Caring country folk have quite a lot to complain about

Nick from Belgium with his 24lb 2oz pike, caught at Melview Lodge, Co. Longford.

Nick from Belgium with his 24lb 2oz pike, caught at Melview Lodge, Co. Longford.

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It may not be wise to attempt to kill two birds with the one stone.

But at a time when anglers are left ruing the day that salmon farms were ever given the go-ahead (see below) and a handful of townies were attempting to strike a mortal blow against the countryside, I have little option but to empty both barrels in their direction. Figuratively speaking, of course.

So far as Belfast City Councillors are concerned I pity them more than I envy them. The old saying: “Full of wind and water like a barber’s cat” comes to mind. There they were last week getting all hot and bothered about what they saw as the clamant need to have fox hunting banned.

I doubt if any of them ever saw a real hunt in progress but one lady wanted to ban all hunting because of a regrettable incident when, apparently, her son’s little dog was savaged by greyhounds which have very little to do with foxhounds.

The debate in the City Council was another example of people talking about a subject of which they had no real knowledge. Over the years a lot of country folk have asked me why such organisations as the Royal Society for the Protection of Raptors and Predators are allowed to exercise so much influence over those in authority.

The short answer is that they are influencing only those who know nothing and care less about the countryside, its ethos or its wildlife. Some politicians will scrabble for votes anywhere even though they know quite well that the antis are talking rubbish. If they were allowed free rein there would be no indigenous wildlife left: it would all have been gobbled up by raptors and predators.

The case for hunting does not rest alone on how vulnerable wildlife is protected by the men and women in green wellies; it is part of the fabric of the countryside and anyone who doesn’t like it should remain in their wee plots of land in the towns and cities.

You will notice that no one from rural areas is trying to dictate to the townies how they should live or enjoy themselves. Nor do they say much about how visitors should behave when they venture outside their own stomping grounds.

How long that happy state of affairs lasts will depend to a great extent on how soon the antis get a bit of common sense and leave well alone.

Anyway, I don’t think a campaign to ban hunting would get very far even at a time when the Greens want to give animals human rights.

Last week the Prime Minister David Cameron, said people in the countryside must have freedom to hunt. And he promised to give MPs a free vote on whether to repeal the 2005 Hunting Act if the Tories win the May election.

Belfast City Council called for the introduction of legislation to “outlaw the hunting of mammals with dogs” and for a “ban on the use and sale of snares for the purposes of capturing or killing animals”.

In a nutshell, there are far too many people without an ounce of common sense helping to make important decisions that greatly affect other people.

To anyone intending to vote in the next - or any- election I would say: Choose people of integrity, honesty and common sense. I have many with university degrees the length of your arm but haven’t enough common sense to take them safely across the road. Avoid them like the plague.

Incidentally, many thanks again to Ahoghill housewife Mrs Dorothy Fleck who provided Mosside vet Liam McCullough with an infected dead pigeon which he sent to England for forensic examination.

As Mrs Fleck had suggested, the cause of the deaths of thousands of pigeons in Northern Ireland since Christmas was Thrichomoniasis. I hope to have a fuller report from Mr McCullough on the cause and effect of the deadly outbreak to be included in next week’s article.

Meanwhile, correspondence between the Department of Agriculture and the Northern Salmon Company has clearly demonstrated that the company was under severe pressure in 2005.

Glens of Antrim anglers’ champion, Seamus McKillop recovered the information under the Freedom of Information Act.

“On January 14, 2005 DARD wrote to the directors of the NSC saying that both the Red Bay and Glenarm sites had been declared infected areas following confirmation of the presence of the infectious pancreatic necrosis (IPN) virus in March and the Department subsequently used its powers under the Diseases of Fish Act (NI) 1967 to put in place measures at each site to control the virus. You will be aware that it is the Department’s objective to seek to eradicate the IPN virus and that an integral part of the eradication programme is the implementation of a six-week fallow period at each site.”

On January 28, 2005 the Northern Salmon Company replied to the DARD letter. The company said: “From a practical point of view it would be impossible to harvest out the fish in Red Bay and have the site cleared of nets and equipment and disinfected before the middle of March.

“The organic regulating body would cancel our certification as this would contravene their protocols. From an economic point of view this would mean financial ruin for the company.

“If we were to accelerate harvesting to clear the site it would mean selling a large portion of stock at commodity prices which are less than 50 per cent of that achieved for organic salmon. This would result in a substantial trading loss and together with subsequent loss of market share and would leave us with no option but to liquidate the company.”

On February 22 DARD ate a portion of humble pie. It said in reply to the company: “In view of the implications and timescales involved the department will not now seek to impose a fallow period in 2005.”

A handbook of Trout and Salmon Diseases by RJ Roberts and CJ Shepherd says: “Adult fish may carry the (IPN) virus within their organs, particularly the gonad without showing any evidence of the disease.

“The commonest mode of entry of IPN is in association with eggs brought in from an infected source. Wherever possible such eggs should be accompanied by a veterinary certificate that the farm has been tested for specific virus diseases.

“This does not guarantee eggs as virus free (the presence of very few virus particles, undetectable by tests, can still cause disease) but it greatly reduces the risk. In addition, it is advisable to disinfect eggs on arrival at the farm.

“IPN is a particularly insidious problem as it readily infects wild fish, and while these are not visibly affected, they act as carriers. Such carrier fish can reinfect the farm (e.g. by their excreta entering the inlet pipe) after it has been cleaned out and disinfected.”