Farm Ireland

Thursday 15 November 2018

Common sense is needed over care of the countryside

Joe Barry

Joe Barry

It's our duty to protect it -- even if it means culling

I frequently despair at the attitude of some of our environmental commentators, especially in springtime when nature is at its busiest.

Often they attempt to make us view the natural world as something out of a children's storybook, where all the animals have names and behave like humans. It can be amusing, but can also lead to serious misapprehension about life in the countryside.

In their eyes, the deer that have just destroyed acres of recently planted trees are not really wild ruminants enjoying some greenery and a good scratch but are in fact Bambi and his playful friends. Culling them is not acceptable.

Likewise, the rabbits that have stuffed themselves with our spring salads and veg are the lovable cousins of Beatrix Potter's creations, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail. Ms Potter, with her tales of Benjamin Bunny and Kenneth Graham who wrote that wonderful book The Wind in the Willows, has a lot to answer for, as do the imaginative authors who popularised cute little rodents such as Sammy Squirrel.

Like so many others, I too have been guilty of the crime of anthropomorphism -- the granting of human characteristics to animals -- and once kept two pigs called Hamlet and Omlette.

It can be tough being a farmer as most of us are fond of animals. I recall the words of an elderly cattle haulier who told me that we had a moral duty to ensure our livestock had the best possible life while in our care and that we also had a duty to ensure that they were dispatched as humanely as possible when going for slaughter. This meant being present when they are killed, a task many find distasteful.

We all know people who cannot bear to see a bird or animal meeting its end but will happily tuck into roast chicken or lamb, provided it only appears as meat on a butcher's counter. It's a bit like those who claim to be vegetarians on moral grounds but who still wear leather shoes. Or the woman whose letter I read in some organic gardening magazine asking where she could source vegan food for her cat.

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My point in writing all these seemingly conflicting facts is to try and illustrate the need for common sense when dealing with countryside management. Sometimes the regulations that come from both Brussels and our National Parks and Wildlife Service appear to have been thought up by people brought up in Disneyland and who still believe in the tooth fairy.

It can be hard to explain to such people that the countryside is almost entirely man-made and, having created this environment, we must ensure that there is room in it for both humans and wildlife can survive.

It really hurts their sensitivities when you point out that most of the woodland cover around our old estates was planted for the purpose of providing shelter for game that could then be shot. The same applies to the many fox coverts where fox numbers were preserved and yet controlled.

Virtually every tree, hedge, ditch, bank and watercourse has been built, planted or altered to suit agriculture and benefit sporting interests.

It seems pointless to now cordon off huge areas of land and ban activities such as forestry and grazing when they are simply a continuation of historical activity and date back to a time when Ireland had teeming populations of now rare birds such as the cuckoo, curlew, lapwing and skylark.

Should we intervene and act when a predator species such as the grey crow, magpie, fox and feral cat becomes dominant or should we abandon livestock farming and adapt the vegan slogan "If it has a face, don't eat it"? Whether we like it or not, we have changed the landscape and the habitat of wild birds and mammals and it is our duty to manage them, even if at times this requires culling certain species.

But then perhaps from a deer or rabbits point of view, it's humans who need culling.

Indo Farming