From blank pages on the computer to several causes for wildlife hope

Alan Kilgore with his 12lb fish from the Boathouse pool on the Drowes Boathouse.
Alan Kilgore with his 12lb fish from the Boathouse pool on the Drowes Boathouse.
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As you know, it never rains but it pours.

There I was on Friday evening with what I thought was a reasonable report on an important meeting at the Skerry Inn, Newtowncrommelin, in North Antrim, the previous day when I looked up from the keyboard of my computer and saw a blank page.

My article had disappeared for the third time up some cantankerous chimney never to be seen again and a power failure on Wednesday night put paid to all efforts to recover it until my daughter–in-law came to the rescue on Thursday night.

There simply was no space last week for several important items, including a snapshot of Michael Martin’s celebratory report on the Six Mile Water.

Believe me, I have tried hard to make amends this week but that means some reports have to be cut drastically. (See Six Mile Water below). So apologies all round.

The Skerry Inn meeting was hosted by Beltrim Charitable Trust, supported by NGO Challenge Fund 2015, chaired by Mr Richard Blakiston Houston with presentations from: Glen Cleland, NI Fire and Rescue Service; Matthew Bushby, Mourne Heritage Trust; Richard Wilde,NIEA; Godfrey McRoberts, DARD; Dr Ruth Kelly, QUB; Brian Malcolmson, Scottish Woodlands Ltd and last, but not least guest speaker Simon Thorpe of the Heather Trust.

You can take it from me that all spoke brilliantly and to the point which was how to put out/prevent wildfires. The speakers were right when they said that the best, if not the only, way to do that was by ensuring that a wildfires never started. So important is this that I hope to devote 80 per cent of a future article to heather burning and to include references to what can happen if things go wrong. I hope that article will appear as soon as possible before the burning season legally ends on April 15.

Of course I and all those attending Thursday’s meeting were keenly interested in what the experts had to say. My other interest was in finding out whether the organisers could do anything to restore the moors they now own or lease in North Antrim to what they once were. I was not disappointed.

Seventy odd years ago indigenous wildlife including grouse, curlew, snipe, meadow pipits and hares were there in profusion on those lands and on surrounding moorland.

Farmers present came to attention when one speaker said that there was far too many rules and regulations emanating from Government departments and Godfrey McRoberts might have had this in mind when he said that any future discussion on farm management must include farmers.

In a private conversation Richard Blakiston Houston, who chaired the meeting, told me that the Northern Ireland Environment Link had made what I consider to be a modest contribution towards the management of the Loughgiel project.

I firmly believe that Richard and his friends will have to dig deep into their own pockets if they are to turn the tide of despair in favour of the wildlife that the people of North Antrim and the vast majority of countryside enthusiasts, want to see thriving there once more. I am certain they will try their best and I wish them every success.

They have made a good start with the appointment some time ago of Newtowncrommelin expert, Derek Anderson, as wildlife warden. Derek strikes an enlightened balance between the aims of the men and women in green wellies and those who would take a different view.

Derek later touched on the interference theme when he told me that he had been warned recently not to proceed with a plan to flail a strip of heather to provide a fire break on one Loughgiel moor he manages because it might upset the hen harriers. This, although it is legal to burn heather up until April 15.

It is right to say that the farmers were greatly interested in what Godfrey McRoberts had to say. Godfrey gave me a copy of DARD’s Guide to Land Eligibility 2015 and I will be returning to it at the earliest opportunity.

It would be neglectful of me not to mention the elephant in the room which was the number of raptors and predators right across Northern Ireland.

Indeed, Cushendall farmer John McDonnell, who was present at the meeting, reminded me of the problem when he told me that eight hares which used to gambol in one of his fields at Coshkib near Cushendall, had now disappeared. That was after a pair of buzzards took control of the skies above Coskhib.

Guest speaker Simon Thorpe pulled no punches in his eagerly awaited speech. He reminded those present of the heavy toll wildfires had taken in human life and treasure overseas and he said: “It is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ wildfires will occur.”

