Dry stream for the first time in my life…Climate change now


We were there last Thursday, the two of us, in clean clothes, standing in a river, standing in a river, and here we are all dressed up nicely. On the river bank was a three-person camera crew who recorded everything.

This is all part of a six-part series film project on the environment, agriculture and the changing nature of all aspects of biodiversity and climate change.

The chances of me being nominated for an Oscar or an Emmy are slim enough – mainly because I don’t act at all, just saying it like it is.

The basis of this series is to highlight different types of famine in Ireland and try to show some of the positive aspects that can be found on farms at the moment.

In fairness, agriculture is just bashing for cows and cattle and emitting methane from various animal vents. Yes, agriculture is part of the climate change problem, but at the same time it will also be a big part of the solution.

Just an example of climate change on a very small scale: The river I’ve been standing on last week is the Knoppogue. Two streams unite at the Tom Ryan Bridge near the cave – one comes through our farm and the other from Keame, Cronovan and Ballinwillin.

When I was very young, I remember my father’s cousin, a guy named James Daly from Middleton – ‘Well, I remember him fishing at the little bridge near School Cross, and he used some trout there. That was almost 60 years ago and that stream never dried up until this year.

Until the rains of the past two weeks, this riverbed had been bone-dry for over a month. This is a change I never thought I’d see, but it did.

Anyway, a year ago I was asked to take part in this Irish language TV series. Now, I’m not as fluent as a “native speaker”, but I can make a good conversation in Irish, even though the grammar is brutal! The producers just wanted to chat about the daily events on the farm, and how what we do here could be harmful or, hopefully, beneficial to the timpeallacht yacht – our surroundings and our environment.

Earlier this year, they filmed cows being milked and also created ‘bee scraping’, which encourages solitary bees to stay in Ireland in residence rather than stick and head to warmer countries.

I suppose the water quality in our seas, lakes and rivers is a sure indication of the presence or absence of pollution. In many places, raw, untreated sewage is still discharged into the seas, a state of “out of sight, out of mind,” but fortunately, that situation is changing.

We often scold and give yards over the EU’s “big brother” attitude, but in fairness, EU legislation helps ensure our waters are properly protected.

So, going back to last Thursday, what we were doing at Knoppogue was “kick sampling” for water quality. In any stretch of river or stream, there are hundreds if not thousands of insect larvae, snails, beetles, mollusks and other small aquatic creatures. Some are the size of a thumbnail, and some are just a fraction of that size. These creatures live above and below the water, some in ponds of sand and gravel and others on the underside of stones. They are very sensitive to contamination in water and similarly if there are very high levels of nutrients they tend to disappear.

On the other hand, polluted water with high nutrients can still be home to some microorganisms. Therefore, there are positive indicators and negative indicators.

Kick sampling is basically what it says! Last week, we got a big net on a column. Then we kicked stones and pebbles down the riverbed for about two minutes. I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer number of small crawling reptiles that exist. Everything floating in the water was caught in the net and its contents poured into a bowl of water on the river bank. A closer examination can then identify the “good” and “bad” little creatures.

I was pleased with our results. The presence of mayflies, stone flies, and other identifiable species means the water was rated “good” – well, I would have preferred “excellent”, but at least now I have a baseline to work from in the future.

If the sample contains a large number of leeches or caddis flies, this probably indicates the presence of a higher level of contaminants, since these boys are somewhat tolerant of dirty water.

We’ve been fad gilig as we’ve been kicking the water, but I have no idea if the little invertebrates can understand Irish or English, or even hear it at all!

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

Just thinking about my “walk” on the silver screen so far – it’s been long and uneventful, to be honest. It’s been 30 years since I’ve been on The Late, Late Show – when the local post office here closed – and then later he spoke with Gaybo again about the plight of the Irish countryside. At the time I was trying to keep post offices open.

A few years later, I was trying to keep Croke Park closed to so-called foreign games – I remember a big argument with the late Eugene McGee on some TV station at the time. Subsequently, a family member of 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’ve filmed everything from feeding the pigs, an under-14 match with one of the boys playing, and the Monster Final in Thurles, I believe. About ten hours of filming and when it appeared on screen, it was distilled in about ten minutes!

The chain we currently run has seen farmers visit in Aran, Burren, Meth & Co., and here in Cork. I think they will come back again in late fall to “shoot” the quiet ground 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 water quality. The big advantage to this is the ability to be proactive, rather than just reacting to something when it happens.

Long ago, especially in the American Wild West, the term “taming nature” was a widely used phrase. Modern thinking works with nature and farming with nature. Collaboration is the name of the game in order to ensure a bright future for all of us on this planet.

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

We all have a responsibility, and we hope this film project will shine a light on the truth about Irish ponytails – “ar scath a cheile a mhaireann na daoine” – people live in each other’s shadow – we need each other. Each person’s action or inaction has an impact on others.

“The lights, the camera, the action — roll it in there, John.”


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