There’s a revealing story well told by the writer Alice Taylor about the day a neighbour gave a present of a poached salmon to her family. She was a still a child and the fish was taken from a river where she grew up near Newmarket, Co Cork.
Her father lined the family up around their kitchen table and started to cut the fish open. As the eggs poured out, he explained the loss of fish life because that one salmon had been killed illegally. An early lesson that lasted his seven children, who were reared “free as birds”, a lifetime.
It was an era long before the term ‘green’ was invented and many people would have scarcely heard about the environment. In winter, salmon which came up quiet rivers to spawn were easy prey for poachers, but this man strongly objected to it.
He understood nature’s balance and that killing the fish was going against the laws of nature. “Our farm was our world and nature as an educator gave free rein to our imaginations; unconsciously we absorbed the natural order of things and observed the facts of life unfolding daily before our eyes,” Taylor wrote in her celebrated memoir, To School Through The Fields.
A pilot project recently launched in her native Duhallow reminded us of the salmon story. The five-year project, under the IRD Duhallow rural development group, it’s all about working with and rewarding farmers for doing their work in a way that safeguards the environment and prevents pollution in rivers and lakes.
It is focused on three rivers, the Allow, Dalua and Owenanare, which are home to a variety of rare and protected species, including otter, salmon, lamprey, kingfisher and freshwater pearl mussel. In recent years, there’s been a gradual decline in water quality, with the main threats coming from industrial and domestic waste water, forestry and agriculture.
The rolling and wooded Duhallow countryside has a mixed range of farming including dairy and beef, sheep and horse-breeding and forestry. IRD chief executive Maura Walsh, speaking at the launch, highlighted the role of farmers as custodians of the landscape.
Hopefully, the €1.5m Blue Dot project will be a model for others around the country. The better the results by a farmer, the higher the payments.
At the Ploughing Championships last week, the Environmental Pillar echoed what is happening in Duhallow by calling for a policy that protects nature while rewarding farmers who work close to nature.
Alice Taylor’s father would surely have been a supporter. For in her words, he loved trees, rivers, birds and all his farm animals and appreciated God’s creation to the full.