Biodiversity and Tidytowns


The annual TidyTowns competition is a long established and very successful initiative aimed originally at ‘improving the look’ of Ireland's towns and villages. It started off, more than 50 years ago, by (the then) Bord Fáilte. The annual TidyTowns competition sought to address the untidiness, casual mess and urban dereliction that were then so widespread in the towns and villages of a more casual, relaxed Ireland that has probably long ceased to be. Carlingford won the Gold medal for Louth in 1988.

Louth Local Authorities have long seen the competition as a valuable means of engaging with local people and helping them improve the environment for all. The Councils facilitate ‘Louth TidyTowns Together’, which meets on a monthly basis to coordinate the various towns’ and villages’ approaches and work plans. Louth Local Authorities have also provided funding to help TidyTowns develop management and enhancement plans for their settlements. Back in 2005, when Louth first got a heritage officer, copies of the Heritage Council’s ‘Wildlife in towns and villages’ booklet was sent to all the TidyTowns groups, to give them a bit more of an idea about planting and managing and attracting native biodiversity.

In 2007 the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government took over the running of the competition and this led to a dramatic change in emphasis in the competition. Louth Local Authorities saw an opportunity to use it to help achieve their biodiversity conservation and other Sustainable Development objectives.

The scoring system changed radically, with the total count increased from 300 to 400 marks. Within this new scoring system the biggest increase went to ‘Wildlife and Natural Amenities’, up by 67%, from 30 to 50.   A new ‘waste minimisation’ category was also added. This was great news for Louth groups, many of which were ‘bumping their heads’ on the tops of the scoring categories and gave them space to expand upwards, in exactly the areas where the Local Authorities most wanted them to focus their attentions. To capitalise on this new opportunity, Louth Local Authorities decided to follow in the footsteps of Blackrock TidyTowns group. Blackrock had had an excellent and very detailed ecological survey done of the village in 2006, with funding from the Heritage Council. It was decided to try to make other TidyTowns groups aware of the ‘extra points’ to be had and to run an ‘envelope scheme’ to provide ecological surveys and biodiversity enhancement plans for several of Louth’s TidyTowns.

On Wednesday 26th September 2007, Louth Local Authorities organised a ‘Notice Nature seminar and gardening workshop’ in County Hall. The attendees got a talk and then spent an hour or so creating a brand new ‘biodiversity garden’ at the front of Louth County Hall, under the guidance of local expert Pamela Whitaker. The heritage officer also gave talks at the annual Dundalk and Drogheda local town pride awards events, both held around the same time.

Out of this the ‘Louth Community Biodiversity Network’ was set up comprising both ‘full’ TidyTowns groups and local groupings from within Drogheda and Dundalk. This network first met in March 2008 and has met once a year since. Following the receipt of generous funding from the Heritage Council, consultants were appointed to survey these TidyTowns and other groups’ sites, as well as council-owned land and other important green areas in both town and county areas. In addition, some groups obtained their own funding directly from the Heritage Council, which awarded funding for related projects to Ardee TidyTowns, Castle Park residents’ Association (Dundalk), Drogheda Borough Council, Louth County Council and Tallanstown TidyTowns, as well as to Pamela Whitaker.

By the end of the year (2008) Louth had a substantial suite of biodiversity surveys and enhancement plans for more than a dozen sites across the county and its towns. Since then further studies have been down for Grange village and Carlingford, both on the lovely Cooley peninsula. The biodiversity garden at county hall also continues to thrive, thanks to Pamela, TidyTowns volunteers and trainees from a local Rehab scheme.

Louth County Council has given its TidyTowns groups a new challenge and new hope of headroom to expand their performance. As so many of towns and villages in Louth are blessed with such wonderful natural environments (the Boyne, Dundalk Bay, Carlingford Lough). Louth is hopeful that some of the groups will emulate Carlingford's achievement and win the gold medal.   Even if they don’t, Louth won the regional award for biodiversity two years in a row and, most importantly, local people are more aware of biodiversity, more concerned to enhance it and more caring about it.

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