Maybe a swimathon or other major event could move the salmon farms?

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Seamus McKillop, a member of a great sporting family in the Glens of Antrim has gone head-to-head with local vet and Independent member of Moyle District Council, Randal McDonnell, in his widely supported campaign against what he considers to be the abomination of a salmon farm in the picturesque Red Bay between Glenariffe and Cushendall.

Seamus (he signs himself as James P McKillop) and an impressive array of anglers and other environmentalists have, for years, been fighting an uphill battle against any attempt to trash the Glens.

He has written in-depth letters to such luminaries as the late Reverend Ian Paisley, Alex Adrian, Aquaculture Operations Manager of the Crown Estate in Edinburgh, former DARD Minister, Brid Rodgers her successor, Michelle O’Neill, DCAL Minister Caral Ni Chuilin and umpteen others who might have had some influence on the siting of the cages in Red Bay and Glenarm after they had been turned down in Strangford Lough.

The original consent in November, 1987 was for eight cages in Red Bay and the January 11, 1992 consent was for eight in Glenarm Bay, but the numbers have gone up spectacularly since then – although the cages might be smaller.

The reply from Alex Adrian confirmed the lease for salmon farming sites in Red Bay and Glenarm Bay was “rectified in June 2011 to provide a revised plan of the sites further to amendments to the Fish Culture Licences in March 2011.”

Mr Adrian said: “The Fish Culture Licence at Red Bay as well as Glenarm Bay was amended to provide larger site areas replacing the previously consented 250m by 100m area you refer to at Red Bay.”

There was a controversial suggestion some months ago that cages be transferred from Glenarm to Red Bay which prompted a lady at a meeting I attended in Cushendall to declare vehemently: “We don’t want Glenarm (salmon) dirt in Red Bay.”

In the space I have available I could not even begin to give a comprehensive summary of the magnificent work Seamus has done over the years on behalf of anglers throughout this island.

But when I say that, in my opinion, the damning facts and figures he has adduced in a campaign stretching back over many years, would be sufficient to impress the most learned and fair-minded judge in the land, but clearly not the big wigs and their friends, you can see what he and his colleagues are up against.

That other great friend of angling, Noel Carr of Carrick, Co Donegal summed it up perfectly when he said in a letter to Seamus: “We are delighted that there is a club (Glens of Antrim AC) of your resolve to stand up against this threat (salmon farming) to wipe all wild salmon and angling out of our waters.”

Noel and a lot of great men like him, are members of the Federation of Irish Salmon and Sea Trout Anglers. They have a tremendous fight on their hands to prevent the creation of a monster salmon farming project in the West of Ireland; they have our best wishes.

What is clear to me after reading all of Seamus’ protests together with that of other environmentalists, is that it is not just salmon farm operators who are immune to logical argument; those with special interests have friends in high places to bail them out. Read what Christopher Booker said in his Sunday (March 1) column about one aspect of that other great scandal – useless wind farms.

This is what he wrote: “Then, of course, there was the controversial case of Tim Yeo (well known to Ulster farmers) who long served as chairman of the also supposedly ‘independent’ select committee on energy and climate change in spite of earning £200,000 a year from various renewable and ‘low carbon’ energy....”

You can read the Sunday Telegraph if you want to find out why Mr Yeo had to step aside from the committee. I would urge readers to have little faith in the current Energy Secretary, Ed Davey.

And read too, this letter sent to me this week from Donald from Stranocum. I know his name and about the great days he used to spend along the banks of his beloved River Bush. This is what he wrote: “We are now looking at an environment – rivers, lakes and air that are polluted. Greed and the love of money have taken their toll on what we used to see in our beloved countryside. The decline of birds like the corncrake, water rail, yellow hammer, plover and snipe is increasing. So, too, are the big birds with the long beaks, curlew and bittern.

“The wood pigeon is in the spotlight at present. The young birds leave their nest at 20-29 days before they are capable of independent flight. There is usually a second brood from June to August and occasionally a third. There is nothing left in the fields for birds to eat during the winter and, in cold spells like the present, birds can die of hunger. Cats like fresh food and will not eat a rotten carcase. The peregrine falcon is much the same.”

