Wednesday 28 March 2018


We signed up for GLAS [Green, Low-Carbon, Agri-Environment Scheme] because we are tree-hugging planet-lovers and we might as well get paid for Doing Right as determined by a handful of desk-jockeys at the GLAS head office in Dublin. GLAS is but the latest incarnation of giving money to encourage farmers to have a care for the environment which they share with birds, bats, bees . . . and bacteria in the soil. I'm only peripherally involved in this: I go out to my day job whereas The Beloved sits at the kitchen table filling in forms a) to apply for money [nice] and b) to account for the correct spending of that money [onerous]. Occasionally she'll announce that a certain field margin has to be cleared of furze /whin /gorse Ulex europaeus by the 1st of March . . . it being now 28th February; and I have to find, fuel, oil and 'touch-up' my chain-saw.

The chain-saw was one of the first bits of kit we acquired when we moved to the country in 1996. I went into the Husqvarna dealership in Kilkenny and said, more or less, "I'll have one of your best chain-saws my good man" which engaged my good man's rube-alert and he sold me, for list price, a more powerful engine with a longer dick chain-bar than was really appropriate for someone who was going to do a little light firewooding each fall.  The Beloved also signed up for the The Irish Timber Growers Association (ITGA) because we were tree-huggers. in November 1999, because we were ITGA members, I went on a 5 day chain-saw use and maintenance course at Mountrath. I learned a lot - mainly about how dangerous chain-saws were; so much so that I fainted dead away during 'the video' of injuries sustained in the woods. On the last day, the course tutor asked for our social security numbers. One of the other participants turned to me and said "That's nice, they're going to pay us" And it was so, for taking a week off work in the interest of CPD we were given the same amount of money €178.65 as would be given for attending a youth-training scheme. Better still, we were told that, because we were of ITGA, we could keep all the safety-gear, for working in a government wood, which we'd been kitted out with on the Monday: kevlar trews; helmet with face-guard and ear-defenders; bright orange chain-saw boots. Win! and, like, Win!

It's a bit different with GLAS. The government is less happy about writing cheques for farmers and hoping that they'll do the right thing. They've employed more people to check upon recipients: sheep-counters; hedge-row appraisers; evaluators of bat boxes. But they've also forced the farmers to attend training sessions. These are universally derided as a complete waste of time. One of our neighbours lost a cow-and-calf while he was out for the day at one of these piffling courses; that was worse than a waste of time. Because the quality of the material is as for a kindergarten and the mode of presentation is a droning mumble with disconnected and irrelevant power-points. One of the Learning Outcomes is to visit a mountain with a farmer who holds upland commonage. A pal o'mino attended his course on a miserable drizzling day and the mountain visit amounted to a walk from the parked cars to the gate of the lane leading to the hills and the statement "That's what a mountain looks like, there is grass up there". Box ticked! Another chap was told to turn up in a village hall in the next county for 10am. The tutors appeared at 10.30 to say it was time for a tea-break . . . except that there were no facilities for making tea, let alone a welcoming packet of biscuits. The course, such as it was, started at 11am and the information session finished at 1230. There was a visit to a local GLAS farm after lunch to see what a heap of sand looks like. You can get money under GLAS for buying a tonne of sand and putting a bit of sheep-wire around it. It is said to encourage solitary bees. Nobody in the room that morning was able to explain, or had the least bit of interest in, why solitary bees are both important and endangered.

The Beloved came away with a single useful piece of advice: to have a paperwork up-to-date and in am accessible place because the inspectors could turn up unannounced and would go easier on you if you made life easier for them. Hardly worth a day of your time for that. There is both carrot and stick to attend these nonsense courses: continued payments under GLAS are contingent upon participation AND they give the punters €158 CPD money. They presumably pay the tutors more to share their expertise. Something like €4,000 will have haemorrhaged from the public purse on each of these training sessions. Nice little earner if you have absolutely nothing better to do with your time; or if you have no compunction about running a training session for which you are unqualified and unprepared. And, next time, bring a kettle, tea, sugar, milk and a packet of biscuits. A tea-softened digestive turneth away wrath.

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