Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 March 2018

Climate change demands a change of mindset

Flooding as far as the eye can see in Clonlara, Co Clare last month. Photo: Brian Gavin Press 22
Flooding as far as the eye can see in Clonlara, Co Clare last month. Photo: Brian Gavin Press 22
Joe Barry

Joe Barry

Even the most sceptical among us must by now be convinced that our climate is changing. We might argue over the causes but the effects are dramatic.

This was clearly evident in recent weeks as people struggled to save both their homes and businesses in the face of rising floods.

Watching the news on TV each evening, I could not help wondering how it is that the Dutch seem to manage rather well despite centuries of battling with flood waters.

It is over a decade since I last visited Holland as part of a group who wished to learn more about how the Dutch manage their woodland and remarkably, despite being such a low lying country, they have the same percentage of tree cover as we do.

All of the woods in Holland are grown on a continuous cover basis and one well established site we visited was a striking example of how to grow good ash among other broadleaves with a mix of conifers scattered here and there throughout. It was a fine wood and very productive with many of the ash butts being exported to Ireland for hurley manufacture.

What was most remarkable however was the fact that the forest floor was five metres below sea level. On questioning the forester in charge, he told me that if they stopped pumping, the area would be immediately flooded. How on earth do they do it?

Centuries ago the Dutch people built huge dykes and began to reclaim land from the sea. They used windmills to drive pumps and gradually they won the battle, eventually creating thousands of hectares of farmland where formerly there was nothing but tidal saline floodplains.

We have much to learn from them, not least the manner in which they now use wind power to help create the electricity to power the massive pumps that keep so much of their land above water.

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Flying in over the coastline on that visit, it was fascinating to see so many wind farms and it was only later I realised their importance to the Dutch economy. Driving throughout Ireland these days all I see are large notices at various locations protesting at the many proposed wind farm developments.

This inevitably makes me wonder why we have such a negative attitude to sustainable development. Or is it just another example of our NIMBY (not in my backyard) behavior, for it seems that protesting against almost any change has become a national sport here.


Back in the 1970s we had endless protests and placard waving against afforestation and now we have the same nonsense cropping up occasionally when it is proposed to fell the same trees in a proper manner.

But then the Irish are not alone when it comes to silly and selfish behavior, where the greater good of the nation comes second to the whims of a few local residents.

In his marvelous book, The Shepherd's Life, James Rebanks despairs at the behavior of the new residents to the Lake District in Cumbria where he farms. He wonders how the old farmhouses ever got built given the level of protest hurled at the farming community by the newly arrived homeowners who even object to the noise of sheep bleating on the fells.

Even more ridiculous is the following news item from the US about objections to a solar farm.

"Members of the community in Woodland, North Carolina expressed their fear and distrust of solar panels before a vote on whether the land in question should be rezoned to allow a company to build a solar farm off US Highway 258.

"One local man said that businesses would stop going to Woodland, the community would suffer as a result and the panels would suck up all the energy from the sun," according to a report in the local paper. "'You're killing your town,' he said. 'All the young people are going to move out.'"

"One lady, a retired science teacher, expressed concerns that plants in the vicinity of the panels would not photosynthesize which would prevent the plants from growing. She also questioned the high number of cancer deaths in the area, saying no one could tell her that solar panels didn't cause cancer".

Solar farms must be the cleanest and safest low-impact form of electricity generation available but apparently some people actually believe the rubbish quoted above. I wonder what the Dutch would make of them.

Indo Farming