Hol­ly­wood hills are in good, safe hands

RE­PORTER DAVID MED­CALF JOINED AN EX­PE­DI­TION TO THE UP­LAND GRAZ­ING ABOVE HOL­LY­WOOD IN WEST WICK­LOW WHERE A UNIQUE HABI­TAT IS BE­ING MINDED BY THE FARM­ERS WHOSE SHEEP GRAZE THE WILD MOUNTAINSI­DES

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - INTERVIEW -

WICK­LOW Up­lands Coun­cil and SUAS showed that they knows how to throw a Hol­ly­wood party – though this was not the brash Tin­sel­town Hol­ly­wood of movie fame but the Wild West Hol­ly­wood of Wick­low. More than a hun­dred peo­ple showed up in re­sponse to open day in­vi­ta­tions from the or­gan­i­sa­tion which is work­ing with hill farm­ers to make sus­tain­able use of the high mountainsi­des.

Among the at­ten­dance were some of the farm­ers who run sheep across th­ese windswept slopes, joined for the af­ter­noon by en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, walk­ers, jour­nal­ists and the plain cu­ri­ous. The first leg of the gath­er­ing took place in the warmth and shel­ter of the com­mu­nity hall in the vil­lage of Hol­ly­wood where the meet-and-greet took place.

Sit­ting qui­etly at the back of the hall, Min­is­ter of State An­drew Doyle ad­mit­ted that his own fam­ily en­ter­prise on the far side of the moun­tains does not qual­ify as a hill farm. How­ever, his Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment has played a part in ar­rang­ing the pi­lot project which prompted the for­ma­tion of SUAS – the word means ‘up’ in Ir­ish. And the sniff of EU money has height­ened in­ter­est as the pay­mas­ters in Brus­sels cast around seek­ing more imag­i­na­tive uses of their agri-fund­ing. A sum of €1.95 mil­lion to be spent over a pe­riod of five years has been ear­marked for the SUAS pi­lot project.

The Min­is­ter ex­cused him­self and de­parted for an en­gage­ment in far off Kerry while ev­ery­one else was shep­herded into a fleet of wait­ing buses. They brought us up­wards and up­wards and up­wards in low gear along rough roads to the high al­ti­tude of Granamore Commonage. Disem­bark­ing into cold driz­zle, it was im­me­di­ately clear that if any­one who failed to heed the ad­vice re­gard­ing sturdy shoes and wa­ter­proofs then they were in for a mis­er­able af­ter­noon.

The go­ing un­der­foot was uneven and the grey skies were qui­etly re­liev­ing them­selves, throw­ing down rain of grow­ing in­ten­sity – not that any­one re­ally minded. Ad­ver­tised as an ‘Open Day’, this event un­doubt­edly lived up to the billing, staged in the most open of open air amidst the most glo­ri­ously open of open coun­try. Our host was De­clan Byrne, project man­ager of the SUAS project, sec­onded to the job from the Tea­gasc farm ad­vi­sory ser­vice.

He watched ev­ery­one drink in the fine scenery dom­i­nated by White Moss Moun­tain with its heather and bracken and gorse. He reck­oned that a sheep let loose here would be able to walk to the Dublin bor­der with­out ever meet­ing a fence while search­ing for grass amidst the gorse and bracken.

A scat­ter­ing of white-faced Wick­low ewes was ev­i­dence that not all the lo­cal stock had aban­doned Granamore to seek nour­ish­ment else­where. The ex­pec­ta­tion was that there would be deer to be seen but, as it turned out, Bambi & Co were marked ab­sent on this oc­ca­sion.

In­stead, a group of half a dozen bu­ca­neer­ing bul­locks had ar­rived unan­nounced from heaven knows where to make the most of what­ever sparse graz­ing they could find. Their pres­ence did not faze the lo­cal farm­ers who con­firmed that they did not recog­nise the vis­it­ing live­stock and that they did not mind that the cat­tle were help­ing them­selves to pre­cious grass.

Af­ter all, their own an­i­mals are also free to

AROUND 400 WICK­LOW LANDHOLDER­S HAVE AN IN­TER­EST IN MOUN­TAIN COMMONAGE, GUARDIANS OF A LAND­SCAPE WHICH IS PRE­CIOUS AND UNIQUE

wan­der large swathes of West Wick­low, so they have learned to farm in a spirit of give and take. The commonage at Granamore com­prises more than 400 hectares of ground, ris­ing from 250 me­tres above sea level to a plateau at 590 me­tres above sea level. Eleven farm­ers hold graz­ing rights which have been passed down through the gen­er­a­tions, li­cence to put a few hun­dred sheep in to­tal out on the moun­tain­side.

Re­spon­si­bil­ity for this draughty ter­rain lies with the Na­tional Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice since the State bought the place out from the es­tate of Lord Water­ford (oth­er­wise the Duke of Devon­shire). The ser­vice is con­cerned to con­serve a habi­tat which may be de­scribed as a wilder­ness and yet which is home to some of Ire­land’s most in­ter­est­ing flora and fauna.

This high up coun­try­side un­der­lain by hefty Cale­do­nian gran­ite is a haunt of birds of prey such as mer­lin and pere­grine fal­con, not to men­tion hen har­ri­ers and maybe rare red grouse. In a re­cent re­port on the area, eco­log­i­cal con­sul­tant Faith Wil­son noted that grouse drop­pings have been iden­ti­fied on White Moss Moun­tain. The plant life to be found on th­ese of­ten soggy slopes in­cludes bog cran­berry, crow­berry and bil­berry – all three of them clas­si­fied as rare.

