A stream dry for the first time in my life… climate change is now

THERE we were last Thursday, two of us, wearing clean wellingtons, standing in a river, and ag caint Gaeilge an t-am ar fad. On the river bank was a three-person film crew and they recorded everything.

It’s all part of a film project for a six-part series on the environment and farming and the changing nature of all aspects of biodiversity and climate change.

My chances of being nominated for an Oscar or an Emmy Award are slim enough – mainly ’cause I’m not acting at all, only just saying it as it is.

The basis of the series is to highlight different types of faming in Ireland and try and demonstrate some of the positive aspects that are to be found on farms at present.

In fairness, farming is taking a fair auld bashing, what with cows and cattle belching and emitting methane from various animalistic orifices. Yes, farming is part of the problem of climate change, but at the same time it will also be a huge part of the solution.

Just an example of climate change on a very micro scale: The river I was standing in last week is the Knoppogue. Two streams unite at Tom Ryan’s bridge near the Grotto – one comes through our farm and the second from Keame, Cronovan and Ballinwillin.

When I was very small, I recall a distant cousin of my father’s, a man called Jamesy Daly from Midleton – ’tis well I remember him fishing at the little bridge near the School Cross, and he used to catch some fine trout there. That was nearly 60 years ago and never, ever until this year did that stream go dry.

Until the rains of the last fortnight, that river bed was dry as a bone for well over a month. That’s a change I never thought I’d see, but it has happened.

Anyway, it was a year ago that I was asked to get involved in this Irish language TV series. Now, I’m not as fluent as a ‘native speaker’, but ta me abalta caint cuiosach maith – I can have a reasonably good conversation in Irish, though my grammar is brutal! The producers just wanted to chat about everyday happenings on the farm, and how what we do here can be detrimental or, hopefully, beneficial, to our timing – our surroundings and environment.

Earlier this year, they filmed cows being milked and also the creation of a ‘bee scrape’, which encourages the solitary bee to stay in Ireland on staycation and not up sticks and head for warmer countries.

I suppose the quality of water in our seas, lakes and rivers is a sure indicator of the presence or otherwise of pollution. In many places, raw, untreated sewage is still being discharged into the seas, a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’, but thankfully this situation is changing.

We may often berate and give out yards about the ‘Big Brother’ attitude of the EU, but in fairness it’s EU legislation is helping to ensure we properly protect our waters.

So, getting back to Thursday last, what we were doing in the Knoppogue was ‘kick sampling’ for water quality. In any stretch of river or stream, there are literally hundreds if not thousands of insect larva, snails, beetles, slugs and other tiny aquatic creatures. Some are the size of one’s thumbnail, others just a fraction of that size. These creatures live on and under the water, some in sand and gravel beds and others on the underside of stones. They are keenly sensitive to pollution in the water, and similarly if very high levels of nutrients are present they tend to disappear.

On the other hand, polluted water with high nutrients can still be a habitat for some micro-organisms. Therefore, there are positive indicators and negative indicators.

Kick sampling is basically what it says! Last week, we got a big net on a pole. Then we kicked up the stones and gravel on the river bed for about two minutes. I was pleasantly surprised at the huge number of little creepy-crawlies present. Everything that floated in the water was captured in the net and the contents poured into a tray of water on the riverbank. A careful examination then can identify the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ little creatures.

I was delighted with our results. The presence of mayflies, stone flies and other identifiable species meant the water was rated as ‘good’ – OK, I would have preferred ‘excellent’, but at least now I have a baseline to work from in the future.

If the sample contained a high number of leeches or caddis flies, ‘twould have indicated a higher level of pollutants present, as these lads are fairly tolerant to dirty water.

We were ag caint Gaeilge an t-am ar fad as we kicked the water, but I have no idea if the little invertebrates can understand Irish or English, or can they even hear at all, at all!

The film An Cailín Ciúin has grossed nearly a million in the cinemas, so maybe next year we’ll be famous.

Just thinking of my ‘career’ on the silver screen to date – it’s been long and uneventful, to be honest. It’s 30 years since I was on The Late, Late Show – when the local Post Office was closed here – and then later with Gaybo again talking about the plight of rural Ireland. That time I was trying to keep the Post Offices open.

A few years later, I was trying to keep ‘Croke Park closed’ to so-called foreign games – I recall a great debate with the late Eugene McGee on some TV station that time. Then, one of the Kerry Keanes presented a series where different people were given a TV camera for a week to film ‘ordinary life’ in an Irish family. We filmed everything from feeding the pigs, an under 14 game with one of the lads playing, and a Munster Final in Thurles, I think. About ten hours of filming and when it came ‘on screen’, it was distilled down into about ten minutes!

The series we’re doing at present has been seen visiting farmers in Aran, the Burren, Co. Meath, and here in Cork. I think they’ll be back again in late autumn to ‘shoot’ the quiet land during the quiet season as the pace of agricultural activity slows down.

For now, I feel empowered to be able to do a simple test on our own water quality. The great advantage of this is the power to be proactive, rather than just reacting to something when it happens.

Long, long ago, especially in the American Wild West, the term ‘taming nature’ was a widely used phrase. The modern thinking is working with nature and farming with nature. Co-operation is the name of the game in order to ensure we all have a bright future on this planet.

The Knoppogue river that flows through our farm is a tributary of the Flesk River. The Flesk in turn joins the River Bride. At Camphire Bridge in County Waterford, the Bride joins the Blackwater on its way to the sea.

We all have a responsibility, and hopefully, this film project will highlight the truth of the Irish seanfhocail – “ar scath a cheile a mhaireann na daoine” – people live in each other’s shadow – we need each other. The action or inaction of every person has it influence on others.

‘Lights, camera, action – roll it there, John’.

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