A RIVER that helped a West Cork community survive the Great Famine is the focus of a project showing that agriculture and good environmental practices can go hand in hand.
Nine farmers are taking part in the programme to protect a sensitive section of the Caha river, near Dunmanway, in the Bandon catchment. They have fenced off a 3.5km stretch to stop cattle from damaging the river bed and to safeguard species like the freshwater pearl mussel.
The work will also prevent sediment from entering the waterway and will enhance biodiversity along the river bank. All of this should improve the river's water quality and preserve the natural heritage of the Caha.
The section of river has been identified as a priority area for action under the Water Frameworks Directive and is a special area of conservation, because of the presence of the endangered pearl mussel.
The section is an important salmon-spawning area in the Bandon river catchment and an amenity for the local community.
The work has been ongoing since 2019, in an area of varied farming enterprises, including forestry, sheep, beef, and dairying. It is the first such project under the Bandon Rivers Trust and could be a template for others.
Salmon and mussels from the Caha fed people when the potato crop failed during the famine, while stories about salmon poachers are also part of local folklore. But the poacher's gaff has been replaced by fencing posts and rolls of wire.
"How times have changed," said Tim O'Donovan, one of the nine farmers, whose family has farmed in the area for generations.
A fen, or wetland, on the land of twins John and Jerry McCarthy was also fenced off some years ago. It was left untouched and is now filled with vegetation. The fen is a valuable sink and flood-relief area.
The Caha project, supported by the Community Water Development Fund, has been featured by Teagasc and in the latest issue of the EPA catchments newsletter.
Bandon Anglers' Association says the work will greatly improve habitat and water quality and will reduce siltation in spawning gravels.
A recent Birdwatch report highlighted how several species of bird have declined because of loss of habitat, largely the result of intensive farming and land reclamation over the last half-century.
Now, some of our leading environmental groups are calling for changes. They claim government action has, so far, been inadequate regarding climate change and environment protection. Campaigners want programmes that reward nature-friendly farming through generous, results-based grants to help restore wildlife and habitats.