The old days when farmers whistled
I regularly cry when I look at the old farming photos that appear on this paper, usually on page 20.
Tears roll down my cheeks and onto the page as I struggle to cope with this view of the past.
It’s not with pity that I stare at the image, only with jealousy. For I believe they were better times.
Days when time stood still, and nobody else was in a hurry either. Where did it all go wrong for us Irish farmers? Why did we leave this paradise behind? Take last week’s instalment, for instance. A shot of a West Cork farmer back in the winter of 1935, feeding his cattle.
If you ask me, a picture of absolute contentment and relaxation. A man at peace with himself and nature. If the image had been accompanied by sound, I dare say, we would have heard him whistling. That is what farmers did back then. They whistled. We don’t whistle today. We haven’t time to catch our breath, never mind tune our throats for entertainment purposes.
And there he was, dishing out feed to a fine field of cattle, without a building or a concrete yard in sight. Low- input farming at its finest. Did he have a fourwheel drive tearing up the meadow as he fed the cattle? He did not. He had a pony and a class of a rig that did the very same job. But without a drop of diesel being burned, or a rubber tyre coming to grief.
That very same pony most likely took the farmer to Mass on Sunday morning. For farmers went to Mass on Sunday mornings back then. They weren’t thrown in bed, exhausted after a week of stress and anxiety.
Was he worried about what they thought of his farming out there in Europe or someplace? Was he worried about nitrates inspectors? He was worried about nothing. Back then, the farm inspector was nothing but an itch in a bureaucrat’s britches. As for Europe, they had, or at least would very shortly have, bigger fish to fry. He was let do whatever he damn well pleased.
As a matter of fact, he was farming in a very environmentally friendly fashion without any help. Full marks to the farmer of 1935.
His cattle, as you probably saw in the picture, didn’t have a tag adorning the ear. That was because they didn’t need it. They were only animals.
You see, back then, the farmer didn’t need 10,000 cattle to keep the show on the road. Fourteen or fifteen cattle was all he required. Plus perhaps, a sow or two, and a goose and a gander. That was all you needed to supply a home with enough income to raise 12 to 15 children.
It was a time before the dreaded credit card. A time before the shopping excursion. Better times for sure. Little wonder then that he would be whistling, he was in utopia entirely.
He wasn’t alone either. Make no mistake about that. The business of finding a wife back then was conducted under the auspices of matchmaking. Once you didn’t look like Quasimodo, and had some semblance of normality about you, a suitable mate could be secured. A gorgeous blonde no doubt was awaiting him back home. Anxious to have his dinner on the table, and to cosy up with him later in front of the fire. There was no television, you made you own entertainment. Whistling! I wouldn’t be surprised if he was yodelling while he worked. The first 80 farmers, with 4,134 hectares designated for breeding hen harrier, have been selected from expressions of interest submitted in December. They are in all six Special Protection Areas. A further 80 are being selected from the remaining December applications, and those submitted in January. This process will continue for at least a year, with an average of 80 farms a month entering the programme.
What are the restrictions on farming in hen harrier Special Protection Areas?
>> There has been some confusion and misinformation on current notifiable actions in hen harrier SPAs. To clarify, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is responsible for designation of and disseminating advice on protection of habitats and species identified for nature conservation, in Natural Heritage Areas (NHA), Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Areas (SPA).
It is the responsibility of NPWS to see that designated sites are protected from significant damage. Where a landowner is considering making changes on his farm that might affect the wildlife habitat in a designated area, he must consult the local NPWS conservation ranger beforehand.
Notifiable actions are activities or operations that might be damaging, and they can only be carried out with the permission of the minister.
Only three activities are subject to notifiable action consent by the minister in hen harrier SPAs. These are:
Agricultural reclamation of heath or bog. Construction, removal or alteration of fences, stone walls, hedgerows, banks, or any other field boundary other than temporary fencing . Off-road recreational use of mechanically propelled vehicles. Notifiable action consent is not required for activities specified in a Hen Harrier Programme Farm Plan, as any activities covered in the plan are approved by NPWS. Activities not included in an approved REPS, AEOS, GLAS,
NPWS, or Hen Harrier Programme plan require separate notifiable action consent. Participation in the hen harrier programme does not exempt the farmer from crosscompliance sanctions or prosecution. Under the conditions of cross compliance, farmers in receipt of basic payment must adhere to Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC) and abide by the Birds and Habitats Directives, in addition to other statutory management requirements. The requirement for screening for appropriate assessment to be undertaken under Article 6(3) of the Habitats
Directive and submitted with any planning application for development of land in SPA areas is a planning issue for the local authority, and beyond the remit of the hen harrier project.
The hen harrier project will however assist participants with screening for appropriate assessment arising from agricultural activities.
Can I plant my land in the hen harrier SPAs?
>> The hen harrier project is an agri-environment programme and has no role in forestry activities.
The Forest Service of the DAFM is the body responsible for regulating key forestry activities, including afforestation and forest road construction (under S.I.558 / 2010), thinning and felling/replanting (under the 1946 Forestry Act, to be replaced with the 2014 Forestry Act (to be commenced) and aerial fertili- sation of forests (under S.I. 125/2012). The Forest Service provides grant schemes and other supports to promote various components of the forest sector, principally afforestation and forest road construction.
The Forest Service also has key responsibilities under other environmental legislation, including European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 (S.I.477 / 2011), which obliges the Forest Service to be responsible for relevant aspects of the Birds and Habitats Directives.
Can commonage enter the Programme?
>> Yes, commonage which may be eligible for payment shall mean lands included in the DAFM’s commonage container, and farmed in common. On commonage lands, payment will only be made to project participants, it is up to them to ensure that such actions have the support of the other shareholders. There will be no distinction in the system used to calculate payments between commonage and privately-owned land, or between owned and leased or rented land. However, each commonage must be scored by a single advisor acting on behalf of all participants.
There is nothing to stop advisors working with different shareholders co-operating on this task.
This is necessary to avoid the anomalous situation where different scores could be applied to the same parcel of land.
In many cases, the GLAS commonage advisor may be in a position to do this. Where this is not possible, the hen harrier project will work with farmers to identify a solution.
Where can I get more information on the Hen Harrier Programme?
>> See www.henharrierproject.ie
Farmers with 4,134 hectares designated for breeding hen harriers are the first of an average of 80 farms a month set to enter the new locally led conservation programme.
One of our ‘Different Times’ pictures which fill Denis with longing for those good old days.
Ballinhassig, Co Cork, 1937: in a simpler, more carefree time.