Our capital city, Dublin has many modern aspects, but it also has a significant wild side. Seán Carberry dips into a book on subject.
There is evidence that banks of Liffey, Dublin’s main river, were inhabited as early as 140 AD, when settlement was called Eblana. However, it was when Vikings sailed up Liffey in 841 AD and established their settlement, Dyflin, downstream from Gaelic river crossing Átha Cliath, that it became significant. Dublin City in 21st century is a thriving modern capital city – yet it is truly amazing how much wildlife there is still here. Our capital is a city of over one million inhabitants, according to 2006 statistics. The urban center can be defined as area inside M50 motorway, which has highest population density in Ireland, with an average of 4,304 persons per square kilometer.
Ireland, because of its geographical location as an island on north-west of Europe, has quite a small biodiversity of plant and animals relative to larger mainland European countries. What is amazing is number and variety of plants and animals that occur within confines of Dublin City. Dublin lies in driest part of Ireland and urban infrastructure, with its concrete brick and stone, raises temperature to give an urban microclimate, which is somewhat warmer than surrounding non-built up areas. The capital is very well endowed with rivers and streams. Starting on north side, Santry river flows into what is quaintly known as Blue Lagoon, strip of water between mainland and Bull Island. Not too far away is the Nanniken, which on its way to sea forms two lakes in former Guinness estate now known as St. Anne’s Estate, or People’s Park, which also abuts Blue Lagoon.
Still on north side, Tolka with its normally calm waters belies force it generated in 1954, when it broke its banks and flooded most of North Strand and adjoining neighborhoods. Running parallel to it for some distance is Royal Canal, which links Dublin Bay with Shannon, as does its counterpart, Grand Canal, south of Liffey. The Liffey marks cultural, and indeed almost tribal, division of city into northside and southside, and has distinction of being celebrated as Anna Livia Plurabelle by James Joyce. Further along south side, Camac, Poddle and Dodder are main riparian flows, all with many tributaries. These rivers are vital wildlife corridors and are responsible for huge diversity of freshwater wildlife that we have in Dublin City. Ireland has just two freshwater mammals – otter and mink. Both of these species occur in Dublin’s rivers. Otters are at top of river food chain, and are only present in oxygen-rich waters. If otters are present in a river, it is a sign that whole food chain is there to support them. This is proof of good water quality of river.
Dublin has unenviable reputation of being first place where mink escaped into wild in Ireland. The mink is a native of North America and was introduced into Ireland in 1950s for fur farming. One of first mink farms was set up in 1955 on Dundrum River, a tributary of Dodder, which is notorious for flooding. The very first winter minks were in residence, a great flood went down Dodder and up Dundrum, and all cages with minks in them were swept downstream; minks escaped, and have been denizens of Dodder ever since.
Dublin’s rivers and canals are surprisingly full of fish, primarily because no sewage is pumped into our waterways, hence they’re free of organic pollution. This provides excellent habitats for salmon, trout, eels, stone loach, minnow, lamprey, and stickleback, as well as rudd, perch, roach, pike, tench, carp and bream. The Liffey stretch at Islandbridge is famous for catching of first salmon of year, and while Dodder has few salmon, it is well endowed with sea trout and wild brown trout.