The day trip­pers bussed up from Hol­ly­wood were brought into the heart of the com­mons along a track which was of sur­pris­ingly good stan­dard. The ex­pla­na­tion for the excellence of the path is ex­plained by the his­toric as­so­ci­a­tion with the Devon­shire es­tate. The time was when his lord­ship and friends en­joyed the sport of hunt­ing across the wilder­ness, so trou­ble free ac­cess was re­quired - hence the road. The open day demon­stra­tion group paused to look at a cul­vert, a rock lined un­der­pass which al­lows wa­ter to drain be­neath the track.

The is­sue of drainage is one which has the ecol­o­gists per­form­ing a com­pli­cated bal­anc­ing act as plans are laid for the con­ser­va­tion of Granamore. Rain which falls here is fun­nelled into the River Dou­glas which even­tu­ally ends up in the Poulaphouc­a reser­voir, part of the Lif­fey basin. As Poulaphouc­a feeds the mains serv­ing the taps of the mil­lion-plus peo­ple who live in Dublin, it is a mat­ter of na­tional im­por­tance that the wa­ter re­mains un­pol­luted.

It may also be noted that the lower reaches of the Dou­glas have pop­u­la­tions of ot­ter, trout and king­fish­ers which nat­u­ral­ists are ob­vi­ously keen to main­tain. How­ever, good eco­log­i­cal prac­tice dic­tates that wa­ter must not be chan­nelled in such a way that it flows too quickly off Grananore to­wards the ot­ters and the king­fish­ers and all those thirsty Dubs. A quick flow would dry out the land and stop the for­ma­tion of new peat on the boggy parts of the commonage, though the commonage is by no means all bog.

Faith Wil­son out­lined in her re­port at least four cat­e­gories of habi­tat: heath (wet, dry or Alpine); grass­land; bog; and rocky scree. She was con­cerned that the un­con­trolled burn­ing of veg­e­ta­tion and over-graz­ing have wreaked dam­age on the soil and on veg­e­ta­tion. Some of the higher slopes have been so de­graded that there is a risk of land­slides.

The good news was that the farm­ers and parks per­son­nel are now ready to take on the ac­tive man­age­ment of this ex­posed but mar­vel­lous lo­ca­tion. Burn­ing, which is nec­es­sary to keep gorse, heather or bracken from stag­ing takeover bids, will con­tinue on dry heath­land but in a more reg­u­lated and more sci­en­tific way than in the past.

Some of the pi­lot project money has been spent ac­quir­ing the over­alls, the flame throw­ers and the beat­ers needed to make tar­geted burn­ing safer and more ef­fec­tive. The open day vis­i­tors were shown how the plants re­turn in the wake of the flames.

Over five years of the project, mea­sures such as care­ful mon­i­tor­ing of sheep num­bers, culling of deer and mov­ing on cat­tle are likely to be on the agenda. It may be­come nec­es­sary to put up fences to al­low more ef­fec­tive con­trol of graz­ing, with sheep num­bers re­duced in win­ter and early sum­mer. The sci­en­tists ad­mit that they are not sure ex­actly what im­pact the deer are hav­ing on heath and bog, so their move­ments will have to be mon­i­tored.

Any in­va­sion by Sitka spruce from the com­mer­cial forestry next door will have to be re­sisted, but it may be a good idea to plant broadleaf trees such as moun­tain ash, wil­low and holly in some of the less ex­posed ar­eas.

Project leader Pat Dunne from Glen­malure was de­lighted with the turn-out for the open day as he com­mented that it was: ‘a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity to bring a group onto the slopes of the Wick­low up­lands to dis­cuss, share and ex­pe­ri­ence first-hand, what the hill-farm­ers are do­ing to re­store the area.’

Meanwhile, con­sid­er­a­tion is be­ing given to the pos­si­bil­ity of open­ing up the old road through Granamore to al­low walk­ers easy ac­cess. At present the route of Saint Kevin’s Way, the pil­grim way from Hol­ly­wood to Glen­dalough, puts hik­ers on the pub­lic road and his lord­ship’s track may of­fer a more pleas­ant al­ter­na­tive. Watch this space.

While the Hol­ly­wood commonage at Granamore was the fo­cus of at­ten­tion on this oc­ca­sion, also in­cluded in the SUAS pi­lot scheme are shared graz­ing lands at Bally­beg near Ti­na­hely and at Glass­na­mullen near En­niskerry. It is reck­oned that, all told, maybe 400 Wick­low landholder­s have an in­ter­est in moun­tain commonage, guardians of a land­scape which is pre­cious and unique.

it is clearly the case that mak­ing a full-time liv­ing from rais­ing sheep on such de­mand­ing land is next to im­pos­si­ble but, with a lit­tle help from Europe, it is pos­si­ble to gen­er­ate some in­come from them thar hills.

Philip Dunne, Pat Lee and Cormic Ryan

Walk­ers at the SUAS open day and demon­stra­tion event in Hol­ly­wood.

An­thony Byrne, Andy Byrne, Johnny Law­less and Carmel Law­less at the SUAS open day and demon­stra­tion event in Hol­ly­wood.

Richard Ryan, Liam Har­ney and Cormic Ryan

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