An Ecologist Wants Help Preserving Biodiversity in Rathmines

Bushes, brambles and wildflowers grow unruly under the canopy of tall trees on Leinster Road, alongside a footpath on the Rathmines end.

Alex Konieczka, a local ecologist, says she has had her eye on this area for a while.

She would like it kept wild. “But having things like a bird house, a secluded area for wildflowers,” she says, as she points out gaps in the tangle of plants and bushes.

Some string around the wildest areas would tidy it up while preserving its natural state, she says. “I don’t want to manicure it or anything like that. I just want to add.”

Konieczka has made plans for the features she imagines adding there on Leinster Road – although it’s a bit unclear who owns the spot at the moment – but wants more feedback from the community, she says.

She put up posters calling for ideas for community projects to improve Rathmines, with her contact details. Three people responded, she says, wanting benches and bins.

Konieczka says she would love to build and plant things with others all around the neighbourhood, but she knows she’ll need the council to approve initiatives and locals with enthusiasm to work on them.

Across the Neighbourhood

On Thursday, Konieczka stepped over brambles to the patch of exposed soil shaded by a tall tree on Leinster Road.

“This would be great for a log pile or an insect hotel, because it’s already earthy,” she said.

Even without hedgehogs, a hedgehog house could be nice, she says. “For people to see what it looks like.”

The direct sunlight of the late afternoon reveals a natural flowerbed, says Konieczka. “If I could have my way, I’d literally just give it a natural border, and then add more wildflower seeds in.”

Imagine a pathway through, she says, or a bench or bookcase or a bird house. Or whatever local residents want, she says. “It would be amazing to have people’s character show.”

Around the neighbourhood, Konieczka has scouted spaces that could do with improvements.

Alleyways behind houses are frequent targets for dog poo and litter – which could be cleared by installing bins, and brightened with street art, she says.

An overgrown and littered laneway, off Grosvenor Square, would be perfect for a community garden, she says.

Primary schools could use the areas that she wants to create for education in biodiversity, she says.

Konieczka says she hopes the council will be happy that she’s taking care of improvement projects, and keeping costs low by using reclaimed materials.

Konieczka says Michael Noonan, the senior executive parks superintendent, was interested in her biodiversity ideas, and could provide some plants.

The council’s biodiversity officer, Lorraine Bull, wants to meet her over the summer, says Konieczka, who is writing a grant application ahead of the meeting.

Local support would boost her application, she says, which is why she started putting up posters around the area.

“It’s not a case of daydreaming and coming up with random projects,” she says. “It’s responding to issues and filling in gaps that could offer so much more to our community.”

More Ideas

Gigi Pantic had been thinking of approaching the council, when she saw Konieczka’s poster near her house on Grosvenor Square.

She had been irritated by the piles of dog poo around the square. “You’re constantly having to be on alert, because you never know what you’re gonna step in,” she says.

There’s no bins in the square or on Leinster Road, says Pantic. She suggested to Konieczka that free dog poo bags and bins should be available at those two spots.

“I don’t think that they’re like, you know, too big of an expense. This would be a very big improvement for everyone that lives here,” says Pantic.

Pantic also suggested turning an overgrown unused part of the pitch beside Grosvenor Lane, which is owned by Cathal Brugha Barracks, into a dog park.

It would make the laneway – a fly-tipping and litter hotspot – cleaner if it was more or a public place, she says.

Konieczka was delighted with the ideas, she says. She wasn’t sure anyone would respond to the posters

Konieczka has lived in Rathmines for four years but doesn’t feel like she knows many people around, she says.

“Rathmines is a really cool place, but it’s just missing a little care,” she says, “There’s no Tidy Towns for Rathmines either. So there’s a bit of potential there.”

Pantic says she’s never gotten involved in community projects in the other places she’s lived but she feels like there’s a community in Rathmines.

“When I got here, I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is the place to be,’” she said. “It’s my long-term home.”

Drawn In Again

Konieczka says she ends up taking over sustainability projects wherever she is. “I’m passionate about it,” she says. “I just suggest things. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.”

As a researcher for Accenture in the past, she took over plans the company had for a beehive on the roof. They would need greenery there first, she said she told them.

“I was like, that’s nice, but putting in pollinators, you have to provide food. You can’t just put them in and expect them to survive,” says Konieczka.

Businesses are getting into ecology and eco-friendliness but they don’t necessarily have the knowledge, says Konieczka. “So because I studied science, I was like, let me tell you!”

She became the company’s sustainability programme coordinator. A green roof and beehives were installed.

She has her own company, called Understory, named after the dark world underneath the green overgrowth.

She’s trialled a few products. Local plant pots and terrariums in leftover glass bottles, seed planters, and a grow-your-own-cocktail kit to grow peppermint, purple basil, anise and lemon balm for drinks.

Similar products on the market have too high a carbon footprint, says Konieczka, but since she tries to live without creating waste so must her business.

“Things that others might consider waste can actually be really useful and pretty, high end and functional,” she says.

Starting her business opened doors for meeting new people who also care about biodiversity, she says. “It has shown me that there’s a lot more people out there that are like me.”

Getting Ready

Konieczka has already started to gather up timber and stone and scraps destined for the dump – from construction sites with permission, on the street, or in Killiney woods – to build features for the area.

“Sometimes if you look, people have just left things outside their house,” she says.

The wood she has collected is for bird and insect houses that she would build in her Rathmines studio. Carpentry and building is a hobby that goes back to her childhood, she says.

Her parents showed her how to chop wood and plant trees on weekend visits off the grid at their forest house near the city of Lodz in Poland.

“We had to chop wood to be warm and light the stove,” says Konieczka. “I actually loved it.”

She appreciates that education, she says. “As now it means I’m quite comfortable doing work that most people think a girl shouldn’t or couldn’t do.”

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Claudia Dalby: Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at [email protected]

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