Saturday 13 January 2018


The photo has been circulating in the Irony sections of the Irish agri-blogosphere. It shows a wonderful wide-open landscape typical of the West of Ireland. The hedge in the fore-ground, an essential element in sustaining bio-diversity, has been flailed to stumps  . . . and replaced by government sponsored wooden bird-boxes. Presumably on the assumption that birds should accommodated in high-rise apartments like the poor of London.

My heart is in the right place, but I am continually being wrong-footed in my greenness.  When I was kid, we had fly-spray in the cupboard under the sink and I used to hunt flying insects round the house going pffft pffft: ignorantly destroying the ozone layer [which wasn't A Thing yet in 1963] with the CFCs in the propellant, not to mention filling the house with a dilute haze of nerve-gas. To be fair, I was also wicked deadly with a fly-swatter, leaving little splots all over the walls and ceilings for somebody else to clean up. 'Organic' hadn't been invented then, largely because the local farmers were very light on the p'isons. But when I grew up and left home, I started to care about organic: we got a copy of John Seymour's Self-Sufficiency, for starters. I harvested a bunch of dandelion Taraxacum officinale roots in one of the scabby back-gardens that we were renting and made organic dandelion 'coffee' from the chunked and dried roots - it was okay but an acquired taste and I didn't stop drinking tea.

By the time we moved back to Ireland in 1990, we'd internalised the organic aspiration and set about finding "an old farmhouse with out-buildings and 10 acres" to raise organic veggies. That aspiration took 6 years and 2 more children to fulfill. In the search for Seymour II, we started to buy organic milk and organic greens and joined the Dublin Food Co-op for beans and cheese. Then my sister came to visit and said (I paraphrase) "Yes yes organic is fine and dandy but what about the air-miles?". My smug right-on bubble collapsed with a flabby pffffffffff. Of course, it was stupid to observe the niceties of organic while condoning the air-freighting of baby asparagus from Kenya - a practice which was destroying the ozone layer and converting a lot of aviation fuel into greenhouse gas. I then started to obsessively read the labels on the stuff we bought and you've seen the result throughout The Blob over the last 5 years.

We've been living up the mountain on Seymour II for more than 20 years now and trying to do the right thing. We sought advice from Teagasc, the government agrivisory bund and signed up for a succession of schemes that encouraged us to Do Right. Who wouldn't accept financial help from Brussels to do what you were going to do aNNyway? And it worked! getting the grant impelled me off the sofa to tidy up the hedgerows, cut back the bushes from the field margins and put in some fences which were sheep-proof.

One's cynical suspicions would have been alerted by the frequency with which the schemes changed their names. REPS (rural environmental protection scheme) I II and III were binned and AEOS (Agri-Environment Options Scheme) rose phoenix-like from the ashes of burning brochures and letterhead. In turn AEOS has been replaced by GLAS (Green, Low-Carbon, Agri-Environment Scheme). A cunning desk-johnny in the Dept of Ag has made a backronym of the Irish word for green. We signed up for REPS I because it gave us money for doing what we'd do aNNyway, with our place . . . IF we could find time between raising two children and earning an honest crust off-site. We planted 400m of hedge ten years ago, which is now full of bird-nests. I was encouraged to cut the gorse / whin / furze Ulex europaeus back from invading the fields but leaving it to augment the field boundaries with the scent of coconut. 2016 was the year of the boxes when Young Bolivar [multiprev] made a few dozen wholly artificial nesting boxes to encourage bees, birds and bats to share our space [L - bat-boxes were required to be installed in triplicate facing different points of the compass].

It's mostly a bunch of greenwashing nonsense: making folk like us feel virtuous by rowing in behind the available cash.

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