ROD & GUN: We must spread truth about environment and its wildlife

Walter Schilling with his 5lb fish. Taken on fly at Carrahulta on Carrig on the Cork Blackwater.

Walter Schilling with his 5lb fish. Taken on fly at Carrahulta on Carrig on the Cork Blackwater.

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It’s funny how things happen. There I was awake but still in bed at 6.30am when I began to think how, if action is not taken soon, the environment will become a veritable wasteland with few of any of the species admired and cherished by people who live in he countryside.

Some hours later I checked my emails and there was this interesting letter from Richard Kidd of Aughafatten, Co Antrim. Richard wrote: “I always look forward to reading your column in Farming Life each week. I find it very interesting and you always provide a useful insight into the issues and opportunities facing the countryside and those who live in it.

“I also enjoy reading the work of George Monbiot. A columnist in the Guardian. I would be really interested to hear your thoughts on his plans for re-wilding and what effects you feel it would have on the countryside.’’

“So many positive things are written about re-wilding, I would be really interested to hear if you shared his enthusiasm for this work or if you felt the downside would outweigh the benefits?’’

First of all, having spent five years (1961-1965) as a sub-editor in The Guardian, I would say with certainty that, unlike some other commentators who are selective about the wildlife they want to save, George Monbiot believes implicitly in everything he writes.

Some others seem to start from a point of self interest where they realise that there is a lot more money to be made from saving exotic raptors than from saving the robin or the blackbird.

George Monbiot says the aim of Rewilding Britain was to bring trees back to bare hills, allow reefs to form once more on the seabed and to return to these shores the magnificent, entrancing animals of which we have so long been deprived. Above all it seeks to enhance and enrich the lives of the people of this nation. I hope that it might help to change the face of Britain. But the interests of local people must never be overruled. Rewilding must take place only with active consent.

I wish I could share George’s optimism about helping to enrich the local economy. But I saw nothing but huge losses and sleepless nights for sheep farmers after foxes first appeared in great numbers in the Glens of Antrim in the mid 40s. Nor did I see much benefit accruing to locals from the arrival in the Glens of Hen Harriers, Buzzards, Red Kites, Golden Eagles and Sea Eagles, many of which were released by do-gooders in the past 20 years.

George says that the authorities in these islands now claim to be willing to pay for the protection of soils and watersheds and , he adds: “These are likely to be more resilient sources of income than the current farm subsidy system upon which all hill farming in this country depends.

“The gross injustice of transferring vast sums from the poor to the rich ‘simply for owning land’ is as unsustainable politically as it is ecologically.”

My fear would be that rewilding would see the introduction of animals like wolves, lynx and bears thus menacing the most vulnerable sections of the community where releases were to take place.

Any farmers in Co Antrim that I have discussed the matter with say they would shoot any dangerous animal they met. And I don’t blame them for thinking that it might be more important to protect vulnerable members of their families and their neighbours than bowing to the wishes and dreams of vested interests.

But let us get back to the status quo and the destruction of habitat and other mistakes leading directly over the years to the loss of millions of birds, animals and butterflies.

When a charitable donor supports some well known ‘charity’ does he or she ever think that they are passing the death sentence on the very species that those in 
the countryside wish to protect?

Looking back over the past 80 odd years, it pains me to think of how we have allowed generous people to contribute unwittingly to making the countryside a poorer place.

In the 1940s, and much later, our moors and lowlands were teeming with wildlife. But then came the foxes, Hoodie Crows, Magpies, Sparrowhawks, Hen Harriers and Buzzards. It was downhill from then on, a process speeded by the loss of habitat.

I have to say that one of the moors in the neighbourhood which was last to go was Cushleake moor between Cushendun and Torr. There were three nesting sites along the cliffs, used by Peregrine Falcons but that did not seem to lower the bird count very much. Perhaps the Peregrines depended more on the rock pigeons which were plentiful rather than on racing pigeons

The other salient factor was that the McClintok family, father and two sons, were all active and excellent keepers who looked after Cushleake Mountain, conscientiously, wisely and well.

At the heels of the hunt, we must let the authorities know that they are being led up the garden path by heavily vested interests.

I thank Richard Todd for his letter and would appeal to all who really care, to join in a publicity campaign to spread the truth about the environment and its wildlife and reduce the savage killing by raptors and predators. Where space permitted, I would endeavour to include your views in this column.

You can email me at the above address or write to me at 12 Clady Road, Cushendun, Ballymena, Co Antrim, BT44 0QD.