Who cares about the predator attacks trauma caused on farms?

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Two items in last Saturday’s News Letter caught my eye. First there was the distressing report that the tongues were being ripped out of lambs on a Tyrone farm.

Then Michael Martin of Six Mile Water Trust fame weighed in with a well informed letter on predation by foxes. I am assuming you will have read both reports but in the meantime I will recap on both.

The really upsetting thing about the Tyrone report was that the farmer suffering the losses (the lambs, being unable to suck without their tongues, could not survive) firmly believed that the attacks were by a person or persons unknown.

That would be too despicable to contemplate. But I can tell you of my own experience on our farm near Cushendall in the Glens of Antrim 69 years ago.

I was looking after the sheep at that time as I waited to begin my studies in Edinburgh Veterinary College. But, although my registration fees had been paid by my brother John, himself a vet, I never went to any veterinary college.

The reason was that soldiers returning from the War took precedence over whipper snappers and as I would have had to wait five years before being admitted to the college, I took the first job offer I had and joined the Irish News. Five years was too long for a teenager of meagre patience to wait.

At that time there was a spate of incidents involving the removal of lambs’ tongues in our area. Foxes were plentiful but the culprits turned out to be ravens and hoodie crows.

Now for that excellent letter by Michael Martin. In it he took issue with letter writer John Fitzgerald and others who, he said had little knowledge of the countryside and simply relied on sentimental prose rather than facts about hunting and snaring.

Michael wrote: “Although there is an aspect of cruelty to these practices we must remember that nature is cruel and without hunting and snaring we could not control fox numbers. 

“Because of how the countryside has changed, some species such as foxes and crows thrive, unfortunately much to the detriment of many other species. If we don’t control foxes then there will be no ground nesting birds such as ducks, lapwings, pheasant, curlews or mammals such as hares and their leverets.  

“There’s a simple choice to make - a countryside without fox control and no wildlife or a managed countryside with the species and biodiversity which is Northern Ireland’s heritage. Let the public decide which they want without malicious propaganda about fieldsports.

“Personally I’d rather have my mallards, terns, lapwings, pheasants, water rails, curlews and hares. It’s interesting to note that some of the best places to observe wildlife is in estates managed for shooting because that’s where the best biodiversity is, despite the bad publicity and misinformation of some ‘animal rights’ groups.” 

Last month the moon appeared to have changed colour when Martin Harper the RSPB’s conservation director was quoted as saying pheasant shoots were very good for bird life. He said some shoots provided beneficial habitat management for wildlife.

Naturally, the antis jumped on him declaring that his comments were insane and arrogant. A few days later two letters in the Daily Telegraph struck the right note. BASC chairman Alan Jarett wrote: “Shoot providers spend £250 million a year on conservation and put in work which would take 16,000 full-time jobs to replicate.”

JB Chinnery of Colchester, Essex, wrote: “A little over 40 years ago some woods adjacent to my home were managed for shooting. Blackbirds, song thrushes, chiff chaffs, willow warblers, tree creepers and nuthatches were visitors to the garden or could be seen or heard nearby.

“Since the woods became a ‘country park’ the species most commonly seen are foxes, grey squirrels and magpies.”

Here are some other facts for you. You may recall that I mentioned the influx of foxes that had occurred in the Glens after the woodpigeon disease took a heavy toll of birds for months after Christmas.

Well, a couple of things happened around Easter that I had never seen in the long years that I have been working with terriers, hounds and snares.

A few nights apart, foxes took three lambs in one night belonging to one farmer and they took four in one night on his cousin. The thing about that is that Ciaran Mort and his team who run a small pheasant shoot only a few hundred yards from where the lambs were taken is adamant that foxes were to blame. This in spite of the fact that since early November they have accounted for 27 foxes no further than 200 yards from where the killing was done.

Since then there have been several incidences were single lambs were taken from a bit further away than that.

The latest was on Monday night of this week. As I sat writing this article, my next door neighbour arrived at my door with a big, strong lamb. There was a gaping wound in its chest and its heart and other vital organs were gone – all telltale evidence of an attack by a dog fox.

The lamb looked to me to be about a fortnight old but the owner said his sheep had only begun to lamb in the past week. My two toddler grandchildren took one look at the blood covered lamb and vanished into the house.

