The Attraction to Sheep Fields
I wrote this poem after a recent weekend away – just a 30 min drive to a little village. It made me think of why sometimes we’re not aware of what we’re missing with our bare, biodiversity impoverished agricultural landscape, especially in Ireland.
The Pull of Pastures
This scenery spread out from the village, splashed
With sun, fills one with joy of a morning:
An unfiltered boon as we run to the pool
Through fields of wheat under the evergreen
Oak-clad steeper slopes and hearing the hidden
Mistle thrush and goldfinch from the thistles,
Tangled juniper thorns and brambles
Enticing animals excitingly close
To our gardens along such scrubbed inclines
That goats would grub but tractors cannot grade.
The grazing sheep and cattle have gone,
Without battle, deer and boar and other
Beasts browse, but when by driving north
An hour I arrive in another world, where
Fields unfold before one: green grass rolling
Up slopes to autumnal oaks or out flat past
Hedgerows – or even if there’s nothing else
To be seen but green dotted with cowpats
And sheep shit – that simple fact gives gravity,
Pulls me towards such pastures, like a string
Tied within, knotted well when life was spring.
It’s this kind of feeling that gives Ireland its “green” image… it sometimes may as well be painted green for all the life it has other than cattle and sheep. But we love what we know, and unfortunately we’ve been educated to love a barren ecosystem, and younger people are growing up even worse than us older folk.
The End of the Rainbow…
Peter and the Little People republished!
And a poem that the Little People would understand from a longer term perspective than humans seem able to take…
I hope summer is going well for everyone and the new (for us fifth) wave of infections is not affecting you.
I have some news: I have republished my children’s novel, Peter and the Little People, since the original publishers have sadly closed recently. I took the opportunity to re-edit it, so it reads a lot smoother, especially in the first chapters.
It’s available on pre-order now, and will download automatically onto your kindles etc. on the publication date which will be August 15th!
AND it is available in Paperback! So you can pre-order it now and it will pop in the post for you, too.
Till then, here’s a poem that was inspired by a different book written and set in Ireland.
Children of the Rainbow is a book from decades ago, but it’s well worth reading if you have any connection with the Island.
At the same time, I was reading Barry Lopez’s Horizon, which was quite impactful, too.
So the poem that came out is not quite as hopeful as Peter and the Little People regarding our planet. But I hope it’s still beautiful.
For there is yet beauty all around us if only we appreciate it and preserve it.
The Fading of the Rainbow
Our grandparents grew up under the bow of wonder
Shades of beauty forty-fold and more, so vivid
The colours were within reach, like the hand of God,
Life bursting out of every bud and bloom, butterflies
And bees humming just one tune in Nature’s symphony
But today, we stare across a broad sweep of fields, all
Furrowed into one with faint lines left where once
Grew hedgerows; rooks caws accompany cows now,
Gone the curlew call and corncrake, cuckoo only
Heard on distant hills: a sound of childhood, half
Remembered. The skylark leaves a faint line upon
The heart where before flew nightingales and chorus
Of dawn songbirds, silenced like the wolf and other
Wild animals swept away before the sheep browsing.
Now even that centrepiece of pristineness, poster
Child of evolution in isolation and archipelagos lies
Lessened, the frenzy of breeding becoming bare as
Feral goats graze the spare seedlings, dogs attack
Basking iguanas, cats and rats run riot, into ruin
One of the last remaining untouched outposts upon
The vast planet, pinched a little smaller each season,
Swept into sameness, as only colonisers cling to barren
Land. If these distant places are as doomed as our city
Streets, what place has hope this side of the rainbow;
Faded, bleached, and ragged, can it even hold any
Hidden at the end, like a crock of leprechaun gold?
Small surges forth from huge setbacks
2017 didn’t start with very much good news. There were more attacks on innocent people just like last year. The rich and powerful are continuing to play their chess game with the planet, and have moved their rook into position to fuck things up in a big way. We, the pawns, stand ready to do what we can to oppose, but expect the worst they can impose upon us.
And 2016 slips right into its place in the graph as the hottest year ever recorded, right in front of 2015 and 2014.
Just like we see with all species, the numbers of predators, especially large ones like lions and wolves, have collapsed in the last number of decades.
A large part of the problem are the conflicts these large predators come into in areas where livestock are farmed. There are many different ways to prevent kills (such as guard dogs and electric fences) but in many cases farmers whose livestock are preyed upon take action and kill the predators (one supposes it is the same animal(s)). Thus, one dead cow or goat means one dead tiger or leopard. The former can be replaced a lot faster than the latter, unfortunately.
Just yesterday, a bear was poisoned in Italy.
But there are signs of some steps back from the brink. In Spain, where the population of wolves is actually increasing, the government of the Community of Madrid have increased the compensation fund to help farmers whose livestock are attacked (though it seems at 500 Euro per sheep, there’s a large temptation to fudge the death of an animal to look like a wolf-kill – which was widespread in some areas of Spain and caused a scandal last year).
