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Monday 20 November 2017

Angus producer and organic pioneer is turning back the clock on biodiversity

Producer profile: Tommy Earley

Tommy Earley and Dr Dolores Byrne on Tommy’s organic holding on the banks of Lough Allen in Co Leitrim
Tommy Earley and Dr Dolores Byrne on Tommy’s organic holding on the banks of Lough Allen in Co Leitrim
Tommy has developed habitats that allow wildlife to flourish

Tommy Earley has been farming organically since 1996, just outside of Drumshanbo in Co Leitrim.

This year he was the first farmer to host a Field Talk event as part of the IOFGA 2017 Field Talk programme. The focus of his talk was biodiversity. Tommy has prioritised conservation of the natural habitats on the farm and local areas.

The 100ac farm is located on the banks of Lough Allen, and while the topography is typical of the area and is generally marginal land, he has developed a number of habitats on the farm that allow biodiversity to flourish.

He has Aberdeen Angus suckler cows, 25 acres of forestry and additional natural woodlands, beehives, two large ponds, 25 acres of raised bog and a horticulture development he calls "Meitheal allotments".

The Arigna river borders the farm and brings with it a host of wildlife such as otters who use Tommy's farm as a playground moving from the river to the ponds and back again.

Tommy has been interested in conservation for many years and when he converted to organic farming with IOFGA he had the desire to "ensure that the land remained as it was so that when people look back in 100 years the natural habitats and land quality will have been maintained".

Tommy has recently laid down some pathways around the farm to facilitate the number of visitors, which ranges from schoolchildren to scientists with expertise in plant and animal conservation.

"One of the great findings we have had on the farm over the last few years is an elusive rare orchid called Irish Lady Tresses, which is a small orchid with cream coloured flowers that occurs in damp meadows in Ireland, Canada and parts of the outer Scottish Hebrides.

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"It exists in four or five places in Ireland so we are very lucky to have it here, it flowers in August and it takes up to eight years to flower.

"In total we have about 80 on the farm in an area that floods naturally close to Lough Allen, as part of its life cycle it needs the ground to be flooded and grazed conservatively which is what we are doing in that area," said Tommy.

The bog is also a biodiversity feature on the farm, unlike other farmers Tommy does not drain the bog and instead has slowed the flow of water from the bog in order to allow it to retain its natural features. The bog cotton was in full flower when we visited in early May.

The rare Irish butterfly the Marsh Fritillary has also been located on Tommy's farm, and he previously took part in the National Butterfly Survey. Tommy also hosts a large range of moths which live in the variety of habitats available to them.

"This land has never been farmed intensively as it is marginal land, in light of that we decided to farm in a manner that would enhance the eco-systems on the farm, the flora and fauna that flourish here are becoming rare, that is what makes this farm an eco-tourist attraction now," said Tommy.

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