He said all those interested must plan ahead and form groups of experienced fire fighters to prevent major disasters.

Now something to be happy about. Michael Martin tells me that last year was a most productive one on the Six Mile Water with the biggest run of dollaghan in living memory from Lough Neagh.

Michael said, too, that there had been more sightings of otters and kingfishers than ever before. He thanked all who had supported the Six Mile Water Trust and the countryside.

He included a planning document which provided an outline of the work of the Six Mile Water Trust, reviewed its activities and actions over the past year, highlighted the existing issues the Trust can deal with and decided on its actions for the coming year.

The Trust had its origins in the catastrophe that befell the Six Mile Water in June 2008 when one of the worst pollution incidents ever in a river system in the province occurred - hence the birth of the Six Mile Water Trust in 2009. Since that time the Trust, with seed funding and initial secretarial support from NIEA, has been working to bring about an improvement to the river system’s water quality and the surrounding environment. Since 2008 there has been significant progress but much more needs to be done.

The Trust, in its current form, consists of a board and members and representative organisations in the area. The Board members are: Chairman. Maurice Parkinson; Deputy Chairman. Michael Martin; Interim Secretary. Garry Gregg; Treasurer. Jim Martin; Jim Gregg, Billy Cathcart and John Kerr.

The Trust aims to ‘make the Six Mile Water catchment area the best river environment in the province’. It can achieve this aim by working with a wide range of partners in central and local government, water companies, businesses, farmers, interest groups and local communities to improve the Six Mile Water by:

Lobbying government to improve legislation and funding for river restoration and supporting wildlife; influencing the planning and regulatory process; supporting and taking action on the ground to improve the river system; educating and promoting the awareness of the public including those in government and business by the use of the Trust’s web page, news letter and various activities and promotions; and involving people in solutions through activities and projects.

(To be continued).

Jim Haughey of the Ulster Angling Federation tells me that the active awards for Sport-Round 3 of funding that is now open for applications. The closing date will be at 12pm on Monday April 13.

There are two stands this time round – one will be for cycling themed projects as part of legacy of the Giro D’Italia. This will run alongside the main active awards for sport application process which will be open to all eligible groups as in previous rounds.

Those who can apply are: Governing bodies of sport (recognised by Sport Northern Ireland);-  Sports clubs (must be affiliated to a governing body of sport recognised by Sport Northern Ireland); Charities; Parent teacher associations and community/voluntary groups

Further information by following link http://www.sportni.net/funding/our-funding-programmes/active-awards-for-sport/

The Lough’s Agency has formally announced the opening of its 2015 Sustainable Development Fund Programme which began on Friday March 13. The Agency is encouraging applications from the public, private, community and voluntary sectors for financial assistance to support angling development, conservation and protection of fisheries and marine tourism in the Foyle and Carlingford catchments.

Grant aid at a rate of 75 percent up to £7,500.00 is available for eligible development projects with a further grant of up to £1,000 accessible for events and festivals. Key themes for the programme include: River access measures; Marine access measures; Accommodation improvements that will benefit marine tourism/angling; New or improved marine/angling experiences; Training and skills development; Marketing and promotion activities;

Festivals and events; Innovative enhancement/restoration to improve fish stocks

Application forms and guidance information are available online at www.loughs-agency.org/about-us/grants/  or can be obtained by post by contacting the Lough’s Agency on Tel: +44 (0) 28 7134 2100. Closing date for applications is Wednesday April 1 at 4pm.

There was a slow start to fishing in the Drowes this month. There was sleet, snow, heavy rain, gale force winds and generally very unsettled conditions. Things improved on Sunday of last week when the sun made a welcome appearance. Two fish were landed at the weekend and more than half a dozen lost, including two at the net.

Alan Kilgore, from Kilkeel Angling Club had a 12lb fish on worm from the Boathouse. Next day Tony Parker caught and released a 7lb fish on a Williecade - a fly of his own tying which is a mixture of a Willie Gunn and a Green Butt Cascade.