Darragh McCullough: The last thing our beleaguered sheep farmers need is the company of wolves

Predator: The Green Party has proposed reintroducing wolves as part 'rewilding' measures to restore biodiversity in some parts of the country
Predator: The Green Party has proposed reintroducing wolves as part 'rewilding' measures to restore biodiversity in some parts of the country
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

So the Greens want to let wolves loose in rural Ireland. It's all part of their plan to 're-wild' large tracts of the Irish countryside that they consider good for nothing else. A kind of Jurassic Park with a Guinness on the side.

The theory is that man has more than enough food and resources on the planet if we just wasted less and reduced our reliance on animals.

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By doing so we can afford to let previously farmed land revert back to wilderness to replace some of the biodiversity that humanity has destroyed over the last century.

If we are serious about biodiversity we should reintroduce extinct predators like wolves and whatever else shacks up in this new unspoilt paradise. Presumably bears would be a bonus. Anyone for snakes?

The Greens defend their new land policy by pointing to Yellowstone National park in California where wolves have been successfully reintroduced since 1995.

The fact that Yellowstone is bigger than Carlow and Kilkenny combined probably helps. I doubt you'll find too many sheep or suckler farmers plying their trade within the boundaries of its 2.2 million acres.

And Mr Ryan hasn't missed too many night's sleep over sheep attacks or witnessed the sight of stock terrified after being disturbed in the otherwise tranquil Irish countryside.

To me, the proposal to bring back the wolves reflects an unspoken belief that some parts of the country, particularly in the west, should be turned into giant tourist parks where people can roam and enjoy unspoilt countryside.

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The reality is a lot more complex than the Greens would have us believe. Despite the difficulties facing drystock farmers and the few remaining tillage men operating west of the Shannon, there are still thousands of profitable farms in that region producing some of the best food in the world.

Not only are the farmers and their families making a living here, they are enjoying that way of life and take enormous pride in being able to do so.

I will never forget a Teagasc land drainage event I attended some years back in north Kerry.

Hailing from the flatlands of east Meath, I knew little or nothing about land drainage except that somebody many, many moons ago had taken the time to put in clay drainage pipes that flow nicely into our ditches whenever the heavens open.

On the host farm in Kerry, drainage work was part of the annual farming calendar. The farmer talked about "winning back the land" where drains were installed or renewed. It was a constant battle to hold back the tide of water to allow him to maximise his grazing season and get more fresh grass into his cows.

I was somewhat awed by the effort and resolve that was required to achieve grazing systems that farmers in drier parts of the country took for granted.

And isn't there something primeval about man's constant struggle over the millennia to carve a living out of nature for himself and his descendants? It takes blood, sweat and tears to achieve, and it demands respect.

So no wonder the IFA kicked back at the Green Party's desire to "turn rural Ireland into some type of fairy tale playground for people that visit, but don't actually live or work in (the countryside).

"The re-introduction of large predatory species that have been absent from Ireland for the last 250 years is crazy and will result in huge destruction to sheep flocks and other smaller domesticated animals," noted the IFA's Angus Woods.

"Unfortunately it is sheep farmers such as myself that are left with the disturbing and upsetting job of cleaning up after the savagery and slaughter of dog attacks on our ewes and lambs," he said.


"I see the damage that large carnivores are causing in other EU member states. For example, Polish farmers are struggling to continue sheep production because of the slaughter of their lambs and ewes by wolves.

"Also, in regions of France, similar destruction is being caused by wolves. This situation must not be allowed occur in Ireland."

But there's the other more subtle message in the Green agenda: that all forms of farming must be removed before a landscape can be optimised.

And God forbid that you actually intend to run a profitable farm where the aim is grow the scale or the intensity of the enterprise. That instantly turns you into an environmental terrorist.

Since when did we abandon the notion that a intensively run farm, regardless of its size, can happily co-exist with nature by virtue of good pollution control, thriving hedgerows and an awareness of the impact of every farming action?

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