per cent in private gardens and 20 per cent in public parks - this is not the case with the capital, writes Sylvia Thompson .
"People take for granted what they can see in their gardens and in the parks of the city, and raising awareness of the biodiversity in the city is something we will be concentrating on over the next five years," says Mairéad Stack, biodiversity officer with Dublin City Council.
The recent publication of the Dublin City Biodiversity Action Plan 2008 - 2012 is a marker of the council's commitment to conserving and protecting wildlife in the city.
And a glance at the priority species, habitats and natural heritage in the report is a wake-up call to all urban-dwellers to the natural wonders on their doorsteps.
For instance, bats are a priority species. "Ireland is a refuge for bats and eight of the 10 species in this country can be found in Dublin," explains Stack. Keen to dispel myths about mammal, including that they fly into your hair, she instead reminds us that a bat will eat up to 3,500 midges in one evening.
"It's also important to remember that bats are what's called a 'keystone' species in that when we have bats, we also have the insects and the semi-natural grasslands that support them," says Stack.
THE GRASSLANDS ARE another priority. Found on parts of North Bull Island, they have aesthetic and ecological significance due to the variety of grasses and wildflowers they contain.
North Bull Island and other areas along Dublin Bay are birdwatchers' paradises if you consider the huge numbers of waterbirds that winter there.
In fact, 6,000 wildfowl, 24,000 waders and 6,000 gulls, are among the many waterbirds that spend the winter months along the north Dublin coastline.
Dublin Bay is also visited by up to 12,000 roosting terns from late July to early September. A management plan to protect the wetlands on North Bull Island, and the species it supports, is another key feature of the plan.
Wildlife expert Eanna Ní Lamhna says Dublin has an abundance of wonderful habitats and species that people don't know about.
In her forthcoming book, Wild Dublin (O'Brien Press), she encourages people to take trips by Dart to visit coastline areas, to walk along the canal and river banks and to wander through one of the 120 parks that are inside the M50.
"There are 32 species of mammals in Ireland and you'll find 28 of them in Dublin city," she explains. "For instance, people sometimes talk about seeing a fox walking up Grafton Street in the middle of the night, which is probably one of those living in the provost's garden in Trinity College on his way up to St Stephen's Green."
Foxes are now more common in the city than in the country, with an average density of one fox family group per square kilometre. Some areas have four to five times that density. Fox dens are commonly found in gardens, under sheds and in wrecked cars.
Ní Lamhna also points to other interesting mammals that are perhaps harder to spot as they shy away from humans.
"There are rabbits and hares, stoats and badgers in the city. And those fishing in the morning and evening times will see otters in the Tolka, Dodder and Liffey rivers," she adds.
Moving into the heart of the city, Ní Lamhna suggests Blessington Basin, which is about 10 minutes walk north of O'Connell Street, as a fascinating haven for wildlife.
"It's a wildlife park with a pond in it which is a tributary from the Royal Canal," she explains. "You'll find tufted duck breeding there and if you're really quiet, you might see a hedgehog. And you'll find two-spotted ladybirds there which are city ladybirds and smaller than the seven-spotted ladybirds that you'll find in the countryside."
ANOTHER SURPRISING wildlife hotspot is Gallanstown Basin in Park West business complex. "It holds a pocket of important wildlife and is a great source of entertainment for the office workers," says Stack. "There is a pair of swans who nest there and there is a high density of the glutinous snail, which has been wiped out across Europe. Also, the settling pond is a wonderful wetland, which is home to nesting birds and waterfowl and 40 species of plants and flowers including orchids."
Urban wetlands are also priority habitats in the action plan.
As well as getting out and enjoying nature in the city, Dublin's inhabitants will have many opportunities to get involved in protecting the plants, animals, fish (salmon and trout species feature on the priority species list) and the places they live in over the next five years.
"We still don't know half the species we have and don't have in the city," says Stack. "And we will be conducting surveys to monitor the loss of species. For instance, this year, we will monitor butterfly species and numbers in Dublin. Butterflies are an indicator species for climate change and habitat change, so our survey will show any changes in the distribution across the city and the impacts of climate change and habitat change."
Fourteen of the 32 species of butterflies in Ireland can be found in Dublin. Finally, back to the private gardens, which is where most people enjoy brief moments of watching birds, butterflies and other insects.
If you're keen to encourage more wildlife into your garden, check out how to maintain a wildlife-friendly area on the biodiversity section of the council's website, www.dublincity.ie
WATCHING CITY WILDLIFE
Most ladybirds have seven spots, but in gardens in Dublin city there is a smaller species which has only two spots. Most people think these ladybirds are baby ladybirds that will grow up to have seven spots but they are, in fact, a different species.
These fragile and beautiful flowers can be found in semi-natural grasslands in various parts of Dublin city, including North Bull Island.
Up to 30 years ago in Dublin, red squirrels were commonplace. Since then, the large grey squirrels have taken over and red squirrels can now only be found in parts of Killiney, Dalkey and in St Anne's Park, Raheny.
Dolphins and seals
Bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises can be seen in the liffey close to Dublin Port. Grey seals are a familiar sight in Dun Laoighre and common seals breed on Bull Island.
The Irish Times