The task of saving the environment and its wildlife is massive but remember what that other great campaigner against injustice, Mahatma Gandhi, said faced heroes and heroines brave enough to take on men with a lot more money than conscience. He said: “First, they will ignore you; then they will laugh at you; then they will attack you. Then (if you are still standing) YOU WILL WIN.”

I hope Seamus, Noel and their colleagues are still standing when victory comes – however long the wait may be.

At my request Mr Randal McDonnell gave me a summary of his reasons for supporting the salmon farming industry.

This is what he wrote: “Salmon and fish farming is an industry which should be encouraged and facilitated as it is a valuable and well tested and stringently regulated activity. It has additional potential for other value added ancillary enterprises and employment. The activity is practised worldwide,

“Intensive livestock farming is an established economic practice in the farming industry. Fish farming in cages and tanks is analogous to intensive production in special housing and units of chickens, eggs, milk veal, and other farm produce. It is an accepted and well regulated scenario.

“Objections to intensive production range from humanitarian to faecal waste disposal, to nutrient variation affecting taste of the product, to the need for special medication and sanitation, to genetic contamination and degradation, to scenic degradation and to the effects on tourism and recreation in landscape and coastal areas.

“Salmon and fish farming are, in principle, no more inappropriate than intensive livestock farming, all of which are well established and familiar to us. The difficulties are similar and are overcome by stringent regulation and supervision by the authorities and proper management. We should embrace the opportunities offered.”

I have the utmost respect for Mr McDonnell but I do not share his faith that all operators of fish farms go by the book and do everything right.

This week I have made a suggestion to Seamus McKillop which, if embraced by the thousands of sporting families in the Glens and elsewhere, could speed the day which all anglers long for and make the burden easier for people who love not just angling but all sports and the unsullied environment which nature bequeathed to us and our children.

I have asked Seamus to inquire from his thousands of friends and colleagues if it would be possible to arrange a swimathon or other major event in the area taking in the villages of Cushendun, Cushendall, Waterfoot, Carnlough and Glenarm.

Publicity is the last thing those with soiled hands want but if young and old in the Glens were to lend their support to a broadly based campaign for justice (and fun) the bigwigs might have to change their minds about Red Bay and Glenarm.

We are told that faith can move mountains. Perhaps the sight and sound of people of all ages enjoying themselves in support of a worthy cause, could move salmon farms.

I can look back to a time long ago when there was a great regatta at Cushendun on August 15 and the St Peter’s Pipe Band from Belfast led hordes of youngsters to the fieldsports just beyond the green; when great oarsmen from the five villages competed in fiercely contested gig races; when Cushendall hosted a hugely popular Horse Show every July at Legge Green (where the golf course is now) and there must have been at least four fairs in each of those five villages every year.

All gone but is it not time the Glens of Antrim and the West awoke from their slumbers?

Meanwhile, Beltrim Charitable Trust is this week holding demonstrations which hopefully, will eventually make life better for grouse, curlew, meadow pipits, golden plover and hares.

The demonstrations will begin at 9am at the Skerry Inn, 12 Old Cushendun Road, Newtowncrommelin, on Thursday (March 12). They will be hosted by Beltrim Charitable Trust and supported by: NGO Challenge Fund 2015

The meeting at Skerry Inn will incorporate open discussion on the use of controlled fires for upland management as well as the dangers and risks associated with uncontrolled wildfires.

The agenda is: 9.00AM – 9.30AM Meet and Greet (Tea/Coffee on arrival); 9.30am – 11.30am - Welcome and Introduction by Mr Richard Blakiston Houston.

There will be presentations by: Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service;- Mr Matthew Busby, Mourne Heritage Trust; Northern Ireland Environment Agency; DARD; Dr Ruth Kelly, Queen’s University; Mr Brian Malcomson, Scottish Woodlands Ltd.

11.30am – 12.45 Guest Speaker - Mr Simon Thorpe, Heather Trust; 12.45pm – 1.45pm Lunch (This will be provided);1.45pm - Depart for Sheans horse farm near Magheraoney; 2.15pm - Arrive at Sheans for the first demonstration of the afternoon; 3.15pm - Depart Sheans for Altarichard forest; 3.30pm - Arrive at Altarichard forest, Controlled burn; 4.30pm – 5.00pm - Closing remarks and home.

Note: I regret the absence of angling reports. Hopefully, normal service will be restored next week.