Traumatised as they were, they could escape, for a time at least, but there is no escape for the farmers, their wives and children who continue to suffer losses from predation of one sort or another. But I doubt if the antis care about that.

Now, I still think the killing in the Glens of Antrim was connected to the woodpigeon deaths. Ciaran and others told me weeks ago that they had seen foxes waddling about, totally unconcerned about human presence. And the foxes were not too responsive to the fox calls by lampers.

I have heard of only three pigeons being found dead near the Cushendall-Cushendun area in the past month. It could be that foxes were extremely hungry after the pigeon supply dried up and killed wantonly the first lambs they came upon.

Now, it may be that some of them have moved back to from whence they came.

At Craigmore, beautiful sunshine on Easter Monday and Tuesday saw more great hatches of buzzers, but hailstones, strong winds and a couple of snow showers at the end of the week put the fish down again.

Gordon Wilson had 43 on cdcs and Sandy Dorian had 30 to 6lb on the weed. Maurice Anderson had 36 to 5lb 12oz on two visits. Simon Holmes had 25 on buzzers and Martin Foster had 25 to 7lb 12oz on lures.

Other catches were: Pawal Sinica, 42 to 7lb; Steven Alison, 20; John Bailey and Billy Hazlett, 19; John Hughes, 24; Craig Murray, 16; Tony Magill, 19; Keith Henry, 17; Tom Smith, 13; David McBurney, 14; Kieran McLaverty, 11 to 5lb; Sean Smith, 15; James Harper, 14 including two to 7lb12oz; Jim Simpson, 17; Tommy Wharry, 18; Billy Magill, 14 to 5lb; R Coney, 12; Billy Todd, 17; Clive Moore, 11 to 5lb ; Harry Graham, 17; Robert Weir, 14 to 6lb; Gary McFadden, 10 to 8lb; Sam Moore, 11 to 6lb; Tommy Clulow, eight.

In their Irish Angling update, Myles Kelly and Paul Bourke say one of the great catches of the week saw young Liam Harris catch and release back to the Suir a salmon estimated at 20lb.  A sea trout of 5lb and steady salmon fishing was reported from Lough Currane and the Killarney lakes and the River Flesk were producing good salmon fishing. The River Lee and Ilen also produced a few salmon. 

Over the holidays there was much better salmon fishing on the Delphi system and the Moy was also fishing better. Spinning produced good salmon for anglers on the River Drowes and a few fish were reported from Lough Melvin.

The warmer weather brought more anglers out on Lough Sheelin and there was some fine trout fishing for Easter holiday anglers.

Trout fishing improved greatly with the warmer weather on loughs on Corrib and Mask and angling guide Tom Doc Sullivan had a trout of 8 lb on fly. Dry and wet flies were producing better trout fishing on loughs Conn and Lough Arrow.

Sixteen years old Irish International and Erne Anglers club member James O’Doherty, had his first festival win on his home waters at the DAIWA Erne Easter three day festival when he beat some of the cream of Irish match fishing at this popular office.

Cian O’Halloran was fishing in the Tramore area when he landed a really big bass which he quickly photographed and returned and he wins Angling Ireland’s Catch of the Week

The next public meeting of the Lough Neagh Dollaghan Trust is scheduled for Wednesday, April 29 at 7.30pm in the the Old Courthouse in Antrim.

Queens University PHD student Kevin Keenan will be making a presentation on the key findings of the genetic survey. Jim Haughey says the study has thrown up some very interesting data that will be very useful for all involved in the management of dollaghan stocks.

The 32nd annual meeting of NASCO will be held at Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Canada, from June2-5.  There have been no changes to the Council, North American Commission or North-East Atlantic Commission provisional agendas, which have been issued as draft Agendas.  At the request of the EU, two new agenda items (Item 7 – ‘Progress on the Plan for Implementation of Monitoring and Control Measures in the salmon fishery at West Greenland’ and Item 8 – ‘Updated report on the socio-economic importance of the salmon fishery in West Greenland’) have been included in the draft agenda for the West Greenland Commission in the light of the outcome of that Commission’s inter-sessional meeting.

Annual progress reports are available on the NASCO website together with other papers for the meetings that have already been distributed.  All these documents can be accessed from the ‘Meetings’ menu item www.nasco.int/meetings.html).

The topic for the 2015 Theme-based Special Session is ‘Maintaining and improving river connectivity with particular focus on impacts of hydropower’.