This will help reduce such retaliatory killings, since farmers don’t see their livelihoods under threat from the predators. There are also movements to protect livestock using mastiff dogs and restoring pens – this helping much more in the long term as farmers readjust to the new reality of a rewilded landscape.
The world needs more of this.
Chernobyl and Rewilding Islands….
I just watched a very good documentary about wolves and the other wildlife around Chernobyl nuclear reactor, which as most people know, discharged enough radiation in 1986 to make the area around it uninhabitable for humans (in any safe way). I recommend everyone watches it but to reveal a big spoiler: there are absolutely no mutations of any kind in the wolves , much less dangerous. In fact, though there is a still certainly a lot of radiation in the soil and indeed the animals, the populations and vast majority fo individuals are extremely healthy. The area now is a wildlife haven, with all types of native fauna represented after the reintroduction of European bison from other parts of Belarus (the area is split between that country and Ukraine) and primitive horses – though the horses are being poached by locals.
There are the same density of wolves and other wildlife as in any other radiation-free national park or other refuge. What matters most is that there are no humans – except soldiers patrolling the border, researchers and forest rangers, and no intensive farming any more.
And it made me wonder, what if there were more such accidents? It would actually be a boon for wildlife, not the disaster we all assumed Chernobyl would be. And then I further pondered: what if we could create such places without the need for a nuclear reactor meltdown?
What if we decided that some areas should be strategically retreated from – just everyone relocated, so that all that was left were a few rangers? That would mean some upheaval for some people – but the residents of Chernobyl and its surrounds were accommodated in other communities outside the danger-zone.
Of course, we would pick places to retreat from which were already sparsely populated.
Achill Island in the west of Ireland. (Photo from flickr commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chb1848/1919551432/)
Since there would be no radiation, people could actually come and go fairly freely. In fact, many could stay. If the area was sparsely populated enough to begin with, they would probably not even have to leave. All that they would have to do is not farm intensely, not improve the land, drain the wetlands etc. Let the trees return, leave meadows to go through their natural transitions, remove livestock and let populations of wildlife resurge – and reintroduce a few species that are missing.
That doesn’t mean that they have to live on nothing. Such an area would be a haven not only for wildlife, but for all the people who love to watch wildlife, but haven’t the opportunity to travel to Alaska or don a radiation suit and mask to enter the fallout zone. The residents that decide to stay could open up a hotel or have visitors stay in their houses for bed and breakfast. Locals would probably be invaluable guides to visitors, as they’d know the best hangouts, the places where white-tailed eagles nest, where wolves like to hang out, where the deer graze.
This is, basically, rewilding.
And I wondered what kinds of places might be considered disposed/amenable/suitable.
Already, one has been identified on the border between Portugal and Spain where the locals are actively embracing a change in land use – to actually hold on to their dwindling populations by creating more economically beneficial endeavours, than farming.
There are a few parts of western Scotland, of Ireland – already the one of the least densely-inhabited areas of Europe – where farming is at best marginal and mostly restricted to grazing sheep, at a low economic return. Certainly there are many regions where intensive farming of the scale of the state collective farms of the former USSR is infeasible,
In the long term, some of these areas could be connected with densely inhabited but wildlife-amenable corridors to let wide-ranging animals like wolves travel between them.
But in the meantime, they could be pockets of landscape like the rewilded Pripet marshes: islands of wilderness in seas of farmland.
What’s to stop the Scottish islands and peninsulas of Mull, or Kintyre, or Islay becoming rewilded? They’ve already considered adding wolves to Rhum. Why stop there? Why not bring them, and boar, to Islay and Mull, let them roam the woods of Kintyre? Forestry, fishing, hunting and other tourist activities could be continued unchanged. Just a perhaps slower rotation on trees, using native species and a cessation of sheep grazing and large-scale farming – garden plots and such would be fine: tourists love to eat local… as for local lamb etc. well, local venison is a whole lot better….
Imagine a tour of western Ireland, where after visiting the Cliffs of Moher and Connemara, you could drive out onto Achill Island (disclosure: I have only been there once), and instead of seeing sheep out on the bog, see red deer (and the feral goats), and wolves alongside the foxes and pine martens, with perhaps a few boar amid birch woods and copses. Imagine the Inishowen peninsula of Donegal (disclosure: I haven’t gone there yet, but I have seen the video), or Belmullet in Mayo? Now that is a Wild Atlantic Way! These are areas of comparable size to the exclusion zone around Chernobyl, and could, in theory, hold several packs of up to 100 wolves. Bantry or the ends of any of the West Cork or Kerry peninsulas would probably be able to hold a lot of wildlife while still being the tourist hotspots they are today; just with added attractions… And without the irrational worry about golden and white-tailed eagles etc. killing lambs – aside from the benefits to these from wolf kills – our birds of prey, which attract many tourists to the west, would have a much greater guarantee of success in the future into the bargain.
I was just wondering….
And ironically, I am far from the first to wonder this: Sir Harry Johnston (yea, never heard of him either) had the idea of “a British Yellowstone Park” back in 1903…..