ROD & GUN: Just how did Cushleake moor fall on such hard times?

Dan Hawker about to release the biggest fly-caught salmon this year for Blackwater Lodge on Kents on the lower river. The 13lb fish won Dan Irish Angling's Catch of the Week.
Dan Hawker about to release the biggest fly-caught salmon this year for Blackwater Lodge on Kents on the lower river. The 13lb fish won Dan Irish Angling's Catch of the Week.

Last week I asked who is to blame for the state of Ulster moors. I have not had the definitive answer yet. But I think some long haired, studious types would have to shoulder a lot of the blame.

Perhaps they meant well but, unlike the men and women in green wellies, they had neither the experience nor the inclination to send the antis packing.

It’s a small world. On Wednesday I was out on the Lough Mountain (near Loughareema) when I was joined by an able young man who seemed to be the sort who didn’t mind walking a bit over heather moorland.

You won’t believe who he turned out to be. But I will tell you anyway. It was John McClintock, a member of the great gamekeeper family who, for generations, kept watch over the 3,000 acres Cushleake Mountain which we were looking at. And a mighty job they did. Grandfather Andy and his sons Andy, Willie and Bob spent long hours on the moor and nothing moved on it without their permission.

Those with long memories might recall an interview I had with Andy in the old, long gone, Cottage Hospital in Cushendall, days before he died. What he told me lived long in the memory.

One of the things he said was that every year adult grouse were brought in from Scotland and released on moors here, including Cushleake. He said, too, that in the spring 600 wedders were brought in to the pier at Waterfoot and the wedders, with five or six gamekeepers in attendance, would bring them up to near Parkmore and shepherd them across the moors to Ballycastle to arrive there in time for the Lammas Fair. Andy said the sheep would be ‘thick fat’ when they arrived.

But he said something equally important: He said the Scottish keepers attended to their keepering duties on the way, burning the heather and gritting as they went. No wonder grouse and other species like hares, curlew, lapwing, snipe, meadow pipits and larks, were so plentiful then.

But, back to the present. John had moved to the North of Scotland after the last of the McClintock brothers had passed on. He was actually looking for a rock with a ring (circle) on it. I may have, inadvertently, sent him the wrong way and if I did, I apologise.

I had directed him to a cluster of rocks on a plateau high up the mountain. But my son Daniel told me that night that John may have been looking for the dolmens out a few yards from Ballypatrick forest just below Loughareema.

John does a fair bit of moorland walking in North Antrim and he said he could not believe what he has seen, or not seen in his travels. He said he had not seen a moorland bird of any description since he returned home from Scotland which was a big difference from what it was like when his father and uncles took him on keepering missions on Cushleake mountain.

Thanks to his father, Andy McClintock, and the late Lord Glentoran, I know something of the environmental history of Cushleake mountain. Lord Glentoran told me the exact number of grouse that used to be shot on Cushleake from August 12 onwards. I won’t quote the exact number because if I did, the empty- headed brigade would think they had done a great service by saving so many hundreds of non-existent grouse every year while the opposite is the case; in fact all they have succeeded in doing is to leave the moor bereft of indigenous wildlife -the way John McClintock found it over the past few weeks. Is that something to be proud of?

When birds of all sorts and hares were plentiful on Cushleake mountain and elsewhere, Lord Glentoran rented the game rights from Lord Antrim. But the present Lord Antrim sold the rights to the National Trust. I know this because I had matched the Trust’s bid but I was told that Lord Antrim had sold the rights to the Trust because of his father’s long association with them.

If there is no game on Cushleake mountain but a proliferation of foxes, badgers, hen harriers, peregrine falcons and buzzards, how much are the game rights worth now? Oh, I nearly forgot. There is one other sub species that is plentiful now around Torr and Cusheake. Odd looking creatures with powerful ‘Peeping Toms’ seem to take an unusually close interest in what the farmers and their families are doing.

One harassed housewife told me: “At times you would think you were living in a police state in darkest Africa.”

John McClintock asked me a question on Wednesday which needed an answer. He asked: “If there are so many foxes and raptors on Cushleake mountain how do they all survive?”

Well, foxes can travel a long way at night and raptors can cover many miles during the day. Two stories can illustrate this. My neighbour, John McAuley, lost nine hens to foxes early in the summer and his uncle Pat McCormick lost 32 lambs to foxes in a short period some years ago. The culprit, an old manged dog fox, evaded capture for days because he was not using any of the setts that I knew and checked over a wide area. Sean Mort and I found him hiding behind a single rush in a dry ravine above Culraney chapel and that was that.

Golden eagles taken from nests in the Highlands and Islands may be released in southern Scotland. It is understood that the first releases could take place as early as next summer.

Given that the Mull of Kintyre is only a few flaps of a golden eagle’s wing from North Antrim, true conservationists like sheep farmers, will, I am sure be delighted at the news

On the Cork Blackwater, Dan Hawker caught and released a 13lb fish on Kents on the lower river. Four fish were caught on Friday of last week which brought the total for the first two weeks of August to 74 fish and the season to date to 319. Italian angler, Palo Ratti caught his first ever salmon, a seven pounder, on spinner from the Green Bank on Upper Kilmurry.

On August 15 two fish were caught, including a 10½ pounder for UK angler, John Tucker. Two days later three fish to 11lb 12oz were caught. From Friday to Sunday close on 50 fish were caught on Blackwater Lodge waters.

Meanwhile, at Craigmore Thomas Taylor proved the point that at this time of year trout feed morning and evening, when he landed 21 in a couple of hours in the evening on mixed cdcs.

Uel Stewart had 22 to 6lb 7oz on his special black lure. Gordon Wilson had 38 to 7lb on dries and buzzers while Michael Currie lost count at 20 to 6lb.bgmj h

Other catches were Johnny McNeill, 27 to 5lb; Ciaran McLaverty and Andy McClelland, 11 each; Martin Foster, 18 to 5lb; Adrian Tweed, 12 to 5lb; Edmund Jones, 19 to 9lb; Daniel Donnelly, 14 to 5lb; Jason Smyth, 24 to 6lb 7oz; Colin Maguigan, 10; David Walker, 12 to 5lb; Sandy Dorian, nine to 7lb; Maurice Anderson, nine to 5lb.

James Harper, 23 to 6lb; Davy Couples, Paul Donnelly, Jim Magill and young Steven Coulter, nine each; Sammy McConaughty, eight; Mark and Colin Murray, one each; Peter Clarke, 5lb; Raymond Stewart and Roy Quinn two each at 5lb; Jim Patterson, 5lb; Michael Burns,7lb; Joseph Riley, 5lb; Thomas Hillward ,6lb; John McCann, three to 9lb. Montupet staff had their summer competition at Craigmore. Claire said thanks to all who attended and she hopes to see them again soon.

At Cashel trout fishery, Jason Seaman used suspender buzzers and midges to hook eight trout and release four. Davy Brown caught and released two while Connla Scullion, accompanied by learner and newcomer, Adrian Loughlin, released two. Gerry Gallagher, Muff, and James Shiels, Carndonagh, bagged four for home for 9lb 10oz. Jim Russell released four and bagged two for home for 5lb. Ken Foster, Limavady, had two trout for 5lb.